Objective Effectiveness: Getting What You Want

Welcome to day one of three – a DBT triple header on Interpersonal Effectiveness! While I planned to share this information back in August, I thwarted my own intentions, not only in the blogosphere, but, well, with everything. I think that the end result may have been for the best, though, as I can’t think of a more relevant time to share some skills for holding boundaries, maintaining relationships, and keeping your self respect than the three days leading to the “most wonderful time of the year.” (I recognize that not everyone, some of my readers included, celebrates Christmas, but there are many reasons we find ourselves around family and friends this time of year, and to be completely honest, my family does celebrate Christmas – this is a crash course/ reminder for me as much as you.) Even if you don’t have any holiday plans coming up, good news – this stuff is effective year round!

Now, I did manage to write the introduction to Interpersonal Effectiveness back in August, and I have linked it above for your convenience. But I never got the chance to break down the three areas I was hoping to explore in this overview series. No time like the present, though, right? (No Christmas pun intended.) Speaking of presents, though, I am sincerely apologetic for not getting you the techniques for “getting what you want from people” out in time for your Christmas list writing. Actually, that’s not what this approach is for, but there are going to be a lot of bullet points and I know that that is dull as hell, so I’ve got to squeeze in the mildly funny stuff where I can.


Holiday Cheer or… something.



OK! Back to DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness. We’ll be looking at three techniques over the next three days.

The first technique is called D.E.A.R. M.A.N. (Heretofore referred to as DEARMAN, because I don’t want to type all those periods.) If you remember from the original post, there are different types of relationships and different objectives in the dealings within those relationships.

Each of the techniques we’re going to looking at relates to those different types of relationships and the different goals you have within those relationships in the moment.

Each also has associated questions and goals to help you determine if it’s the right fit for what you’re trying to accomplish. For DEAR MAN, you need to go into the situation with a very clear idea of your objectives in the conversation. Here are some good questions to ask yourself before jumping into using this effective communicative approach:

  • What specific result or change do I want from this interaction?
  • What do I have to do to get that result? What will be effective?

Now that you’ve asked yourself those questions, it’s important to know not only why you would want to use this technique, but also why it’s ok to use this technique. It can be really hard to hold firm in boundaries with people. DEARMAN is a little hard hitting. I know that I struggle with this communication tool, because I always feel like a massive jerk when I use it. That said, it does have it’s place. When should you use is? Here are some concrete examples of important goals you have every right to work toward in your relationships:

  • Protecting and receiving your legitimate rights
  • Saying “no” to something that you do not want to do or find unreasonable
  • Getting another to take your opinion seriously
  • Conflict resolution

OK. How are you holding up with the bullet points? I’m already feeling my mind and eyes glaze over a little. Let’s take a quick break. We’ve all been in situations of feeling like our boundaries are being violated. When your relationships are based in a pattern of blurred boundaries, it can be hard to even recognize that you need to stand up and protect your own well being. If you’ve been following the blog since the beginning, you may have a vague recollection of me mentioning something called the “personal bill of rights”. It’s an excellent place to start. If you need a refresher, here they are. IMG_20171217_122024_196 (1).jpg

As you may have deduced, my ever intelligent readers, this is my own copy of these. The highlighted ones are the points that really stood out to me while I was in the Partial Hospitalization Program. All are applicable and different ones may stand out to you. Please ignore my highlights and stars. 

Reading that list, do any jump out at you? Did you read through that list and think “Wouldn’t that be nice?” or “Wow! It never even occurred to me that that was possible!”? If you had that experience, then DEARMAN is going to feel simultaneously uncomfortable and like one of the greatest things you could possibly have in your toolbox.

OK, let’s rip the band-aid off and get the last “list” portion of this post over with. And that, of course, is the meat of DEARMAN. You’re probably wondering what, exactly, does the acronym stand for? I’m so glad you asked!

the DEAR portion is action based (what you do in the conversation.)

Describe the situation. Stick with facts only. Tell the person exactly what you are reacting to. (EX: “You said that we would get together this weekend, but then didn’t respond to my texts to make concrete plans.”)

Express your feelings and opinions. Don’t assume the other person knows how you feel. (EX: “I feel hurt and disrespected and devalued.”)

Assert yourself by asking for what you want or saying no clearly. Don’t assume the other person will figure out what you want. Remember that other people cannot read your mind. (EX: “I would really like it if you would text me back, even if something comes up and you have to cancel plans.”)

Reinforce (reward) the person ahead of time. Explain the positive effects it will have on the relationship. If necessary, also clarify any negative consequences. (EX: “I really like hanging out with you. Our friendship would be stronger if we communicated better.” or “You’ve done this a few times, my time is valuable to me. If I think that we have plans and you don’t tell me we don’t, I’m setting aside time that could be used for something else. I would prefer to use my time wisely, so I need to know if we are getting together so I can plan accordingly.”)

