Basic Assertiveness Skills for Interpersonal Effectiveness

“To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Interpersonal effectiveness is one of the four modules of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) that focuses on specific skills to draw upon for effective communication, personal boundaries, and assertiveness with others. The word “assertive” gets thrown around a lot, causing some understandable confusion about what assertive behavior actually looks like in action.

The basic idea behind assertiveness is expressing your needs, wants, beliefs, and values in an open way that doesn’t violate the rights of other people. Imagine assertiveness as the steady balancing point on a spectrum of communication styles. On one far end of that spectrum is aggressiveness and on the opposite end is passiveness.

DBT: Assertiveness Skills

DBT offers concrete behavioral skills designed to promote interpersonal effectiveness and assertiveness. Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of DBT, has developed acronyms for many DBT skills, making them easier for some people to remember in the moment. Three DBT interpersonal effectiveness skills that I find to be especially useful and straightforward are D-E-A-R-M-A-N, G-I-V-E, and F-A-S-T. Depending on the specific situation, you can decide which skill set would be most effective for you.


Purpose: Ask directly for what you want/need or say “no.”

  • Describe the situation
  • Express an opinion/feeling
  • Assert what you need/want or say “no”
  • Reinforce the person ahead of time
  • Stay Mindful of what you need/want in spite of the other person’s behavior
  • Appear confident
  • Negotiate


Purpose: Have a communication style that keeps relationships strong.

  • Be Gentle – no attacking, threatening, or judging
  • Act Interested
  • Add Validating statements
  • Use an Easy manner


Purpose: Have a communication style that builds self-esteem and self-respect.

  • Be Fair
  • No unnecessary Apologies
  • Stick to your values
  • Be Truthful

It takes practice to develop the mindful awareness needed to know where your communication style falls on that wide spectrum. You can begin to gain clarity on how your unique communication style comes across to other people by soliciting direct feedback from someone you trust. As you gain insight into how your mood and actions affect others, so can your ability to choose more effective ways of responding during interpersonal situations.

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Marra, T. (2004). Depressed & anxious: The dialectical behavior therapy workbook for overcoming depression and anxiety. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Featured image: coffee talk by Anna Levinzon / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. Eva Tortora on June 5, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Great quotes and ackronyms in the article……asserting yourself is a life long lesson for me but I’m getting better at it everyday. I love this webpage. Its as good as all the major ones about mindfulness. I apprechiate it! THank you …your fan, Eva Tortora OPRAH magazine 2010

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