DBT: Interpersonal Effectiveness, Part 1

DBT: Interpersonal Effectiveness, Part 1


Primary source for this post: DBT Skills Training Handbook and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Linehan, Marsha.  Copyright 2015


Dealing with your own internal struggles is only half the battle.

Now you have to figure out how to communicate effectively, ethically, and reasonably with other people in the midst of your struggles.

I’ve always struggled with verbal communication. When I write down my thoughts, it is a lot easier for me to express what I need to say.  I can take my time.  I don’t have to worry about interruptions.  I can use the eraser or the delete button.  I can carefully craft a message that communicates what I intended to say.

Talking face to face, for me, is ten times more difficult!

Which is easier for you?


In this next section, we are going to mainly be focusing on how to make requests or problem-solve with other people.  Of course, there are many other aspects to communicating with others, but I chose to focus on this skill because many people make right requests, but in an unhelpful manner, or maybe they truly need something but never make the request at all, or they try to make a request, but don’t feel heard, or simply don’t know how to communicate their feelings or thoughts clearly.  For all these reasons and more, we will be looking at the goals of communication, and then how to reach those goals when making requests.

First of all, let’s look at the goals that need to be considered when communicating.

The first goal is

Objective Effectiveness:  Typically, there’s a reason you decide to communicate with someone.  Whether it’s to ask them to hand you the scissors, or you need information from them, or you need a child to sit still, you have an objective you are trying to reach.  Effective communication means you are able to reach your objective, provided it is reasonable, or come to a compromise.

The second goal is

Relational Effectiveness: This involves your relationship with the person you are communicating with.  Generally, we want our interactions with other people to be positive, or at least fairly smooth.  Sometimes, we have to gauge how important the objective is versus the relationship.  For example: a mother will probably not shout at her child to wipe her face on a napkin, but it would be appropriate for a mother to raise her voice if the child is about to stick her finger in an electrical outlet!  Sometimes the objective, getting the child to act safely, is more important than how the manner of communication makes the child feel.  Often, though, we have to think about not only how to reach our objective, but how to make a request of someone without damaging our relationship with them.

The third goal is

Self-Respect Effectiveness:  While we want to reach a goal without damaging other people, we also have to consider a third factor in the communication: our self-respect.  Basically, the rule of this factor is to not violate our own moral code, for the sake of our objective, or the sake of the other person.  We want to come away from our interaction with another person knowing we were honest, that we didn’t manipulate to get what we wanted, that we don’t have to whine or be selfish to get what we think we need.  In short, we don’t want to violate our conscience and convictions.  And that inner character is the third important component of Interpersonal Effectiveness.

Don’t worry!  There are plenty of acrostics that will help you remember and implement this info.  We will be splitting the Interpersonal Effectiveness ‘module’, so to speak, into 3 parts.  Today, we will be starting with the acrostic that holds the principles of Objective Effectiveness.  To reach our goals when making requests, it is helpful to adhere to the guidelines of DEAR MAN:

D – Describe the situation.  State just the facts of the situation that may have upset you.  Was the other person late for an event?  Did the other person yell at you or slam a door?  Were you somehow physically injured by another person?  Just say what you know for sure.

E – Now, Express your feelings and opinions about the situation.  Maybe the other person being late was frustrating to you, or embarrassed you.  Did the other person slamming the door hurt your feelings, or make you feel scared?  Try to use words like ‘I felt scared’ or ‘I don’t like it when…’ instead of making them feel defensive by saying ‘It’s all your fault!’ or ‘you shouldn’t have…’

A – Assert exactly what it is you want, or, if the other person is making a request from you, this is the time to say NO.  Be very clear; don’t make the person guess what you want from them.  ‘Would you call if you are running late?’ ‘Next time, please use your words to tell me why you are upset.’

R – Reinforce your requests.  Clarify why it would be a good thing if they help you reach your goal.  Whether it would make scheduling easier, or you would worry less about them, or that there could be negative consequences next time the person behaves the way they did, be sure to give them a reason to do what you are asking.  And if they do comply with your request, remember to always say thank you!


As you are describing, expressing, asserting, and reinforcing, don’t forget to act like a MAN:

M – mindfully.  Remember your goal:  you have a helpful objective to reach; it will not be wise to become overly emotional, or to attack the other person. Don’t try to get in little jibes!  And ignore their attacks on you.  Stay the course, and say what you planned to say.

A – appear confident!  Don’t try to subtly hint at what you would like the person to do; then they have to guess what you want, or they may not think you really are serious about your request.  Make eye contact, and stay pleasant, but focused.

N – finally, if you need to, negotiate.  Listen to what the person has to say, and try to come up with a solution together.  Maybe they can’t do everything the way you would like them to, but try to talk through your options.  Figure out if there’s any thing the two of you can compromise on.


I hope this was helpful, ya’ll!  It’s good to be back, and I’m excited about this DBT series.  Don’t forget, stay mindful, practice PLEASE, and let me know what you think about this series 🙂


4 thoughts on “DBT: Interpersonal Effectiveness, Part 1

  1. I’ve heard some of these before, but I really like how structured this was. : ) Ever since 7th grade, I’ve always worked on the “I” statements, and not the “you.” Sometimes, I have to remind myself, not everyone knows this rule.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the I statements are great in tough situations. It is hard when other people don’t extend the same courtesy, but even when I feel threatened I know I need to exercise self-control and not let myself be goaded into anger. It sure is tough though, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes!

      Liked by 1 person

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