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From Dread to DEAR MAN!

Updated: Oct 31


One of the most frequent DBT skills I find myself teaching in individual therapy is DEAR MAN. This skill comes from the Interpersonal Effectiveness module of DBT, which focuses on how to build and improve relationships. There are 4 different skills within Interpersonal Effectiveness, and DEAR MAN is only one of them (although the most popular and well-known)! DEAR MAN focuses on objective effectiveness, which means how to ask for something that you want or need from another in a way that both strengthens/maintains that relationship and increases the likelihood that your message is fully heard and understood (however, you may not get what you’re asking for all the time). So many people struggle with how to ask for help or for their needs to be met because they haven’t heard that modeled in their families or other relationships before in a healthy manner.


I love this skill because of how it forms a handy script for the user to deliver, which can reduce nerves for first-time users. DEAR MAN is an acronym, with the “DEAR” forming WHAT you say and the “MAN” describing HOW you say it. I am going to start using an example below to weave this skill together for you!


EXAMPLE:


Kristin and Stephanie are good friends and like to make efforts to get together monthly to connect. Kristin has noticed that in the last 3 months, Stephanie has cancelled their plans with less than 24 hours’ notice each time. The first two times Stephanie shared she had a work emergency and was sick with the flu, both of which Kristin felt understanding towards. On the third time, Stephanie shared she double booked herself with another social gathering and couldn’t make it. This made Kristin feel very upset, as she had been understanding and flexible on previous occasions but was feeling unimportant and taken advantage of on this last occasion.



The first step of a DEAR MAN is to decide what is your objective. The objective is your want or your need out of a situation. It is recommended that you stick to ONE objective per DEAR MAN- this is to increase the likelihood that the listener understands what you want from them. When we have multiple objectives, we can overwhelm the listener and potentially make them defensive, but they also may only respond to some of those requests and miss others. It is best to do multiple DEAR MANs over a singular situation in numerous sittings if you truly have multiple objectives to accomplish.


Kristin now has to brainstorm what her objective is. She could:

· Ask for an apology

· Ask for an explanation as to why Stephanie didn’t cancel with her other friend

· Ask for Stephanie to respect her time and not late cancel outside of emergencies

· Ask for Stephanie to take the initiative to plan their next few get togethers


While all the objectives sounded attractive and reasonable to Kristin to consider, she ultimately decided that it was MOST important to her that she sets a boundary moving forward with Stephanie on what situations are ok to late cancel on, and what feel bad for the relationship.


Below, Kristin will work through her DEARMAN and form her script that she can deliver to Stephanie.


D (DESCRIBE THE FACTS)- Kristin will now list the FACTS of the situation at hand. Kristin will focus only on listing relevant information to her objective (to set a boundary around late cancellations). This means she won’t talk about the couple times in college that Stephanie was a flakey friend as they have moved well beyond that in recent years. Kristin also won’t list her personal opinions- such as how she finds the behavior of late cancelling to be rude and entitled.


You and I have made a habit of getting together monthly to keep our friendship strong and connect. I have noticed that on the last three occasions that we were supposed to get together, you have had to cancel for various reasons. These included a work issue, personal illness, and lastly a social conflict.


E (EXPRESS YOUR EMOTIONS)- Kristin will now have the opportunity to tell Stephanie how she FEELS about being cancelled on last minute for other social obligations. This step is the one most people gloss over very quickly (usually out of discomfort verbalizing difficult emotions), but is actually one of the most meaningful steps of the whole script! People may not agree with your point of view or your request, but they very well may care about your feelings!


I felt understanding towards the cancellations due to work and illness. However, I felt unimportant and taken advantage of when you cancelled for another social commitment. I felt sad and confused whether you wanted to continue prioritizing seeing one another monthly.


A (ASSERT/ASK FOR NEEDS)- Kristin will now CONCISELY ask for what she wants/needs. It is important to be brief, direct, and clear in this step. When people become long winded, the listener can misunderstand the request.


I would like for us to avoid late cancelling on one another in the future outside of emergency situations, or cancel with plenty of notice if there is another type of conflict we may experience in our schedule.


R (REWARD/REINFORCE)- Kristin will now “wrap up” this script in a kind, but firm way. You can reward or reinforce your point by telling someone how much you care about them, how much you would appreciate them following your request, how much you appreciate them listening to your request, what “they may get out the situation” if they follow through with your request (i.e. something you may do for them), and/or a simple thank you. Depending on the situation and person at hand, you may choose to be more firm (“Thank you for listening”) or more friendly (“I think following this request is going to make our relationship so much stronger”).


I cherish our friendship dearly and enjoy our monthly get togethers so much. I know life is busy and things may come up, but I hope we can prioritize one another in our schedules and respect each other’s time moving forward. Thank you for being willing to hear me out.


NOW LET’S LIST THAT SCRIPT OUT ALL TOGETHER AND SEE HOW IT SOUNDS!



You and I have made a habit of getting together monthly to keep our friendship strong and connect. I have noticed that on the last three occasions that we were supposed to get together, you have had to cancel for various reasons. These included a work issue, personal illness, and lastly a social conflict.


I felt understanding towards the cancellations due to work and illness. However, I felt unimportant and taken advantage of when you cancelled for another social commitment. I felt sad and confused whether you wanted to continue prioritizing seeing one another monthly.


I would like for us to avoid late cancelling on one another in the future outside of emergency situations, or cancel with plenty of notice if there is another type of conflict we may experience in our schedules.


I cherish our friendship dearly and enjoy our monthly get togethers so much. I know life is busy and things may come up, but I hope we can prioritize one another in our schedules and respect each other’s time moving forward. Thank you for being willing to hear me out.


As for the “MAN”… this is not so much things that you say, but more so how you deliver your message.


M (MINDFUL)- Stay mindful to the message that you want to deliver. Don’t get off track and add in new objectives. Also, don’t let the listener steer you off course. We call this the “broken record technique”. The listener may bring up other pieces of information, excuses, times you have been unfair to them, etc. You can use a line such as “I hear you and I am glad to talk about those things later, but I want to make sure you understand what I am asking of you…” and then reinforce your request from there. If this does come up, do make sure to allow them space to speak on their own issues later!


A (ACT CONFIDENT)- The goal is to deliver your message confidently! You don’t have to BE confident… you may be very nervous, especially if assertive and direct communication is new to you! Acting (or being) confident may sound like speaking at a normal but clear volume, not rushing through your words, knowing what you want to say ahead of time, making eye contact periodically, sitting up straight, having open posture, smiling (if appropriate), not making unnecessary apologies, etc.


N (NEGOTIATE)- Be open to “meeting in the middle” with the other person if they suggest something reasonable in response to your original request. Negotiation is not always appropriate, especially if there has been severe and unacceptable boundary violations and the suggestion is something that still does not sit right with you. Negotiation can be important, however, as it can be relationship building when both parties feel heard and valued and each “do a little bit of the hard work”.


This script is a great example of ASSERTIVE communication. It is clear, direct, fair, not “hitting below the belt”, and remains friendly. This type of interaction should strengthen or maintain the friendship between Kristin and Stephanie, as it will (hopefully) prevent future disappointing cancellations that may end up jeopardizing the friendship long term.


If you struggle with asking for what you want or need in a way that leaves a relationship in good standing, this skill may be a good starting block for you to consider your own script!



Written By: Kelly Birkhold, LCSW (offering individual, couples, and family therapy, as well as DBT skills training and Self Compassion training)






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