I wrote an article some time ago about "surviving" the Holiday Season and I thought it needed a companion - the DEAR MAN one will complement it well. It's about actual communication skills.
In most situations, it's best to try and talk, try and negotiate - and while it's not always possible - it's almost always worth trying.
Something that can enhance your communication is - as the title of this post suggests - the DEAR MAN technique - originating in DBT.
DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy, is a form of therapy that was developed by Marsha Linehan to help people with emotional dysregulation, including those with borderline personality disorder (BPD). (A large part of the approach is rooted in mindfulness - as you will see reading the article about this particular technique.)
Having said that - it has also been found effective in working with people struggling with depression, anxiety, interpersonal difficulties, low self-esteem, difficulties with productivity, and so on. In all honesty - DBT skills can be useful for most of us - to better navigate our emotions, manage stress, and communicate effectively.
The DEAR MAN technique
There's one technique that I feel is incredibly useful always, but especially when meeting with coworkers, friends, and family this time of year - and it's the DEAR MAN. It teaches you how to ask for something from someone (dear to your heart or complete stranger) while maintaining a good and respectful relationship with that person.
DEAR MAN stands for Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, Mindful, Appear confident, and Negotiate - with each letter literally reminding you of how to use it.
You can use DEAR MAN in a variety of situations where one might feel overwhelmed or unsure of how to communicate their needs and boundaries effectively. Instead of using the default (for some) mode of withdrawal or offense, this one promises a much bigger success rate when it comes to all sorts of interpersonal negotiations. (When you're done reading CLICK HERE to download a short exercise that will help you deal with any situation you might anticipate)
The first step of the DEAR MAN technique is to Describe the situation and the behaviors or actions of others that are causing you to feel distressed. It is important to be specific and avoid sharing opinions, or making global or blanket statements about the other person.
example: "I bought this bag for a gift last week, but I changed my mind. The receipt says I can return it within 30 days. The clerk refused to take it back, saying that it was a holiday sale, so other rules apply. On my receipt says I can return it."
Next up is to Express your feelings about the situation in a clear and non-judgmental way. It's best to use the "I" statement here - you are taking accountability for yourself and your emotions. It can be challenging, as it requires you to identify and acknowledge your own emotions. However, it is a crucial step in effectively communicating your needs and boundaries.
example: "I believe it's my right to return the bag, and I feel disappointed and distressed that I was refused my right. The bag has not been used and I have a receipt."
The third step is to Assert yourself - stating your needs, wants, and boundaries in a clear and direct way. Be specific when you make a request, don't assume the other person knows what you're talking about.
It is important to be firm but respectful when doing this.
example: "I'd like to ask you to take a look at my receipt again and process the return of this bag."
React to → Reinforce the other person for behaviors and actions that support your needs and boundaries. This can help you establish a positive and respectful relationship and encourage the other person to continue behaving in a way that is supportive of your needs.
example: "This is my favorite store in town, I hope we can settle this so I can continue to be your client - feeling that you value your customers."
It is also incredibly important to stay focused on the issue you are resolving. Mindfulness here means being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors during this process, but also being present in the moment and aware of how you are responding to the situation. Try not to bring the past into the conversation, as it is usually an unconscious "diversion" tactic that takes you further from the resolution.
There are 2 techniques that can come in handy here:
- "Broken Record" - If the other person is talking a lot, and coming up with a lot of arguments - you don't have to tackle all of them - thinking of all the new things to say. Mindfully stick to your plan and continue to circle back to what's important to you - with what you started.
- Ignoring attacks and diversions (and distractions) - It's very much connected with the first one but it's so important it needs its own paragraph. If the other person is trying to attack you, belittle you, change the topic or in other ways divert you - don't take the bait and continue on with the broken record technique. Amongst common distractions might be one of your own - a notification on your phone, or your urge to 'just check something'.
*If the "Broken Record" technique is not working - describe what you notice is happening between you and the other person now - without judgment or implying the other person's motives. It might help in brainstorming together.
Appearing confident in your communication can be helpful. This does not mean being aggressive or confrontational, but rather being assertive and expressing yourself with conviction.
Think about your tone of voice, how you stand, what you do with your hands if you trust yourself, or what your facial expression communicates.
Finally, you may need to Negotiate with the other person to find a mutually satisfactory solution to the issue at hand. This can involve finding common ground and compromising on certain aspects in order to meet both of your needs. Be willing to give to get, you are aiming for a win-win situation after all:)
DEAR MAN offers us a set of valuable skills - that come in handy during different situations - especially when the stakes are high. How can you make sure you're ready when the time comes? Practice, practice, and then practice some more. ☺️ Some places and situations that will be more than useful are:
- stores (returns, exchanges, asking to lower the price, asking to order something they usually don't usually have in stock for you,)
- offices (issues with the bills, formal questions, or requests)
- friends and family (ask for a favor, refuse theirs, ask them to stop doing something that is bothering you, ask them to take over one of your chores, suggest that you do something in a different way than before, etc.)
Overall, the DEAR MAN technique can be a valuable tool for effectively communicating your needs and boundaries in a respectful and assertive way. It is important to remember that the goal is not to win an argument or be right, but rather to be able to express what you need or want and find a solution that works for both parties involved.
Use the form below if you want a 7-page workbook to practice the DEAR MAN technique 🙌🏻