As human beings, we are wired to seek others and communicate, from the moment we are out of the womb. Unfortunately, this isn’t all smooth sailing, and life is full of misunderstandings, assumptions, and interpretations based on our background and past, all affecting the outcome of our interactions.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy or DBT, a mindfulness-based talking therapy, focuses on equipping you with tools which will help you to communicate in a healthy way and will empower you to assert what you need and want in a respectful manner. No more emotional blackmail or passive aggressive strategies!

Interpersonal effectiveness skills, as they are called, is one of the modules taught in DBT which will have a great impact on your everyday life. It encourages you to manage conversations thoughtfully, rather than react impulsively and let your emotions dictate the course of interactions.

Communicating clearly is one of the facets explored, but also the willingness to really listen to what the other person is saying and not hear only what you want to hear, as well as keeping your goals in mind and not accepting wrong compromises.

You will learn to foster good relationships and eliminate subconscious attempts to muddle the waters; balance demands and priorities; understand the distinctions between “wants” and “shoulds”; and help you build more self-respect and confidence as you become more successful at obtaining positive outcomes for all parties involved.

Those interpersonal effectiveness skills are divided into three main areas:

  1. Objective effectiveness: Achieving the goal of the interaction
  2. Relationship effectiveness: Achieving this goal without conflict
  3. Self-respect effectiveness: Expressing your values and goals assertively but also with respect for the other party

DBT uses acronyms to help you memorise the characteristics of each skill.


Objective effectiveness

Successful communication depends on being clear about what your ideal result is, being specific about it and identifying the steps you need to take in order to get the result you want.

The acronym for this set of skills is DEAR MAN which represents the following skills:

D: Describe the issue you want to discuss in an objective way.

E: Express your feelings to the other party but stay in charge of your emotions.

A: Assert your desired outcome as well as what you don’t want.

R: Reaffirm why your desired outcome matters to you.

M – (Stay) Mindful. Remember to listen proactively and objectively rather than getting distracted by your past.

A – Appear confident and maintain eye contact.

N – Negotiate. A bit of give and take makes the world go round, but keep your goals in mind.


Relationship effectiveness

Obviously, it isn’t all about getting what you want at all cost, but reaching a solution in which both parties feel respected and valued. In all your discussions, you should weigh how important the relationship is to you, how you want your interlocutor to feel after your interaction and what you need to do to keep the relationship healthy.

The acronym for relationship effectiveness skills is GIVE and this module teaches the following skills:

G: (be) Gentle. Adopt a friendly manner and avoid being hostile or defensive so that the other person can express themselves freely and honestly.

I: (show) Interest in what the other person has to say and don’t interrupt them.

V: Validate your interlocutor’s feelings and position.

E: (keep things) Easy. Your goals are serious and important, but keep things light and open.


Self-respect effectiveness

Being mindful of other people’s rights and feelings is crucial to interpersonal effectiveness skills, but your rights and feelings are equally valid. It goes without saying that an inflexible attitude will rarely produce a happy outcome, but there is such a thing as wrong compromises. Let’s take the example of a couple where one party wants to get married, and the other doesn’t. This is one of those situations where there is no half-way solution for example.

Self-respect effectiveness skills teach you to think about how you want to feel about yourself after a specific interaction and what you have to do in order for it to happen.

The acronym for this last set of sills is FAST.

F: (be) Fair. You should aim for a mutually satisfying resolution, not imposing your views.

A: (no) Apologies. It takes two to tango, so only take responsibility for what is actually yours to be responsible for.

S: Stick to your guns. You should be willing to compromise to reach your goal, but don’t bargain with your integrity.

T: (be) Truthful and don’t make excuses or exaggerate.


If you would like to learn more about interpersonal effectiveness skills,contact the Robert Street Clinic or call us on 09 973 5950. We are a private practice of DBT therapists in Auckland with highly experienced counsellors and therapists in Auckland.