OK, so, that’s the DEAR portion of tonight’s broadcast. What are you thinking and feeling? Do you feel like you are able to do this more often than not in your personal life, or do you feel like this is an area in which you need some practice? Or, like me, have you completely shut down due to anxiety at the mere thought of using something like this? “Assertive” and “Sheila” have not traditionally appeared in the same sentence. I am growing exponentially in this area, though, and that is due, in part, to the Interpersonal Effectiveness skills I’ve learned. So, I promise you that this stuff works!

Let’s hit the MAN breakdown and then we can get to actual application and conversation.

MAN is about how you approach the conversation.

Mindful Don’t get distracted and don’t get off topic. Keep your mind on your goal, and on the reasons you are justified in advocating for yourself. Check in with yourself. This will help you stay calm and collected and effective.

Appear confident. Try not to look at the floor or stammer or whisper. Try to avoid saying things like “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”. Both your tone of voice and body language should convey confidence.

Negotiate This one may seem to counter some of the other points in this strategy, but make sure that you are aware of the areas of give and take going in. Don’t compromise in a way that pushes past your boundaries, but be willing to be flexible within your boundaries. Be willing to give and take a little. Offer solutions to the problem, and ask the other person if they have any thoughts on possible solutions. If you’re saying no, offer to do something else that you are comfortable and/or able to do. Focus on what will work for both of you, but maintain your boundaries.

Alright! That’s the breakdown of DEARMAN.

We all know that holding boundaries can be difficult, especially within ingrained relationships with well-established dynamics, but it is never too late to start holding them. If people in your life are not respecting your personal, legitimate rights as a human, or if you find yourself feeling “Required” to say yes to things that you do not feel able to do (or even things that you do not want to do), you have a right to assert yourself.

DEARMAN is an incredibly assertive technique. But there are still certain ways of implementing that will get you the best end result.

In my personal life, I have someone who will ask the same question repeatedly and try to guilt me into giving the answer he’s hoping for. This has been a pattern in our relationship for over ten years, and, only after learning about DEARMAN was I able to begin to break it.

Do you have a current situation in which someone is violating your boundaries and space? See if this might apply to that situation.

First, I tried to ignore these requests/ threats from this person. When that didn’t work, I tried what’s called the “broken record” response. He would ask, and I would say no. He would guilt, and I would say no. He would start verbally attacking me, and I would say no.

This is where describe comes in. Remember, that’s just facts. So it’s not saying something like, “Are you deaf? I said no!” or “You’re obviously refusing to hear what I’m saying.” Instead, it’s simply, “You’ve been asking me to do this for days, and I’ve told you no several times.”

Then, I expressed feelings. In my situation, I said, “I’m feeling very frustrated by this and I cannot continue this conversation.” It’s important to keep it short and assertive and, no matter how upset you are, to avoid personal attacks. If I’d personally attacked this person, I would be getting pulled into his heated emotions and it would then become a shouting match and all of my interpersonal effectiveness would be out the window. I did not say, “You’re so fucking defensive and aggressive about this! I can’t stand you!” because he would have responded with something like, “Oh, I’m aggressive? You’re the one who can’t {x,y,z}” Can you see how that would have gotten us off topic?

Following that, I asserted myself. I said, “I’ve said no, my answer is not going change. Please don’t ask me again.” Again, I kept it short and to the point. And I did not personally attack him. I did not yell “Shut up and listen to me!” or anything to that effect.

Finally came the reinforcement phase. I said, “We are talking in circles. I know that my answer isn’t going to change and I think that this conversation is becoming frustrating for both of us, so we need to end it for now so that it doesn’t turn into a fight. We can talk more tomorrow and try to come up with something that will work for both of  us.” I didn’t threaten to never talk to him again, I didn’t yell at him. I held my ground in a Mindful and Assertive way and was willing to negotiate within the realm of my own boundaries.

This technique takes practice, but if you move into the holidays knowing that you will be interacting with someone who does not respect your boundaries, you can mentally prepare for that and be ready to hold your ground. You can even practice a sort of “script” ahead of time, if you feel that that would be helpful.

And remember, ultimately, you are not required to interact with anyone who is treating you poorly, violating your boundaries, or abusing you. You can refuse that engagement, especially if you know that you are especially emotionally vulnerable. (Which, I think, many of us are around the holidays.) If you know that a conversation will result in heated conflict, try to ignore it. If not, though, you can break out these skills. If it’s someone with whom you tend to argue, they will be blown away by the calm, firm, assertive manner in which you are approaching the conversation, I promise.

Alright! That’s part one of Interpersonal Effectiveness! I hope you found it helpful despite all the bullet points!


Here’s a cat picture for your time!

TOMORROW – pop back in the GIVE technique, which deals less with assertiveness and more with maintaining the important relationships in your life. This technique is a fantastic reminder of the best ways to listen and speak to those you care about in a way that keeps the relationships strong.

As always, I’d love to know what you think! What are your thoughts on DEARMAN? Drop a comment below, give this a like and/or a share, or Tweet me @paradichotomy. You can also hop over to the Facebook and join the conversation!

***********DEARMAN, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and all DBT skills were developed by Marsha Linehan. I am not a professional therapist and these skills are not meant as a substitute for therapy. I’m simply sharing things that I have learned and found helpful along the way.




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