Communicating with others can sometimes be challenging. We may be hindered by feelings of nervousness or we may simply be at a loss for how to communicate something. This is why assertive communication is important. This is a type of communication that can be taught by dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills called DBT DEAR MAN. It allows you to be direct while still being respectful, and it gives you the best chance of delivering your message successfully.
Here’s everything you need to know about the DBT DEAR MAN skill for effective and assertive communication.
What is the DBT DEAR MAN Skill?
The DBT DEAR MAN skill is a strategy for effective communication that can help you achieve certain objectives in your relationships. It was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan as part of DBT to encourage people to communicate their needs in a healthy manner. The DEAR MAN skill highlights the importance of comfortably communicating our expectations with others, and it is an interpersonal effectiveness skill that we cannot live without.
If we do not practice this type of open communication, then our relationships may face challenges. They can foster resentment, lead to unmet needs, and hurt other people’s feelings.
An important thing to note is that we are not always guaranteed to get what we want, even if we communicate it effectively using the DEAR MAN skills. This technique can help one learn how to gracefully accept rejection from someone they care about.
What is DBT DEAR MAN Skill Used for?
DBT DEAR MAN is used for expressing one’s needs and wants in a respectful way that increases the likelihood of positive outcomes. It can be used to make a request or resolve a conflict, all while maintaining a relationship.
Examples of DBT DEAR MAN Skill in Different Contexts
Here are different contexts where you can make use of the DBT DEAR MAN skill in your relationships.
Using DEAR MAN in personal relationships
Relationships between family members and friends can benefit from the DEAR MAN skill. Here is an example of parents negotiating with their teen about when they can start using the car to go out with friends.
Describe. “We understand that you’ve been wanting to use the car to go out with your friends. Your mother and I have discussed it, and I’d like to talk to you about it.”
Express. “Because you’re still 16 and you’ve only had your license for a few months, we feel that you are not yet ready to take the car out. We are worried that you might not have enough experience on the road.”
Assert. “Your mom and I have decided to wait until you’re 17 to take the car out with your friends.”
Reinforce. “We have noticed how diligent you have been with your schoolwork and how much responsibility you’ve demonstrated by helping out with your siblings. We will come back to this decision again next year when you might be more ready to handle the car.”
Mindful. “I understand this decision makes you unhappy since some of your friends and classmates are allowed to take their cars out. As you continue to be responsible, your mom and I will make sure to keep that in mind when we talk about it again next year.”
Appear Confident. Be sure to remain calm, maintain eye contact, and state things clearly to appear confident in your decision during this conversation.
Negotiate. “You have been very responsible when it comes to coming home on time. How about we extend your curfew by an hour instead?”
Using DEAR MAN in the workplace
DEAR MAN can also be used in professional settings, especially if you have requests and problems to solve with your colleagues. Here is what a conversation might look like if you applied DEAR MAN at work:
Describe. “You didn’t CC me in an important email.”
Express. “It made me feel worried about things that I might not be aware of and generally out of the loop.”
Assert. “I would like you to please CC me in on all emails with our clients.”
Reinforce. “I think this will really help us function as a team since I will be less stressed and more aware of your current workload. I can also help you out if I know what’s going on.”
Mindful. “I know it can be easy to forget to CC before sending out emails, but please don’t forget to CC me in your emails from now on.”
Act confident. Remember to maintain eye contact and assume confident yet relaxed posture.
Negotiate. “If you forget to CC me in client emails, try forwarding them to me with your notes instead and then CC me in your next email. That way, I’ll still be kept in the loop.”
Using DEAR MAN in conflict resolution
DEAR MAN is especially helpful in conflict resolution. It keeps things straightforward and respectful and aids in better understanding between both parties. You can use this skill along with the STOP distress tolerance skill if you find that the conflict is upsetting you. In this example, one person is in conflict with a fellow club member over emails that weren’t being sent.
Describe. “Last week, the email reminder for our meeting was sent out on the day of the meeting itself. There was no email sent out this week.”
Express. “I get worried when there is no email sent out in advance because people won’t be reminded on time of our weekly meeting.”
Assert. “Can you please send out emails farther in advance next time?”
Reinforce. “I just want to ensure that people who want to know more about our club are being informed of our meetings. It would be a big help.”
Mindful. “I know you might have a lot of things on your plate right now, which is why you may have forgotten.”
Act confident. When showing confidence during a conflict, it is important not to act arrogant. Be self-assured, but do not be aggressive.
Negotiate. “If you need help sending out the emails, do you think that having a Communications assistant would be useful?
Steps to Practice DBT DEAR MAN Skill
As you may have noticed in the different contextual examples above, the DEAR MAN skill includes the following steps:
- Describe - Describe the situation by stating facts.
- Express - Express to whoever you are talking to how it made you feel and how the situation has affected you.
- Assert - Assert what you want. Be sure it’s a clear and achievable objective.
- Reinforce - Reinforce the value of this decision and how it will benefit you and your companion.
- Mindful - Be mindful of the conversation and how it will affect the other person’s feelings.
- Appear confident - Use a confident tone of voice and physical manner.
- Negotiate - Be willing enough to give in order to get something in return. You can also reduce your request.
The more you practice these steps, the better you will become at asking for what you want or need using DBT DEAR MAN. If you find that you’re a bit nervous before communicating with someone, then you can first try some DBT mindfulness exercises to ground yourself so you can approach the situation calmly and with confidence.
The Bottom Line
In any interpersonal interaction, communication is key. DBT DEAR MAN allows us to communicate our needs clearly with different people, whether it’s friends and family, colleagues, or even acquaintances. You can use it alongside DBT emotion regulation skills like DBT Problem Solving to achieve your objective. You can also make use of DBT worksheets to improve your other interpersonal skills.