Module Three: Essential Communication Technique – The Fence

In this module, you will learn: 

  1. How to construct a mental fence to help you to deal with challenging and confrontational behaviour- including setting up yellow flags and being aware of how to safeguard yourself 
  2. How to positively steer and influence the direction of communications
  3. How to stay calm and confident when dealing with challenging communications

Six Parts of the Fence Technique

There are 6 parts to the fence we are going to learn together now- 

  • 2 are things to consider to help you to construct your fence foundation to help separate you from challenging behaviours, 
  • and there are 4 verbal phrases that you can use to gain confidence and become strong in your assertiveness.

Building the fence technique 1: yellow flags

It is very important that you know where the boundaries of communication are for you, where you feel comfortable, so you can respond proactively if someone says or does something that steps past the fence.

We would suggest that the following could be interpreted as yellow flags, warning signs that someone is approaching or has stepped past your fence:

Building the fence technique 2: safeguarding

The second technique to help you create your fence structure is to keep in mind the basics of safeguarding to protect yourself and others at work. This is not official safeguarding training. But here are some simple good professional habits to perform regularly to keep you and others safe at work.

Professional Habit #1:
If a client, customer or member of staff intrudes on your fence with one or several of your yellow flag phrases or behaviours, write down what was said, by whom and date it.
  • You can do this on a piece of paper or digitally. This is called having a paper trail.
Professional Habit #2:
Know who the designated safeguard lead- the DSL is for your organisation.
  • Unless it is you, you are not expected to be responsible for the safety of all staff.
  • Find out their name and introduce yourself to them.
Professional Habit #3:
For any issues which you feel uncomfortable with, or any yellow flags that you have documented and dated, visit or contact the DSL, tell them about the situation and present your paper trail evidence.
  • They will be very happy to receive this evidence and hear from you, as you have passed the necessary information up the chain to the relevant person.
  • They will now deal with it appropriately, and your will have done the best thing that you can do to prevent the behaviour or situation in the future.
Regulation 2(1): What is a Commercial Agent?
2. Secondly this is someone who has continuing authority and therefore someone who acts an agent in relation to a one off transaction, will not be considered to be a commercial agent for the purposes of the Regulations. practitioners who may be appointed to sell off certain goods in a distressed situation.
Regulation 2(1): What is a Commercial Agent?
3. Note that the agent may be a sales or a purchasing agent so do not fall into the trap of believing that commercial agents are only those who sell goods on your behalf.
Regulation 2(1): What is a Commercial Agent?
4. The Regulations will only apply where the agent is connected with goods and therefore activity connected with the sale or purchase of services falls outside of the remit.
Regulation 2(1): What is a Commercial Agent?
5. Finally, note that as referred to earlier, the sale or purchase of the goods is on behalf of and in the name of the principal and therefore the agent does not make the sale in its own name or right.
Previous slide
Next slide

I have used this in my time as a primary school teacher. And it was a great relief and weight off my shoulders, whenever I passed information onto the DSL, as they told me that they would now deal with it, and it was their responsibility, not mine.

Constructing your fence using:

    • Your yellow flags to outline your boundaries
    • Good professional habits to keep yourself and others safe will give you a strong foundation.

Using the Fence

Phrase One: That's not appropriate

Once you know what your yellow flags are, you can use this phrase to remind people if they have crossed the line too far:

That is not appropriate.

Here are some ways that you can use this when speaking face to face, through written communication or on the phone. It works equally well in each of those contexts:

  • That’s not appropriate because…
  • That’s not appropriate to this meeting
  • That is not appropriate at this stage in the process
  • That is not appropriate in our ability to create your solution
  • That’s not appropriate yet because…

Remember, you can define what is appropriate and what is not. The vast majority of people will respect these professional boundaries when you make them very clear. And for those that do not, use your paper trail to keep a note and date of the incident and words said, to empower you regarding for future communications with them.

Phrase Two: That’s not possible because

People will remember the reasons that you give them. 

  • If you simply tell people that is not appropriate or that is not possible, they probably will not respond well! 
  • However, by including the word because, you soften the impact of the phrase, and by then giving them a reason, you both empower yourself by giving them some new information, and you stop them dictating what they think is possible to you.

Remember, you are the professional, and you know what you and your team are capable of. Do not let people who do not know your situation or circumstances dictate the terms of your communication.

Phrase Three: Yes if

One of the best phrases, which your customers, clients, managers and leaders will want to hear from you is yes.

  • But saying yes can be one of the worst things that you can say if the circumstances are wrong, or you are saying yes to something which you are not able to do properly.
  • Remember this, if someone asks you to do something, and you respond with yes, they often will think that they have become your top priority.
  • They interpret that yes, to mean yes straight away, where you may already have a full caseload and that is not possible.

So to instead use yes as a fence phrase, to help keep them at arms length, say «yes, if »

  • Then follow the if with what you will need, or how to circumstances will need to be, in order for you to be able to comply with them.
  • This puts you in the position of being able to dictate what you need, and not the other person expecting you do do something for them straight away.
  • It can be a massive game changer for you if you use this properly in your communications with others.

Here are some examples for you:

  • Yes, if I receive these three things…
  • Yes, if you can wait until the afternoon
  • Yes, if you are able to provide me with…
  • Yes, if this person is available by…
  • Yes, if this…happens first
Phrase Four: No because

The second incredibly useful phrase to use is no because. After all, what if you have used yes if and the person is unable to meet your criteria?

  • Then you use no because.
  • Like yes, no can be hugely misinterpreted.
  • Remember this, you will know the reasons for why you have said no.
  • But unless you have shared them with the other person, they do not and may well make up what they think your reasons are.
  • This happens so often in the workplace and can result in arguments, fall outs and even people leaving organisations

So whenever you want, and need, to appropriately say no, get into the habit of immediately giving a reason why using the words because. Here are some examples to help you:

  • No, because we are still waiting on the documents
  • No, because the money has not come through yet
  • No, because that person is off ill today
  • Now, because in order to help you, we need to do this first…

Like “yes if”, using no because helps you to steer conversations and communications away from inappropriateness and misunderstandings, towards where you feel calm and confident as the professional that you are.

Upon completion of this module’s material above, select the “mark complete” or “next module” button below to record your progress to proceed to the next module. This will save your place and your work on the course thus far and will enable you to complete the assessment at the end of the course.