Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), conceived in the eighties by Dr Marsha M. Linehan, has quickly emerged as an effective therapy model to help people cope with emotional issues, anxiety, and stress. Its four core models of emotion regulation, distress tolerance, mindfulness, and interpersonal skills consist of several mental skills, each designed to offer coping mechanisms for various behavioral and cognitive challenges in life. DEAR MAN is a subskill of interpersonal effectiveness intended to resolve conflicts and cultivate respect for yourself and others to maintain healthy relationships. It can help achieve relationship objectives, be they favors or issues, especially during unstable emotions that make it hard to do so.

What is DEAR MAN

DEAR MAN” is an acronym that stands for Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, Mindful, Appear Confident, and Negotiate. It is a powerful tool for effective communication, allowing individuals to express their needs, set boundaries, and build healthier connections. Each letter of the acronym represents a skill that can be used to make difficult conversations and relationships seem more manageable over time.

Understanding Dear MAN

When implementing the DEAR MAN skill, you must be clear in your objective to make a more straightforward argument. To help you achieve this clarity, you can weigh your priorities against your current demands about a situation. If you feel overwhelmed or stressed, focus on something other than insignificant priorities, but consider what should be achieved rather than what you want. Often, what you want and what should be is different, so focus on what is more important at the time. Here is how DEAR MAN works.

Describe

Take all facts into account and describe a situation through effective communication. Convey your exact reactions to the person with clear and specific observations. Avoid judgment or interpretation and focus on the facts. This helps set the stage for a constructive conversation. For example, instead of saying, “You never listen to me,” you can say, “I’ve noticed that during our recent conversations, I haven’t felt heard or understood.”

Express

Never assume people know how you think and feel; it doesn’t work like that. Instead, learn to express your feelings and opinions clearly. After describing a situation, express your feelings and thoughts with “I” statements, denoting responsibility for your actions and emotions. This reassures the other person and helps them understand your perspective without feeling attacked or blamed. For example, instead of saying, “You make me so frustrated,” you can say, “I feel frustrated when I feel my thoughts are not acknowledged.”

Assert

Similarly, as in the “Express” model, assertiveness includes being clear about what you want or don’t want. Say yes or no; do not assume that others are figuring out your needs. Passion helps you communicate effectively by clearly stating your needs, desires, or boundaries without being aggressive or passive. Be direct and specific about what you want, making it easier for others to respond appropriately.

An assertive statement could be, “I need you to listen without interrupting when I’m sharing my thoughts. It’s important for me to feel heard.”

Reinforce

Reinforcement involves rewarding a person with the understanding that there will be positive consequences when they respond positively to you. Reinforcing their cooperation encourages future collaboration and learning. Express appreciation for their willingness to engage in open communication. You could also clarify how there could be negative consequences to a negative response when not getting what you want or need

Mindful

Mindfulness plays a crucial role in DEAR MAN. It involves being focused on your goals and maintaining your position without distraction. Avoid going off-topic and consistently ask for what you want or say “no’ when you disagree with an opinion. Ignore the potential threat of your persistence, primarily if the other person verbally attacks you or tries to change the topic. Mindful communication requires being attentive to your emotions and reactions, as well as those of the other person. Do not respond to attacks, but assert your point.

Appear Confident

When persistently putting your point across, you must appear confident and competent in tone, manner, and behavior. Make eye contact and use positive body language. Avoid stammering, hesitating, looking away or looking at the floor. Remember, confidence reinforces the sincerity of your message where you can express how addressing the concerns of a topic strengthens the relationship.

Negotiate

The final step in DEAR MAN involves finding common ground through negotiation. There is no getting without giving, so be prepared to compromise and find solutions that meet the needs of both parties. Flexibility in communication fosters understanding and collaboration. Offer a negotiation by soliciting suggestions and answers to the problem. You can always say no but simultaneously offer an alternative to the solution that meets the other party halfway. Just focus on what works best for both.

Applying DEAR MAN in Real Life

DEAR MAN skills can be applied in personal relationships, work, and conflict handling.

Relationships: In intimate relationships, communication is vital. DEAR MAN can be used to convey neglect by a partner by expressing your feelings and asserting your need for attention. It can help reinforce positive behavior and negotiate a balance that satisfies both of you.

At Work: Valuable in professional relationships, DEAR MAN can help you resolve problems with coworkers, especially those who constantly interrupt you at meetings or do not cooperate. You can describe their behaviour, express your frustration, assert your need for uninterrupted communication, reinforce their positive listening behaviors, and negotiate a more respectful interaction. You can also use the technique when forming partnerships or negotiating deals and new co-ventures.

Conflict: DEAR MAN is an excellent tool for managing conflicts. You can use the skills to describe the feeling and express your thoughts and emotions to neutralize the conflict and elicit a positive response from the other person to negotiate a mutually beneficial resolution.

Mastering DEAR MAN is a valuable skill that can transform communication in various aspects of your life. By incorporating the principles of Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, Mindful, Appear Confident, and Negotiate, you can build stronger connections, resolve conflicts, and foster healthier relationships in every aspect of life.

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Last Update: 1 March 2024

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