Interpersonal Effectiveness Series # 2 DEAR MAN Skills – How to ask for what you want

Interpersonal Effectiveness Series # 2 DEAR MAN Skills – How to ask for what you want

Oh boy, you are in for a treat! DEAR MAN is by far my favorite skill. This skill has been so helpful in my own life and I frequently teach it to clients. DEAR MAN is an acronym that will be described in full detail below that is a skill for “getting what you want.” And no, this is not getting what you want in the sense of always getting what you want at the expense of others, or getting that new item you are wanting, it is getting your basic human needs met by others.

Many of us either feel that we are not allowed or do not deserve to have our needs met and that it is selfish to ask for something from someone else. Many others struggle with getting their needs met in a way that is respectful to others (i.e. using threats or aggression to get their needs met). DEAR MAN is a structure for advocating for your needs, while also respecting the needs of others.

This skill is useful for when you need to have a difficult conversation with someone, ask for your needs to be met, say no to an unreasonable request, or share how you feel about a topic. Any time a client asks, “yeah, but how do I tell them that?” we review this skill. I have used or taught people to use this skill to tackle a ton of difficult conversations including confronting someone about something, asking for a raise, breaking up with someone, asking for more from a partner, confronting parents or children, asking for more support from others, requesting more romance, requesting date nights, engaging with business partners, etc.

There are a couple of important things to know before we dive into the skill though. You could be the most skillful person in the world and complete a DEAR MAN request perfectly, and the person could still not give you what you want. We do not have control over what other people do, we only have control over ourselves, thus we can’t guarantee that even if we are skillful, people will be willing to accommodate our requests. Just because someone does not accommodate your request does not mean that it was pointless to request it. Sometimes you may need to request something multiple times, and sometimes requesting something is only for your own sense of accomplishment even if you do not get what you want.

It is also important to time your requests well. Making a request during an argument, when someone is busy doing something else, or when someone is stressed is not ideal. Obviously, there is no perfect time, but you have a better chance of the skill being successful if you chose a time in which both people are calm and focused.

Another thing to note is that the DEAR MAN skills work best when used all together, but you can use each skill alone as well. Sometimes a whole DEAR MAN request may not happen in one sitting and may instead occur over several conversations, or you may need to have the conversation multiple times in order to get your needs met.

The steps for the DEAR MAN skills are as follows:

Describe

The first step is to enter the conversation calmly and non-judgmentally. Entering the conversation guns blazing with accusations (such as, “You are a terrible person,”) or with demands (“I need this now!) is not likely to end well. Accusations and demands put the other person in a defensive stance and they are not likely to want to give you what you want when they feel defensive. You want to ease into the conversation and give the person context for what you are asking for. Stick with facts and leave out any judgments during this step.

Let’s use the example of asking your partner to help more with chores around the house. The describe skill will sound something like, “Hey, I would like to talk about our sharing of the chores, is this a good time to talk?”

Express

Next, you get a chance to express how you feel about the situation. By sharing how you feel, you are again providing more context to the situation. Someone is more likely to give you what you are asking for if they understand how it impacts you than if you simply demand it. The other reason we need to do this is that people have no idea how we feel and what we need, they are not mind readers. I know it is nice to think that a partner should just automatically know how we feel and what we need, but the fact is they do not. We must tell people how we feel and what we need if we want to have our needs met.

The express skill with the chore example could sound something like, “Lately I have felt that I am taking on more of the work with the chores in the house. I am frustrated when I am doing the dishes, folding the laundry, and cooking dinner, while I can see you playing video games.”

Assert

If DEAR MAN were a sandwich, Assert would be the meat of the sandwich, while the other skills are the fillers and bread. Without an Assert, you do not really have a DEAR MAN. During this step, your goal is to make a CLEAR and DIRECT request of the other person. In order to do this, you must first know what you need and what you are asking the person for, which can be difficult, especially if you are new to making requests of others.

It may be helpful to take some time prior to starting the process of preparing a DEAR MAN request to first check-in with yourself and identify what is it you really need and how can the other person give that to you.

When I say you need a clear and direct request, this means that the request needs to be specific enough for the other person to understand what you are asking them to do. It should be like a map guiding them exactly to where the pot at the end of the rainbow is (i.e. how to satisfy your needs).

In our example if you just said, “I need you to do more around the house,” that is not clear enough, the person may still struggle to understand exactly what you are asking them to do. Instead, the more specific you can make the request, the more likely the other person is to be able to accommodate it. You could say, “I would like for you to do the dishes after every meal and take out the garbage once a week.” Now the person knows exactly what to do in order to meet your need.

Reinforce

The Reinforce step has two parts. The first part is to tell the person what is in it for them if they do what you are asking them to do, or what the consequences will be if they do not do what you are asking. Essentially, why should they bother accomodating your request? Be careful, because there is sometimes a fine line between reinforcement and a threat. I want to be clear, this step should in no way, ever, be a threat, but rather an explanation of the natural consequences that will happen if they do or do not do what you ask them.

