Interpersonal Effectiveness Series # 3 GIVE Skills- How to have hard conversations and keep a relationship

Interpersonal Effectiveness Series # 3 GIVE Skills- How to have hard conversations and keep a relationship

The GIVE skills are for the purpose of keeping a relationship. These skills explain how to advocate for yourself while still respecting the other person and maintaining trust in a relationship. They are how to respond to others in heated discussions in a way that is productive rather than destructive.

Too often we respond out of strong emotions and either shut down or say things we don’t mean. These responses perpetuate negative cycles of interaction. These skills will help you respond to others in a way that will maintain the relationship, rather than push them away.

(be) Gentle

When you are emotional it can be hard to stay levelheaded and efficient in a conversation. It is easy to want to respond impulsively and say things you may later regret.

The goal of being Gentle in hard conversations is to focus on being kind and respectful. When the goal is to keep the relationship, it is not helpful to yell at, attack, or threaten the other person, as these are all quick ways to end a relationship, not keep someone around.

Many times, in relationships people respond in a way that is opposite to what they actually want. I recall when I first started dating my partner, he informed me he could not come to a gathering that I invited him to. My gut response was to say, “ok, whatever,” but what I really meant was, “I am bummed you cannot come; I wish you were able to come.” You can see how the response of “ok, whatever,” does not foster connection, express what I wanted, or indicate that I was seeking connection, and instead is likely to push the other person away. A few minutes after sending my, “ok, whatever,” text, I quickly sent another text expressing how I really felt.

The rules of being gentle are:

  • No attacks– no verbal or physical attacks, no hitting, no throwing things, no aggressive stances (such as clenched fists, puffing up your chest and posturing like you want to fight), no harassment of any kind.


  • No threats– no manipulative statements, no ultimatums. If you need to communicate the consequences of the situation do so calmly and without exaggerating (“If you don’t do this for me, I will be very upset”, vs. “If you don’t do this for me, I will never speak you to again.”


  • No judging– do not judge the person’s decision or guilt them into doing something. Don’t make statements such as, “If you were a good person you would ____,” or “If you really loved me, you would ____.” No “you should,” or “you shouldn’t.” No blame.


  • No sneering– no smirking, eye-rolling, etc. No cutting the other person off or walking away. Don’t make petty comments such as, “I don’t care what you say,” or “That’s stupid, you shouldn’t be sad.”


(act) Interested

Actively listen and appear interested in the other person. We have all been in a conversation with someone and you can tell that they are not listening to a word you are saying, but rather just formulating their response the whole time. Don’t be that person! Truly listen to and absorb the other person’s point of view.

Show them you care with your body language:

  • face the person directly
  • maintain eye contact
  • lean in towards the person
  • uncross your arms
  • unclench your fists

Remember that 80% of communication is non-verbal, meaning that what you convey to the other person in your body language really matters!

Make space for the other person. If you are busy when they approach you, put down what you are doing and give them your full attention (and for goodness sake, put down your phone!). Don’t interrupt or talk over the person, let them have their turn.

If a person requests to delay the conversation to a later time, be respectful of that request. Be patient.


All humans crave validation from one another. Many times, people do not need you to fix their problems, they just want to be heard and validated. You can get so much farther in a conversation if you validate the other person’s point or feelings (even if you do not agree with them!).

Show the person that you understand their thoughts and feelings about the situation. Repeat back what they are saying, name their feelings. For example, “I understand that you are really angry that I did not do the dishes tonight, “I hear you.”

Try to see from the other person’s perspective. Before making your next statement, make sure to acknowledge and validate the other person.

Ways to validate the other person:

  • Pay attention– give your full attention to the person


  • Reflect back– say exactly what you heard the other person say (make sure this is genuine and not in a mocking or judgmental tone)


  • Read minds– lookout for what is not being said by the other person. Check-in with their facial expressions, body language, etc. and show that you understand


  • Understand– Try to understand how the person is thinking/feeling/ or reacting makes sense based on their experiences, current situation, etc.


  • Acknowledge the valid– validate a person’s feelings in the situation


  • Show equality– don’t try to one-up the person, treat them as an equal and how you would want to be treated


(use an) Easy manner


Remember that HOW you communicate is just as (if not more) important than WHAT you communicate. Be gentle and lighthearted in communication, throw in some humor to lighten the mood where appropriate (be mindful not to make fun of the person). Check your attitude at the door. Giving attitude and the cold shoulder will not help to keep your relationship. Engage with the person, smile, sweet talk.

When put together, these steps will help you communicate to others that you care, you are interested, and you are someone who can handle conflict maturely without putting the other person down.


Similar Posts:

What the heck is interpersonal effectiveness?

DEAR MAN Skills- How to ask for what you want


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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