Dialectical behavior therapy skills (DBT skills) offer tips for emotion regulation, distress tolerance, mindfulness, The Middle Path, and interpersonal effectiveness. DEAR MAN is a subskill of interpersonal effectiveness. You can use it to resolve a conflict or make a request in a respectful and effective way that maintains a relationship. “DEAR MAN” is an acronym, with each letter representing its own skill. As you study and implement these skills, you’ll find that having hard conversations becomes easier over time.
Describe the situation in a simple way. State only the facts in your description. At this point, you’re not expressing your feelings or asking for anything. You’re setting up for the conversation using facts.
Why this? The person you’re talking to might not understand or be aware of the situation leading to your request. By describing it factually, you’re making sure they understand the circumstances that are leading you to this request.
Example: Let’s work through a problem almost every family in North America will face: their child’s first smartphone. Instead of avoiding the issue or giving into your child’s request, we’ll communicate and find a solution.
To describe the situation, you might say to your daughter, “I understand that you’ve been wanting an iPhone. Your dad and I have discussed it, and I’d like to talk to you about it.”
Express how you’re feeling using “I” statements. An “I” statement means that you’re taking accountability and prevents the other person from going into defense mode.
Why this? It’s important to express how you’re feeling about the situation you’ve just described. This will help the other person understand where you’re coming from.
Example: “Because you’re only 13 years old, we’re worried that you’re not quite ready to have an iPhone where you’ll have full access to apps and the Internet. We feel that while you’re pretty mature for your age, this is a time when you’re still learning and it’s easy to make mistakes. My biggest worry is that one of those “mistakes” will end up all over social media, and it will be harder to overcome.”
Assert by either asking for your need or saying no firmly (depending on the situation). To “assert” your needs means that you are asking for what you want in a clear and strong way. Don’t beat around the bush or don’t allude to what you want.
Why this? No one can read your mind! You might think it’s incredibly obvious what you want, but the person you’re talking to might have no idea what you’re wanting. Or, they may be unclear as to exactly what it is you’re asking for. An unclear expectation is a major source of contention in relationships. Take away the ambiguity and ask directly and clearly.
Example: “Your dad and I have decided that we are not going to get you a smartphone this year.”
Reinforce by making sure that the other person knows why they should grant your request.
Why this? Relationships are built on reciprocity. We usually do this naturally. If someone does us a favor, we’re more likely to do them a favor in return. Reinforcing in the DEAR MAN skill reminds the person that something’s in it for them, too, and can even help build the relationship.
Example: “We really appreciate how hard you’re working in school and how much responsibility you’ve shown us by helping out with your younger siblings. We’ll be happy to reevaluate this decision next year.”
(stay) Mindful. Try not to become distracted by things going on around you. Instead, do your best to stay focused on the conversation. If the person you’re talking to is acting defensive, try to keep the conversation on course.
Why this? It’s easy to be distracted, especially in uncomfortable situations. Unfortunately, when the conversation gets off course, you reduce the chances of getting what you’re asking for. Staying focused until you’ve reached a resolution increases your chance for success.
Example: At this time in the conversation with your daughter, you’re probably going to get a lot of rebuttals and backlash. If she brings up that her older brother got his first smartphone at her age, stay focused on the situation with your daughter instead of following her down a rabbit hole. It can be effective to repeat yourself by saying, “I understand that this decision is upsetting you because most people at your school have smartphones. As you continue to show responsibility, we’ll keep that in mind when we discuss it again next year. But this year we’re not going to get you an iPhone.”
Appear Confident. Regardless of how you feel on the inside, present yourself as though you feel confident. Do this by keeping your head up, standing or sitting up straight, making direct eye contact, and speaking loudly and clearly.
Why this? When you appear confident, it signals that what you’re requesting shouldn’t be hard to grant. Your confidence also makes you seem like a harder person to turn down.
Example: Appearing confident in this conversation with your daughter will give an air of finality to your decision. You can do this by making eye contact with her, staying mindful of the conversation, being calm instead of reactive, and stating things clearly.
Negotiate. Remember that you aren’t demanding anything, you’re asking for something. If the person you’re speaking with isn’t on board with your request, remember the phrase “give to get”. You might need to alter your request to make it more appealing to the other person. Have a conversation about how you might be able to resolve the problem together. In the end, you’ll be able to come to a solution that works for both of you.
Why this? One of the most important aspects of relationships is hearing each other out and accommodating each other as much as possible. When you’re willing to negotiate, you show the other person that you care about their feelings and opinions as well.
Example: Listen to your daughter and look for a way that you can both leave the conversation satisfied. When asking why she wants a phone, she might express that there are a few apps she’s most interested in. If her top two apps were Pinterest and Spotify, you might offer to download those apps on her iPod. She will feel heard and that she gained something from the conversation. You will feel happy that your daughter is learning to responsibly use technology: one safe step at a time.
The DEAR MAN skills can be used to make nearly any difficult conversation a little easier. You’ll find that implementing these skills into your family’s communication can reduce arguments and increase your understanding of one another.
Here’s what this skill would look like as a full conversation:
Example Conversation Using the DBT DEAR MAN Skill
Describe: “I understand that you’ve been wanting an iPhone. Your dad and I have discussed it, and I’d like to talk to you about it.”
Express: “Because you’re only 13 years old, we’re worried that you’re not quite ready to have an iPhone where you’ll have full access to apps and the Internet. We feel that while you’re pretty mature for your age, this is a time when you’re still learning and it’s easy to make mistakes. My biggest worry is that one of those “mistakes” will end up all over social media, and it will be harder to overcome.”
Assert: “Your dad and I have decided that we are not going to get you a smartphone this year.”
Reinforce: “We really appreciate how hard you’re working in school and how much responsibility you’ve shown us by helping out with your younger siblings. We’ll be happy to reevaluate this decision next year.”
Mindful: “I understand that this decision is upsetting you because most people at your school have smartphones. As you continue to show responsibility, we’ll keep that in mind when we discuss it again next year. But this year we’re not going to get you an iPhone.”
Appear Confident: Throughout the conversation you will appear confident in your decision by making eye contact with her, being calm instead of reactive, and stating things clearly.
Negotiate: “It seems like Pinterest and Spotify are the two apps that you want more than any others. How about we download those two apps on your iPod, and you can log into them using my account?”
WE ARE COMMITTED TO THE SUCCESS OF YOUR DAUGHTER, AND YOUR ENTIRE FAMILY
Sunrise uses more comprehensive outcomes than any other fully integrated DBT program. By integrating DBT into every aspect of our program, your daughter will live the skills, not just learn them. We focus on the family to create a healthy system in which your daughter will thrive after returning home. Through therapy, activities, academics, and support, your daughter will become a healthy young woman with a passion for life.
If practicing interpersonal effectiveness and other DBT skills at home hasn’t been enough to help your daughter and family, we’re happy to discuss treatment options with you. Call us at 888.317.3961 to determine if Sunrise would be a good fit for your daughter.
ABOUT DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOR THERAPY (DBT)
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is skill training to handle myriad difficult situations. Dialectical behavioral therapy was initially developed as a cognitive behavioral therapy substitute in treating borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, it is now considered the gold standard of treatment for many mental health issues. DBT has been successful in treating substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, the urge to binge eat or purge, and others.