Author: Kari Kagan, Psy.D.
Learning how to effectively communicate with others can be one of the most challenging and rewarding skills a person can learn in their lifetime. Even people who consider themselves “easy to get along with” or a “people person,” are at risk for getting caught up in the heat of a moment and not being able to communicate effectively and clearly. For this reason, it could be useful to have a “go-to” skill that can help to provide some guidance during interpersonal interactions that could easily go awry. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) offers a few different skills to help increase interpersonal effectiveness, but this article will focus on one that can be particularly useful for navigating conflicts, refusing a request by someone, and making a request of someone. The skill is called “DEAR MAN,” and I will go through the acronym and examples of how to use the skill below.
Example: Betty and Joe have been married for five years. They are trying to spend more quality time together so make plans to go on a dinner date on a Friday night. Betty arrives at the restaurant on time and Joe is not there. She waits at the table without ever hearing from Joe. He eventually shows up 30 minutes late. They proceed with dinner but Betty is distracted. She decides to talk to him about it later that night…
Joe, I would like to talk to you about when you were 30 minutes late to dinner tonight.
When you show up late, I feel sad and unimportant. Quality time is important to maintaining relationships and I feel worried that if we don’t prioritize it, we will grow distant.
I would like you to commit to showing up on time to future dates. If you can’t make it on time, please call me with advanced notice to let me know when you plan to get there.
Doing your best to show up on time and to prioritize quality time with me would mean a lot to me and make me feel closer to you. I think it will also improve our relationship in the long-term.
In our example, if Joe starts to point out times that Betty has been late or when he felt deprioritized for some other reason, we want Betty to stay focused on the current situation instead of getting locked into a battle of who has done what to whom. For example, Betty could say, “I understand that I am not perfect either and would be happy to discuss that another time. For now, I am still asking that you try your best to be on time or inform me if you will be running late.”
In our example, Betty should make direct eye contact with Joe, sit up straight, and have a firm tone in her voice that lets him know that she is confident in what she is asking for and that it is a reasonable request.
In our example, Joe does not feel he can commit to calling with advance notice if he is running late as he has a job that requires him to be in meetings that prohibit him from calling. In this situation, Betty might ask Joe, “What do you think we should do here? How can we solve this problem?” In the end, they come up with a solution that works for both of them, which is for Joe to send a text if he is unable to call.
The DEAR MAN skill is a great strategy to help you navigate difficult interpersonal interactions and to help get your needs met. If you would like to learn more skills for communicating effectively, please reach out to us for a free phone consultation.
Diana Gordon, Psy.D., Kari Kagan Psy.D., and Katie Leoni, Psy.D.
Drs. Gordon, Kagan, and Leoni practice psychotherapy in downtown San Francisco and Oakland. Their areas of expertise include anxiety, sleep, stress, depression, and addiction. They blog about these topics to provide research-based information about common problems and strategies to help manage them.