An example is, “If you do the dishes and take out the garbage, I will have more time to spend with you relaxing.” Or, “If you help with the chores, I will be less stressed and more pleasant to be around.”

We also want to let the person know what the natural consequences are if they do not do what we are asking. This can sound like, “If you do not help with the dishes, my frustration and resentment will grow and will impact our connection.” Or, “If you do not help with the garbage our apartment will start to smell bad.” The key here is to let them know what will happen if they do not do what you are asking.

Again, it is not a threat, not an ultimatum, it is a statement of fact. Stay away from threats or ultimatums such as, “If you don’t do this, I will leave you!” as they do not work well and degrade the trust in the relationship. If you are discussing a very serious matter that is a deal-breaker for the relationship, you can make that clear but not threatening. Such as, “If you cannot accommodate this request, I am not sure I will be able to make this relationship work long term.” It communicates the seriousness of the request without demanding or threatening.

The second part of Reinforce is to reinforce the person after they have done what you want them to do. This will increase the likelihood that they will do the task again. It always helps me to think of dog training for this one. If you want your dog to learn to sit, you need to provide them with a treat every time they sit so that they master the skill.

So, when your partner cleans those dishes or takes out that garbage, you better make a huge deal out of it! Thank them, tell them how much you appreciate them, etc. Make sure this is genuine and not fake or sarcastic. For example, “Thank you so much for washing the dishes tonight, it really means a lot to me to see you helping out.”

For reinforcement to work you must be consistent, make sure that every time you see the person doing something that is more in line with what you want, that you acknowledge it. This lets the person know you are paying attention and you see the changes and hard work they are doing to meet your needs.

(stay) Mindful

Staying Mindful refers to staying on the topic of conversation and not letting the conversation get de-railed. Have you ever been in a conversation or argument and someone totally changes the topic? This is what we are trying to avoid. We want to maintain your position, not get distracted, and not get sucked into the blame game.

One way to envision this is to think of a broken record. Keep repeating your request over and over. If the other person tries to change the topic, you can politely re-direct them back to the topic at hand. Such as, “I know you are upset about x,y, or z issue, but right now I want to focus on this.”

Appear confident

Appearing Confident refers to the way you communicate your request. Some studies suggest that over 80% of our communication is non-verbal (meaning it is based on things other than the actual words we use). Much of what we communicate is based on our body language and tone of voice. Thus it is just as important to work on those elements as it is to craft what we are going to say.

There is generally a spectrum of behavior ranging from passive to aggressive, with assertiveness in the center. Our goal is to appear confident and assertive while avoiding aggression, passivity, or passive-aggressiveness.

Those that are too passive struggle to speak up or make requests. Their requests might sound like, “I don’t know, maybe, I guess, it might help if you did ____.” They may not make eye contact, they may look down, and curl their bodies into themselves. They may apologize for having needs or retract a request if it seems like too much trouble. This has always been the end that I tend to fall on. I recall trying to send back a food order once and then when the waitress looked upset saying, “Never mind, it’s fine, I’ll just eat it.”

The problem with passiveness is that it leads to your needs often being overlooked and not met. When that happens, negative emotions such as resentment build up and can be harmful. Folks that tend to be more passive, often struggle with then having explosions of emotions. They allow things to build and build without saying anything and then suddenly are very upset and may yell or act out of proportion to the situation at hand.

On the other end of the spectrum is aggressiveness. Those that are aggressive are too vocal, demanding, or threatening in making their request. They make their request without respecting the rights of others. While it may seem that aggression gets your needs met, it usually only works in the short term. Say you threatened and yelled at your partner to do the dishes. They may do them because they are scared of you, but it does not create a desire for them to do them on a regular basis, and will likely result in negative feelings on their end towards you.

The middle ground is where we are aiming for. Somewhere in between passive and aggressive in the realm of assertiveness. You can be clear, confident, and not apologetic about your request while still respecting the needs of others.

Tips for how to act assertively:

  • Use a confident voice tone (no yelling, no whispering)
  • Use a confident body posture (stand tall, do not puff up in an aggressive stance, nor cower down in a passive stance)
  • No stammering, whispering, staring at the floor or retreating
  • No apologizing or justifying your need

Negotiate

Negotiate is the last step of DEAR MAN. In the case that the person is not willing or not able to accommodate your full request, think about if there is a way to find a middle ground. In our example, if the person is not able or willing to do the dishes every night, perhaps you could modify the request to every other night, etc.

It also helps to be willing to give in order to get. When making a request, you can offer something in return for the request. For example, “If you do the dishes every night, I will take care of all of the cooking.”

If you are using DEAR MAN to say no to a request, you can negotiate by suggesting something else. For example, if a friend asks you for a favor, you can decline the favor but offer to do something else instead. If a friend asks to borrow your car, you can politely decline the request, but offer to drive them somewhere if they need it.

You can also turn the tables to the other person. If they are not agreeing to your request, ask them for other possible solutions (i.e. “What do you think we should do here?”).

 

Now go put these skills to action!

 

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What the heck is interpersonal effectiveness?

 

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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