Interpersonal Effectiveness in Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Two women laughing and having tea at a caféClients who have completed the mindfulness training module in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) then move on to the second core skills module, interpersonal effectiveness. These skills are extremely important because the way we communicate with others has a significant impact on the quality of our relationships and on the outcome of our interactions. In order to communicate more effectively, DBT clients are taught skills that help them approach conversations in a more thoughtful and deliberate manner rather than acting and reacting impulsively due to stress or intense emotions. Two key components of interpersonal effectiveness are the ability to ask for things and to say no to requests, when appropriate.

In the Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder, DBT founder Marsha Linehan identifies three types of effectiveness that must be addressed in interpersonal exchanges:

  1. Objective effectiveness
  2. Relationship effectiveness
  3. Self-respect effectiveness

For any given situation, these three factors must be considered and prioritized. The individual is likely to be more satisfied with the interaction and outcome if his or her highest priority has been addressed.

The term objective effectiveness refers to the goal or purpose of the interaction, which often is a tangible outcome. For instance, a woman might want her husband to call her when he will be working late. Relationship effectiveness represents the goal of a conflict-free relationship. In this example, the wife might rank emotional closeness and harmony as her highest priority. Alternately, self-respect effectiveness might be the top priority if this woman feels that his failure to call is disrespectful to her.

Dialectical behavior therapy utilizes acronyms to help clients remember the skills that are tied to each type of effectiveness. For objective effectiveness, the acronym is DEAR MAN, and the skills are as follows:

D – Describe: Describe the situation in concrete terms and without judgment.

E – Express: Express feelings, conveying to the other party how the situation makes you feel.

A – Assert: Assert your wishes, i.e. clearly state what you do or do not want.

R – Reinforce: Reinforce why the desired outcome is desirable, and reward people who respond positively to the request.

M – Mindful: Be mindful and present in the moment, focused on the current goal.

A – Appear: Appear confident, adopting a confident posture and tone, and maintain eye contact.

N – Negotiate: Be willing to negotiate and give in order to get, with the understanding that both parties have valid needs and feelings

Moving on to relationship effectiveness, the DBT acronym is GIVE:

G – Gentle: Approach the other party in a gentle and nonthreatening manner, avoiding attacks and judgmental statements.

 I – Interested: Act interested by listening to the other person and not interrupting.

V – Validate: Validate and acknowledge the other person’s wishes, feelings, and opinions.

E – Easy: Assume an easy manner by smiling and using a light-hearted, humorous tone.

Finally, the DBT acronym for self-respect effectiveness is FAST:

F – Fair: Be fair to yourself and to the other party, to avoid resentment on both sides.

A – Apologize: Apologize less, taking responsibility only when appropriate.

S – Stick: Stick to your values and don’t compromise your integrity to gain an outcome.

T – Truthful: Be truthful and avoid exaggerating or acting helpless to manipulate others.

The interpersonal skills taught in DBT can increase the likelihood of positive outcomes, regardless of how the client prioritizes objective, relationship, and self-respect effectiveness for that particular interaction. When used effectively, the DEAR MAN-GIVE-FAST skills help the individual convey his or her needs and wishes clearly, without the other party having to “read their mind.” It enables the person to ask for what he or she wants respectfully and with integrity, while considering the other person’s feelings and preserving the relationship.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Suzette Bray, MFT, therapist in Burbank, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • jackson

    April 16th, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    wow,I never imagined interpersonal communication could be this organized and well thought out. I often struggle with saying no and end up having more things on my plate than I can handle. maybe I should start to recognize when i should say a no and go ahead and actually say it. will definitely print this out and read again before going to bed.

  • abbie

    April 16th, 2013 at 10:18 PM

    a wonderful guide here…so often I have like many others gone into a conversation without fully knowing what I want from the conversation…

    but it is also true that whenever I did know what I wanted the conversations have been much better and there is that harmony between me and the other person…identifying the goal of the conversation is not all…what is also important is to act accordingly and dbt seems to have a great preparatory guide for that too…thanks.

  • Selah

    April 17th, 2013 at 3:52 AM

    Like Jackson, I know that having the ability to talk to and relate to other people is important, and indeed a critical life skill, but this is far more involved than I would have ever thought that it could be! How do you get to any point in life successfully without having managed to nail down how to communicate effectively with other people?

  • Sanora P

    April 18th, 2017 at 6:42 AM

    Good post. I definitely appreciate this site . Continue the good work!

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