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The beauty of DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) is that regardless of whether you’re recovering from the disease of addiction or you’re simply someone looking to improve your relationship with yourself and others, – DBT skills are a perfect fit. The Interpersonal Effectiveness acronym DEAR MAN, is an excellent example. DEAR MAN can be thought of as a strategy for effective communication that helps you achieve positive outcomes, whether you’re negotiating a promotion at work or saying no to a persuasive salesperson (who just may be your best friend).

D is for describe, and it’s a great place to start. Describe the situation and include details that clarify and demonstrate your understanding. It may look or sound something like this: “I’ve told you that I don’t want to go to a bar, but you’re trying to convince me that I should go anyway.” “I’ve proven that I’m an expert at my job and I’d like to be promoted to a management position.”

E is for express, and it’s a logical next step in building your position. Express your opinion, your perspective, and how this situation affects you. “When you ask me to do something that jeopardizes my sobriety, it makes me think that you don’t realize the importance of my choice to avoid bars at this time.” “I feel that I’m ready to take on the responsibility of moving into a management position, and I believe that I’m an excellent candidate for the spot that is opening up with Jeff’s decision to retire.”

A is for assert, and now that you’ve clarified your position, it’s time to ask for what you want. You understand the opportunity or the challenge, — now honor yourself and present your solution. “I’m not going to the bar and I’d greatly appreciate it if you would stop asking me to go to this or any bar right now.” “I’d like to be promoted and take over the management role that Jeff will be vacating.”

R is for reinforce, meaning to provide context regarding the benefits associated with the solution you’ve proposed. It may sound like this: “Thanks for understanding how important this is to me. I know that my real friends, like you, are supportive of the decisions I’m making to protect my sobriety.” “As a manager, I’ll be able to have a bigger impact on the success of this company.”

M is for the mindful focus that keeps you on point and not distracted. Stay the course with your objective and don’t deviate by getting involved in other discussions right now, even if it makes you sound like a broken record. If the other person takes the discussion in a new direction it’s your job to bring it back to working toward resolution. “I realize that the restaurant we went to yesterday served alcohol, but that’s a different environment and I will not be going to a bar, where I don’t feel comfortable right now.” “Yes, the new cafeteria is really nice, but I’d like to know if I can be promoted to Jeff’s management position when he leaves next month.”

A is for appear confident. Even if you feel nervous or unsure of yourself, make your case with a confident tone of voice, maintain eye contact, and use positive body language. This may be something you need to practice, so that you’re prepared for situations that call for DEAR MAN. In preparation, try a Superman pose, with elbows bent, hands resting on hips, and head held high.

N is for negotiate. When you’re unable to get what you want, the tactic of negotiation may help you improve the situation. Sometimes, you need to give to get, – and meet someone in the middle with a compromise. In the case of saying no to a request that asks you to go beyond your boundaries or against your values, negotiating doesn’t mean giving in – it means offering consolation with something that you are willing to give. Negotiation may sound like this: “I won’t go to a bar, but if you want to catch a movie or play golf this weekend, I’m in.” “I understand that someone with more seniority is in line for the management position, but perhaps there’s an alternative solution the company can consider to expand my role. Surely I’d be an excellent fit for assistant manager.”

Remember, you cannot get everything you want from others all the time. Certain environments are immune to even the most skilled of individuals. Even though great interpersonal skills can increase your chances of getting your objectives met, it is not a guarantee. In such difficult situations where it is impossible to get what you want, stay calm and ensure to practice distress tolerance skills and radical acceptance. 

At Futures DEAR MAN is a favorite among clients. Sometimes, days after our DEAR MAN session, a client will say “I had a conflict yesterday and DEAR MAN-ed my way to an excellent resolution!” This DBT acronym offers a healthy dose of self-validation, which can be a powerful tool for someone in early recovery who’s working to overcome feelings of shame and doubt. And not to forget, it also helps develop effective interpersonal communication skills that are sure to get you what you want and develop healthy relationships with others. 


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