How DBT Can Improve Your Communication Outcomes

Young blond teacher stands at whiteboard and speaks to elementary-age studentIn today’s world, it is hard to stay truly connected with others. We are so used to our digital, screen-to-screen interactions that having in-person, face-to-face conversations can feel difficult to manage.

Dialectical behavior therapy, also referred to as DBT, has an entire module dedicated to offering skills and ways to help people communicate more clearly and interact with others more meaningfully. This module is called Interpersonal Effectiveness and it focuses on how the way you communicate and engage with others impacts the outcome of your interactions.

There are three main skills sets within DBT’s Interpersonal Effectiveness module, each related to a different goal or priority.

Skill Set No. 1: GIVE

If it is important for you to keep and maintain the relationship you have, you will want to focus on the first skill set. DBT offers the acronym GIVE as a way to easily remember these skills:

  • Gentle: Being gentle means being kind and nonjudgmental. Keep a moderate or low voice. Keep from yelling, name-calling, or saying mean or hurtful things, even if you’re “just joking.”
  • Interested: People love to talk and be listened to. If you act interested, people will want to keep spending time with you. Acting interested includes maintaining appropriate eye contact (no staring), nodding, and asking questions. Even better than acting interested is being genuinely interested. In my experience, you can always find something interesting or fascinating about a person by discovering what they are passionate about, or relating their story to an experience you’ve had.
  • Validate: Everyone wants to be understood. When you validate someone, you are letting them know you understand their emotions, thoughts, and/or experience is real. This is not the same as agreeing with someone’s opinion. Validation is letting someone know you respect their experience.
  • Easy manner: Chill out. Relax. Be flexible and easygoing. This doesn’t mean ignore or abandon your values, but realize that not everything has to be a battle to the death. People like to spend time with people who are easy to be with. If everything is an argument, or tensions continue to run high, people tend to end those types of relationships.

Skill Set No. 2: DEAR MAN

If you are wanting someone to do what you want, DBT recommends using the skills in the second skill set, often referred to by the acronym DEAR MAN:

  • Describe: Before you can ask for you want, you need to describe the situation objectively. I highly recommend keeping this simple and behaviorally specific.
  • Express: Express your emotions and opinions using “I feel” statements. When the other person knows what you’re feeling, you don’t leave them needing to guess or, worse, assume what your emotional experience is.
  • Assert: Ask for what you want and say “no” clearly. The other person isn’t a mind-reader, so be as plain and simple as possible, even if it may seem obvious.
  • Reinforce: Reinforce for the other person how responding to your request benefits them positively. If they know what’s in it for them, people are more likely to respond in the way we want them to respond.
  • Mindful: Maintain focus on your goal. Don’t get sidetracked or off-topic. Ignore attacks, and avoid distractions.
  • Appear confident: If you don’t look confident, it’s going to be difficult to be taken seriously by the person you are engaging with. Maintain eye contact, keep good posture, and don’t mumble.
  • Negotiate: If all else fails, be willing to negotiate. Getting some of what you’re asking for is better than getting none of what you’re asking for. Ask the other person what they’d offer as an alternative solution to the problem. Also, know when to “agree to disagree” and walk away from a discussion.

Skill Set No. 3: FAST

Are you looking to maintain your self-respect after an interaction? You’ll want to refer to DBT’s third skill set in this module, FAST:

  • Fair: Act according to the rule. Be fair to yourself and the other person.
  • Apologies: Don’t offer apologies or over-apologize if you are just being you or when making a legitimate request. But apologize where appropriate, and don’t under-apologize if you’ve wronged or hurt someone with your actions, behaviors, or words.
  • Stick to your values: If something is important to you, stick to it. Don’t change or “sell out” in order to “fit in,” get what you want, or avoid saying “no.” Sometimes, doing the thing that feels right can also feel most uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean you should avoid it.
  • Truth: Be honest. Don’t lie, make excuses, or exaggerate circumstances. Take ownership for your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.

If you keep these skills in mind, you should have little to no trouble keeping and maintaining important relationships in your life.


Rathus, J. H., & Miller, A. L. (2015). DBT Skills Manual for Adolescents. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Mallory Grimste, LCSW, Topic Expert

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

  • Leave a Comment
  • Jess

    October 19th, 2016 at 8:18 AM

    I love to talk to people who engage in the DEAR method. It just makes you feel a little more special when someone can look you in the eye and truly seem interested in what you are sharing with them.

  • Mallory Grimste, LCSW

    October 27th, 2016 at 1:26 PM

    Jess – DEAR MAN is one of my *favorite* DBT skill sets! My clients and their families are very familiar with DEAR MAN because I reference it and we practice it so much in our sessions. Actually my friends and family know it too because I’m always like “have you tried to DEAR MAN it?” Glad to see there’s a fellow fan out there.

  • Roper

    October 19th, 2016 at 10:24 AM

    I am not a very assertive person and therefore I find that many times I am getting taken advantage of for my kindness. I would much rather sit back and let someone else be right than fight for what I think is right. Total pushover, I get it, but somehow calm appeals far ore to me than being right all the time. I suppose that I have chosen my battles.

  • Mallory Grimste, LCSW

    October 27th, 2016 at 1:28 PM

    Roper there is definitely nothing wrong with choosing your battles. In fact, that’s the point of being interpersonally effective. Asking yourself “Is this worth it?” and “What is important to me right now?” are great questions to use to check in with yourself if it’s time to bring out some of these skills in a conversation to get your point across.

  • Ty

    October 26th, 2016 at 2:30 PM

    Sometimes you can be too much of a GIVEr and there are people who will definitely take advantage of that!

  • Mallory Grimste, LCSW

    October 27th, 2016 at 1:29 PM

    Ty – Yes- excellent point! It’s all about balance…. When you notice yourself “GIVE”-ing too much (I love that you highlighted the skill set this way BTW), it’s time to use your FAST skills to maintain your own self-respect as well.

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