“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But, let us never fear to negotiate.” – John F. Kennedy
In our relationships with others, we inevitably need things from them at times just as they need things from us at other times. The exchanges that we have with others about how to get our own needs met and how they might get their needs met can cause a lot of unnecessary conflict, confusion, and tension. It can be very difficult for some people to ask others for help. It can also be very hard for many people to say “no” when people in their lives ask them for help. Learning how to navigate these situations with greater ease is a huge part of what it means to learn interpersonal effectiveness.
Interpersonal effectiveness is one of the four modules of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). The other modules consist of mindfulness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation. Learning interpersonal effectiveness enables you to confidently navigate your relationships and interactions with others. Without this crucial skill, it is easy to find yourself taken advantage of, have difficulty with stating requests/getting needs met, and act inappropriately with others.
There are many factors to consider when involved in a negotiation with another person. In order to successfully apply skills of interpersonal effectiveness, it is crucial that the other building blocks of DBT (mindfulness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation) are in good working order. In your interactions with others, there is a lot of sensory information to process… the words the other person is saying, the physiological responses, thoughts, and emotions you are having, etc. This is a lot to notice.
Mindfulness acts as the foundation for interpersonal effectiveness because it allows you to step back from the emotionally laden content of the experience and notice all that is occurring. When you are observing your interpersonal interactions with mindfulness, the focus is on observing, describing, and participating in what is happening. It is only once you are able to truly interact with reality in this way that you can take effective action on its contents.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy: Interpersonal Effectiveness
Spradlin (2003) suggests that you ask yourself the following questions during potential negotiations with others as a means of applying interpersonal effectiveness skills. Once you learn to ask yourself these questions when you are making a request of another person or when someone is requesting something from you, it will begin to become second nature. This process of applying interpersonal effectiveness skills will enable you to make mindfully informed decisions that are in your best interest on how to proceed with the negotiation.
- Are my objectives really important?
- Is this relationship fragile or injured in some way?
- Is my self-respect at risk?
- Will my self-respect be damaged in some way if I say “no” to this request?
- Is this person capable of giving me what I want?
- Do I really have what they want from me?
- Is this person really in the mood to listen right now?
- Is this a time when they are likely to say “yes” to my request?
- Is this a bad time for me to say “no?”
- Do I know enough about this situation/person of whom I’m making this request?
- Do I have all the information I need about this request?
- Am I really clear about what I want/need?
- Is their request clear to me?
- Do I know what I’m saying “yes” to, or committing to?
- Does this person have authority over me in some way?
- Do I have authority over them in some way?
- Would saying “yes” to this request violate my rights in some way?
- Would saying “no” this this request violate their rights in some way?
- Have I done as much for this person as I am now asking them to do for me?
- Has this person done as much for me as they are now asking me to do?
Long-Term vs. Short-Term
- Will giving up on my request right now result in long-term problems later on?
- Will saying “no” to their request lead to long-term problems down the road?
- Do I usually do things for myself?
- Do I usually avoid appearing helpless?
- Will saying “no” make me feel bad about myself in some way?
It is usually not possible for two people in a relationship (romantic, platonic, or professional) to get “all” of their needs met “all” of the time. Give up on this idea and find peace in accepting that this is unrealistic. What is realistic is for each person to get “some” of their needs met “most” of the time. When applying interpersonal effectiveness skills, reflect on what you are willing to compromise on and what is truly nonnegotiable to you. Always look for ways to meet halfway when possible, with the goal of maintaining a harmonious relationship and respect of yourself and the other person.
The combination of mindfulness with interpersonal effectiveness enables you to be in touch with your own experience, use your thoughts and emotions constructively, and successfully negotiate with important people in your life. Reflect on your own patterns in negotiations with others. What do you tend to focus on? Some people become overly focused on the “fairness” of exchanges, which often results in a skewed picture of reality and unnecessary resentment. Others become overly focused on being “right,” which is often at the sacrifice of moving forward with harmony and positive sentiments.
Consider how attached you are to your patterns of negotiating with others and honestly ask yourself how your relationships would be different if you let go of your old ways of interacting and began to reflect on future interpersonal exchanges with true mindfulness. Imagine what it might be like to let go of our need to be attached to your point of view so much – how would things be different if you looked upon each moment with fresh eyes and an open heart? Change can be frightening, and it is only truly possible once the pain of holding on is greater than the fear of letting go. What are you willing to change?
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Spradlin, S.E. (2003). Don’t let your emotions run your life: How dialectical behavior therapy can put you in control. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc
Featured image: Two Happy Girls Laughing at Each Other by Pink Sherbet Photography / CC BY 2.0