In a world where communication is available at our fingertips in an instance true connection and communication appear to be lacking. We have social media, instant messaging, texting, screen shots, and all variety of digital screen-to-screen interactions. This can make face-to-face interaction feel more difficult or uncomfortable.
Dialectical behavior therapy, also referred to as DBT, has a mnemonic device D-E-A-R M-A-N focusing on meeting an objective within a relationship. This skill was developed as a component of Interpersonal Effectiveness module to help remind people of the basic skills involved in asking for your needs to be met in a healthy manner. It is important in all of our relationships that we feel comfortable being capable of communicating our needs and expectations with others. Without open communication relationships can foster resentment, hurt feelings, and unmet needs. There is one caveat to asking others for what we want: even the most skilled communicators are not guaranteed to always get their way. There is a delicate nature to being able to ask and to be able to graciously accept “no.”
DBT and Interpersonal Effectiveness
To begin acquiring some tools to help you along the path towards this aspect of interpersonal effectiveness, let’s explore the meaning of the DBT acronym, D-E-A-R M-A-N.
- Describe: Use specific, objective words to describe the situation as clearly as possible. Stick to the facts and use non-judgmental statements. You can’t ask for what you want, if you can’t describe it.
- Express: Express your feelings and opinions using “I feel” statements. We often assume others know how we feel and this may be false. Don’t leave the other person guessing. Tell them clearly what you are feeling and why. This can be tricky for those of us who tend to get lost or overwhelmed by emotions.
- Assert: Ask for what you want and say “no” clearly. Assert your wishes. Be clear, and mindful, find the balance between asserting your needs and staying away from aggression.
- Reinforce: Reinforce for the other person how responding to your request benefits them positively. If they know what’s in it for them, people are more likely to respond in the way we want them to respond. If not, reinforce how responding is a positive decision in general.
- Mindful: Stay focused on your goal of the conversation. Don’t allow distracting thoughts or intense emotions to cloud your thinking. Don’t get sidetracked or off-topic. Ignore any attacks! Remember if you respond to the other person with your own anger or defensiveness your goals will be sabotaged.
- Appear confident: If you are having trouble believing in your request so will other people. Imagine yourself as confident and deserving. Maintain eye contact, keep good posture, and speak clearly. You can use positive self-validation to help yourself feel more confident.
- Negotiate: When our ideal wish is not met, be willing to negotiate. Find the middle ground that is “good enough” that doesn’t compromise your values. Be willing to ask the other person for possible solutions. Getting some of what you’re asking for is better than getting none.
The interpersonal skills taught in DBT can increase the likelihood of positive results, regardless of the type of relationship. When used effectively, the D-E-A-R M-A-N skill can help you express your needs and wishes clearly, without the other party having to “read your mind.” It will enable you to ask for what you need respectfully, while considering the other person’s feelings and preserving the relationship.
How can you use and practice D-E-A-R M-A-N in your future interpersonal relationship? Learning how to stand up for ourselves while still respecting the needs and limits of other people takes practice. Remember to be kind to yourself if some of these interpersonal skills don’t come naturally at first. Many of us have spent years learning unhealthy relationship habits or patterns. The important thing is that you are making a choice today to learn a new way to communicate. I suggestion practicing with small and non-emotional requests, such as, asking your significant other to take the trash out (though this may be emotional for some). It’s about practice not perfection!
Rathus, J. H., & Miller, A. L. (2015). DBT Skills Manual for Adolescents. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.