What on earth is D-E-A-R M-A-N and how is it supposed to help you get what you want in relationships? Good question. This mnemonic device was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan as a component of Dialectical Behavior Therapy to help remind people of the basic skills involved in getting what you want in relationships in a healthy manner. It is important in all of our relationships that we feel capable of communicating with others about our expectations in relationships.
Without this open communication, relationships can foster resentment, unmet needs, and hurt feelings. One caveat to learning how to ask for what you need from others: you’re not guaranteed to get it! Even the most skilled communicators don’t always get what they want. However, there is a certain delicateness to learning how to gracefully accept hearing “no” from someone you care about.
DBT & Interpersonal Effectiveness: D-E-A-R-M-A-N
To begin acquiring some tools to help you along the path towards this aspect of interpersonal effectiveness, let’s explore the meaning of the DBT acronym, D-E-A-R M-A-N, adapted from the workbook Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life (Spradlin, 2003):
Use specific words to describe to the other person what you want, explaining yourself through language as clearly as possible. Leave little question as to what it is that you want or need. Practice clarity with your words.
Don’t shy away from being expressive. Part of learning how to effectively communicate, while still being intentional and mindful, involves using facial expressions, tone of voice, or gestures that capture the content and importance of your request. There is a delicate balance to be struck here. Work towards finding the happy medium of being expressive while maintaining a sense of self-control. This can be tricky for those of us who have a tendency to get lost in or overwhelmed by emotions.
Work towards finding your own balance between asserting your needs and staying away from aggressiveness (this includes passive aggressiveness). Be matter-of-fact as you assert your point(s).
Be sure that the other person understands exactly why they should respond to your request. Remind them of whatever positive outcomes would come from this request. Other people want to feel good about complying with requests – not like they are being coerced into meeting demands. Be careful not to offer rewards that are unrealistic or that you cannot come through on. Be true to your word.
Don’t allow distracting thoughts or intense emotions to cloud your thinking. If the other person responds with defensiveness or hostility, don’t allow yourself to engage with the emotional intensity. Stay on track with what it is that you are asking for. If you respond to the other person with your own defensiveness or aggressiveness, your efforts will be sabotaged – you will probably not get what it is that you are asking for (at least not in the long-term). Rather than responding with intensity, practice opposite action, radical acceptance, and mindful breathing. Maintain your focus.
If you have trouble believing in the validity of your request, so will other people. Imagine yourself as confident, competent, and deserving of what you want or need. When you take yourself seriously, others are more likely to as well. Practice self-validation on your own to cultivate this skill.
When our ideal requests are not met, there is often a way to meet halfway – to find a solution that is “good enough” without compromising our values. A big part of negotiation is about respecting other people’s limits. It’s not just about you, after all. When the other person believes that you are capable of negotiating, they are much more likely to see you as a reasonable person. A positive consequence of this is that you are more likely to have successful interactions with this person in the future. Win-win, right?
How can you practice using the DBT mnemonic, D-E-A-R M-A-N in your future interpersonal interactions? What value do you see in learning how to be more mindful, intentional, and reasonable in your dealings with other people? It may be self-evident that these are desirable attributes of a healthy relationship, but if you reflect back on some unhealthy past or current relationships it might be clear that this is easy to forget in the heat of the moment.
Learning how to stand up for ourselves while still respecting the needs and limits of other people can take a lot of practice. Remember to be kind to yourself if some of these interpersonal skills are new. Many of us have spent a lifetime learning unhealthy relationship habits or patterns. The important thing is that you are making a choice now to do things differently.
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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: typical holland blurr by mindfulness / CC BY 2.0