We have finished the mindfulness skills of DBT! Mindfulness is woven throughout all of the other skills in DBT, as it’s helpful to be aware of what skills you need to use and to give you the space and time to use them. From here, we’re going to move into interpersonal effectiveness, which is really just skills that are helpful when dealing with other people. These are incredibly practical skills for how to build relationships. Interpersonal effectiveness was one of the modules that left me slightly angry at the world for never teaching me these things when I was growing up, so the aim for this module is to give you all a pile of tools that will make life a whole lot easier for you rather than expecting you to just figure out how emotions and people work. These skills have actually been tested by other people and found to work! Science!

The first interpersonal effectiveness skill is called DEAR MAN (once again, DBT is a big fan of weird names and acronyms).This is the skill that you would use if you want to make a request or set a boundary. These are generally those hard conversations that we don’t like to have: how do you ask your roommate to stop eating your food or ask one of your friends to take care of you when you’re having a really bad day? This skill is the answer.

DEAR MAN is an acronym that stands for describe, express, assert, reinforce, stay mindful, appear confident, and negotiate. DEAR focuses more on the actual actions that you will take, while MAN is more about the manner in which you do them. Let’s start with DEAR.

The first part of any request or boundary is that you need to tell the person you’re interacting with what’s happening. “You keep using the word retarded around me. Retarded is a word that stigmatizes mental disabilities”. This piece should aim to be nonjudgmental. After you’ve told the person what’s happening you express how you feel about it. These are separate things. Remember that, it’s important. You start with facts and then you let the other person know how you’re feeling about those facts. The other person could correct you on the facts, but they can’t correct you on your emotions. “I don’t like it when you use that word. I get upset and feel unsafe”.

Once you’ve set up the situation, you assert your boundary or request. “Please don’t use that word around me anymore”. This can be the most difficult part, but it’s important that you very clearly state what you want. This script can be modified to fit nearly any boundary or request you have. It can be useful to practice how you would put your request into a DEAR MAN format before actually speaking to the person you want to talk to.

The reinforce piece comes after someone has agreed to what you’d like from them. Positive reinforcement is what will keep people responding when you make requests. Saying thank you, explaining how their action will in the long run benefit them, or offering to do something in return can be great ways to reinforce. “I’ll be way less cranky around you if you don’t use that word and I think our relationship will benefit”.

Throughout this whole process you should also keep in mind the MAN. Stay mindful. This is more than simply the mindfulness skills that we’ve talked about in the past, but also includes two techniques for dealing with others who don’t want to cooperate. The first is broken record. No matter what the other person does to derail the conversation, excuse their behavior, or get defensive, simply repeat your request and explain how the situation is making you feel again. It can be incredibly difficult to keep calm, so an important element of that is to focus on what you want out of the situation: not to win or bring up past problems, but to get the other person to accept your request. Stay mindful of your goal and you can accomplish a lot.

A is appear confident. Even if you are extremely nervous, try practicing ahead of time so that you can speak confidently and carefully. Again, it can be hard to act confident when you’re not, but keep your voice as even as possible, speak clearly, try to meet the person’s eyes, and do what you can to show that you are confident your request is reasonable. This is a good place to practice the fake it till you make it mindset, or to try acting like someone would if they were confident.

The final element of making a request or setting a boundary is negotiation. This may not be applicable in every circumstance, but most of the time there may be something you can do for the other person in return, a compromise that can be reached, or an alternative solution to the one you propose. You can ask the person if they have any suggestions, or let them know the range of things you’re willing to accept. Again, there may be circumstances that have a non-negotiable boundary, so think ahead of time about what exactly it is that you want and whether you’re willing to negotiate.

While nothing about setting boundaries or asking for things is easy, it can be significantly more difficult if you don’t have a template to use or if you’re uncertain about what’s actually appropriate and effective. Learning this skill and practicing it regularly can make the process a lot more simple.

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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