Interpersonal Effectiveness Series # 1 What the heck is Interpersonal Effectiveness?

Interpersonal Effectiveness Series # 1 What the heck is Interpersonal Effectiveness?

Human beings are social creatures who were created to interact with one another. Even though this is the case, there are many factors that may make it difficult for some people to interact with others. These include certain diagnoses such as Autism Spectrum Disorders, which involve difficulties with social communication and interaction, and anxiety and depression, which can impact one’s ability and energy to connect with others, among many other diagnoses. Other factors involve how we were raised and taught to interact with others as well as traumatic experiences we may have had involving relationships.

Our families and environment often play a large role in how we learn to relate to other people. I come from a large, out-spoken, Italian, family from New York (I am sure you can imagine them yelling right now). Growing up I was exposed to loud voices, curse words, heated political debates, and yelling at service providers. Many times I was completely mortified of my family and the way they handled situations, thus I learned to take a more passive stance in relationships, holding my tongue, never expressing a difference of opinion, and not asking for anything because I didn’t want to cause a scene or rock the boat as I so often watched my family do.

It was not until graduate school that I realized my passive stance was also a problem and left me without the ability to advocate for myself or my own needs. I was so nervous about upsetting others that I was afraid to send back an incorrect Starbucks order. In college, I had a friend who notoriously had to go to the Starbucks counter for me when I received the wrong order because I would just stand there frozen. One of my professors in graduate school jumped on this opportunity and assigned me a homework assignment in which for a whole week, every time I ordered a drink, I had to send it back (cue mild panic attack).

I remember the first day of this assignment vividly. Between classes, I and my classmates walked to the local café to get coffee. Hours before the anticipated break, I was thinking of how I would send my order back. I rehearsed it in my head, my heart was racing, and I was almost in a panic by the time I arrived at the coffee shop. I promptly ordered my drink and waited for it, all the while rehearsing in my head how I could send it back. I received my drink and stuttered over my words asking the barista sheepishly if she could instead put my drink over ice. She said, “no problem,” and accommodated my request. Over the course of the week, the task became a tiny bit less scary each time. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate having to send an incorrect order back, but now at least I have the skill to do so when I need to.

What I learned from this mission is the essence of Dialectical Behavior Therapy’s (DBT) skill Interpersonal Effectiveness. Interpersonal Effectiveness refers to the ability to assert one’s needs, say no to a request, maintain healthy relationships, and end destructive relationships. Whether it is a diagnosis, family upbringing, or just lack of knowledge that is making it difficult for you to connect with others, the good news is:

  1. You are not alone, connecting with people is really hard!
  2. There are some really awesome skills that can help all of us create and maintain healthier relationships and learn how to let go of relationships that are not serving us.


Tune in to the posts in this series to learn how to create healthier relationships!


I hope these skills are helpful to you right now and for a long time to come. Skills practice is not a replacement for professional help. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns I encourage you to seek out professional help. ACTivation Psychology offers individual therapy for teens and adults struggling with anxiety, depression, transitions, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and other mental health concerns. Online therapy is available during this time for individuals in the state of Colorado. Please remember that you do not have to struggle alone!



*The above is adapted from Linehan, M., M., (2014). DBT Training Manual. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Please see the full text for more resources*

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