DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills: A Key to Healthy Relationships
Sometimes, it can be challenging and downright difficult to understand and manage our relationships with other people. It is often helpful to think of a relationship as a tall tree. As the roots of the tree grow stronger and healthier, so does the tree. Our relationships are anchored on our interpersonal effectiveness skills, which is why DBT interpersonal effectiveness can be helpful for healthy relationships to flourish. We’ll cover everything you need to know about interpersonal effectiveness here.
What is Interpersonal Effectiveness?
At its core, interpersonal effectiveness is all about our ability to interact with others. Interpersonal effectiveness is an important component of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). It is the second core skills module in this type of therapy. The goal of DBT interpersonal effectiveness skills is to build and maintain positive relationships. When we interact with others in a healthy way, we achieve certain objectives for ourselves and maintain our relationships, all while keeping our sense of self-respect intact.
What Are DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills?
Interpersonal effectiveness skills are abilities that individuals have to be more aware of how their behavior affects their relationships. They can then use specific action steps to make positive changes in these relationships. DBT interpersonal effectiveness skills can be taught and practiced in session, and then DBT worksheets can be used as a reminder of the lesson outside of therapy.
There are many skills that can help improve one’s communication and interaction with others, but DBT focuses on two key components: the ability to ask for the things that you need or want and the ability to stay “no” to requests (where appropriate).
The Importance of Interpersonal Effectiveness
Interpersonal effectiveness skills are so important because the way we interact and communicate with others can significantly affect the quality of our relationships. This, in turn, affects our quality of life and overall well-being.
Research has also shown that improving interpersonal effectiveness skills can produce positive outcomes, particularly for people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). DBT skill utilization can improve overall symptoms, reduce emotional instability, and improve capabilities in relationships [*].
The Role of Interpersonal Skills in Relationships
Interpersonal skills allow you to communicate more effectively with people in your life, such as friends, family, colleagues, or your romantic partner. For instance, being able to provide and receive constructive feedback effectively can help you resolve problems with your friend or partner before they become bigger issues.
Furthermore, you will be able to listen to and understand the needs of people you have relationships with. This allows you to be a better friend, partner, sibling, or coworker. Interpersonal skills facilitate better interactions with others, and this in turn allows you to build better relationships.
Impact of Ineffective Interpersonal Skills
Everybody has the potential to have great interpersonal skills. However, skills do require constant practice and application in order to be effective, and not everybody has developed good interpersonal skills just yet. Ineffective interpersonal skills can make relationships difficult and filled with negativity, confusion, and conflict. This affects the quality of our relationships which can negatively impact our well-being.
DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills
There are several DBT interpersonal effectiveness skills you can use to improve your relationships. Here is a list of DBT interpersonal effectiveness skills that you can refer to:
DBT DEAR MAN
DBT DEAR MAN is a skill that can help you ask for what you want or need in an effective way while still maintaining your relationships.
Describe. First is to describe the situation simply. If you want to go to an event with your friends, you can say something like, “My friends are going to a convention this weekend.”
Express. After describing the situation, express what you would like. Using our previous example, you can say something like, “I would like to go to the convention with them.”
Assert. It’s important to assert yourself in a respectful way without sounding aggressive. Say something like, “I haven’t been able to see my friends very much since I’ve been studying for school a lot, so it would mean a lot if I could spend time with them.”
Reinforce. After you get what you ask for, reinforce it with good behavior. “I promise to finish my chores and homework before I leave for the convention.”
Mindful. It’s important to stay in that moment. Try not to worry about the future, such as what your friends might say if you can’t attend the convention. Try not to worry about the past either.
Appear Confident. You may be scared to ask your parents to go to the convention. But they don’t need to know that. Approach the situation as confidently as you can.
Negotiate. If it seems like you won’t get the result that you are hoping for, then be flexible. Try to negotiate and find a middle ground for both parties.
DBT GIVE is a skill that is applicable to all relationships. It may be a relationship with a person you just met or a friend you have known for decades. DBT GIVE will allow you to build and maintain positive relationships. Verbal and non-verbal communication is essential to practice the GIVE skill.
Gentle. Be gentle with the other person and be mindful of their emotions. This will ensure that communication is open and nobody is feeling defensive.
Interested. Be interested in what the other person has to say. You can convey interest through words or body language, such as nodding or saying simple responses like “mhm.”
Validate. Validate what the other person is saying by showing them that you are not only listening but also understanding what they are saying. You can do this by mirroring their emotions back to them.
Easy manner. Try to maintain a relaxed and calm demeanor. This will help you seem more approachable.
DBT FAST is all about keeping your self-respect when in conflict. Use these action steps first in sequential order, and then all together. These four steps will help you maintain your dignity and feel at peace with yourself, regardless of the outcome.
Fair. Be fair to yourself and others. Try not to use dramatic or judgmental thoughts and statements. Instead, ask yourself what might be going on for the person you are in conflict with. Acknowledge that while you may not agree with what they said, there may be elements of truth in it.
Apologies. If you haven’t done anything wrong, then do not apologize. This doesn’t mean that you should never apologize in relationships. However, you should only do so when it is needed.
Stick to your values. It helps to do a little bit of reflection to determine your values. Once you have identified them, it will be easier to stand up for what you believe in. It is important to be honest about what you value.
Truthful. Be honest, both with yourself and others. Are you speaking the truth about the situation? Are you exaggerating or minimizing it?
THINK is a newer interpersonal effectiveness skill in DBT, which was developed to lessen negative emotions toward others. It is not necessary to use in every interaction or relationship, but it is especially useful in dealing with upsetting problems. THINK can also be used as an interpersonal distress tolerance skill.
Think. Think about the situation you are facing from another perspective. Would the person seeing the situation be angry or upset as well? Would they see you as unreasonable in the same way that you might consider them unreasonable? This is a good opportunity to practice empathy.
Interpretations. Try to interpret the other person’s behavior. Why would they do the things that they did? It helps to start with exaggerated interpretations before moving on to more realistic ones.
Notice. Take notice of how the other person is acting. You may observe that they are trying to improve your relationship or that they were actually scared when you thought they were mad. In this step, you don’t have to respond yet; it is enough to take note.
Kindness. After noticing the other person, respond with kindness. This doesn’t mean that you are required to forgive and forget immediately. But you can choose to respond with kindness, especially in your words.
The Bottom Line
Interpersonal effectiveness skills are helpful for all kinds of people. It is especially useful for people with borderline personality disorder along with other DBT emotion regulation skills. But these skills can also be used for other individuals who may not necessarily have mental health conditions. Everybody can benefit from strengthening their relationships with the people around them.
- Stepp S, Epler A, Jahng S, et al. The effect of dialectical behavior therapy skills use on borderline personality disorder features. December 2008.