Interpersonal Effectiveness Skill: DEAR MAN
Have you ever made a request to a friend or family member, and received a sigh, a look, or a hesitation that made you want to crawl under a rock? Maybe their response hurt your feelings or annoyed you. Either way, the outcome didn’t seem promising, so you sat with your hurt or gave a cold shoulder or stormed off or [insert reaction].
Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills are intended to help you become more aware of how your behavior affects your relationships and gives you the space to make changes for more positive outcomes. For decades, DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) has coached on an Interpersonal Effectiveness skill called DEAR MAN. DEAR MAN is a scrip and acronym for being assertive and saying no.
DEAR is What to say:
D - Describe (Focus on the facts.)
E - Express your feelings
A - Ask
R - Reinforce (Think of what’s in it for someone to give you what you want. This will depend on your relationship, your ask, and the situation, but it could be as simple as saying “thank you” to negotiate favors.)
MAN is How to say it:
M - Mindfully
A - Appearing Confident
N - Negotiate
DEAR MAN is useful because it encourages you to consider the thoughts and feelings of the other person. For example, simply asking, “Can I return this dress?” to a busy store clerk may get them to put down what they’re doing and assist you. But here’s what it sounds like when you apply DEAR MAN: “Can I return this dress? I see you have your hands full and would appreciate working with you when you have time.” Mindfulness can have a profound effect on how others respond to you.
I’ve coached, taught, and supervised tons of people on DEAR MAN. I also use it myself. However… I found something even more useful.
Bandaid Before The Wound
“Bandaid Before The Wound” is not a DBT skill. I’ve learned this from my old supervisor, friend, mentor, and homie, Dr. Beatrice Aramburu. Bandaid Before The Wound is where you state your intentions before your ask.
Using our earlier example, “Can I return this dress?” turns into “I see you have your hands full and I don’t mean to add to your plate, but when you have time, can you help me return this dress? I would appreciate it.” Stating intentions first gives the request a whole new tone.
Here’s Why It Works:
For most people, by the time we’re in a position to guess someone’s intentions, we usually guess ill intentions. We tend to assume they’re out to get us, mess with us, hate on us, refuse to understand us, don’t care about us, have ulterior motives, want to see us fail, don’t love us, etc.
From our loved ones — friends, family, the people closest to us — to our co-workers, acquaintances, and store clerks, we default to assuming negative intent. I’ve noticed that this is especially true with my clients who are married, and often joke that wedding vows need a revision.
Traditional Wedding Vows As Found On Google:
I, ______, take you, ______, to be my (husband/wife), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.
Updated Traditional Vows By Me (And Google):
I, ______, take you, ______, to be my (husband/wife), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. I will also, at some time in this relationship, assume ill intentions of you and you will assume ill intentions of me. I vow to work on my awareness of these thoughts and work on communicating and problem-solving these issues. This is my solemn vow.”
"Don't Make Assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want." ― Miguel Angel Ruiz
I have observed that it’s easy to assume that we come across clear with our loved ones. However, with family and long term partnerships, there are layers and years of history that influence our conflicts. So what do you assume the person already knows about you, how you feel, or the situation in general? We need to let those assumptions go if we want to be heard clearly.
Bring It Back To The Basics
Remember, Bandaid Before The Wound is stating your intentions before you ask (or before you use DEAR MAN). To prepare, ask yourself these questions before you start your conversation or request:
- What are your goals, purpose, message, or meaning?
- What are you intending to do here?
How you might approach tough conversations using Bandaid Before The Wound:
- “I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I really don’t know how to say this perfectly. My intentions are not to hurt you, and I have to tell you some news.” [Insert DEAR MAN]
- “I understand that my tone and facial expressions appear angry. I am frustrated and my intentions are not to come across as angry as I seem.” [Insert DEAR MAN]
- “My intentions are to work this out.” [Insert DEAR MAN]
- “My intentions are to express how I feel.” [Insert DEAR MAN]
- “My intentions are not to come across as an ass.” [Insert DEAR MAN]
Consider Other Influences
I encourage us all, even me, to consider that we don’t always come across as clear as we would like. Maybe the way you express your emotions is stronger than what you intend or, vice versa, your emotions appear underwhelmed and don’t match your ask or what you mean. How does history play a role in your ask? Has your relationship with this person caused them to view your request in a certain way? And what are you feeling in this moment? Are you tired, sick, hungry, stressed, etc? What external influences affect your tone?
The goal is to be clear so your audience doesn’t have to guess your intentions. And what a relief it is not to assume ill intentions! Bandaid Before The Wound helps put your audience where you need them to be. It helps with understanding, empathy, moving forward, listening, and problem-solving. The goal is not to be less emotional. It’s how we express our emotions, what we want, and how to get what we want more effectively.
Explore scenarios when you can use Bandaid Before The Wound. Consider your relationships at work, with your partner, friends or as a parent, and practice your requests. See how it feels, then try it in a real situation.
Consider doing the above homework and model this in front of your kid(s). We know our kids watch us, so modeling Bandaid Before The Wound offers them opportunities to communicate clearly early on in life.