Assertive Communication (DBT Interpersonal Skills: DEAR MAN)

Assertive communication helps us achieve our objectives effectively. We express our wants and needs while treating other people with respect, making it more likely that they cooperate.

But a lot of us have trouble communicating assertively. Instead we communicate passively, aggressively or passive aggressively. The DEAR MAN assertive communication technique from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a great tool to help us be more assertive.

DEAR MAN Assertive Communication Technique

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

In this video we’re going to learn how to communicate more assertively by using one of the interpersonal skills from dialectical behavior therapy called objectives effectiveness, which refers to getting what we want or need from another person by being assertive. Rather than passive, aggressive or passive aggressive. So first let’s look at these four main communication styles.

Passive communication is often no communication at all. We don’t ask for what we need. We don’t speak up about things that are bothering us. Maybe we’re intimidated or lack confidence or fear conflict or confrontation or all of the above. So we just stay silent, often growing more and more resentful, but keeping our feelings bottled up and not letting people know that we’re upset or what’s bothering us.

Aggressive communication is the opposite of passive. We make demands, give orders, blame or try to control others, raise our voices, or even start yelling and screaming. And sometimes we start off with passive communication, but then once we can’t keep things in anymore we explode and start communicating aggressively.

Passive aggressive communication involves expressing how we’re feeling, but doing it passively rather than directly with some sort of veiled aggression. If we’re mad at our partners we give them the silent treatment or we get really sarcastic. If we’re annoyed with a friend we don’t say anything to them but we show up for coffee half an hour late.

With assertive communication we are direct about what we want while still being respectful to the people we’re communicating with. Assertive communication is key to objectives effectiveness. The more assertive we’re able to be the more likely it is we’ll be able to accomplish our objectives. And the types of objectives we’re trying to achieve are things like: getting someone to do something we’d like them to do; having our rights respected; saying no to things that are unreasonable or that we don’t want to do; resolving interpersonal conflicts; getting our opinions or points of view to be taken seriously.

The assertiveness skills we use to obtain our objectives form the acronym dear man so let’s look at each of these.

Describe: we describe the situation we’re talking about as neutrally and objectively as possible, just sticking to the facts. The goal is to simply let the other person know what we’re talking about without provoking any defensiveness or emotional reaction. So try phrasing things along the lines of, we were supposed to meet at 9 30 and you showed up an hour late without texting me, instead of something like, you’re so disrespectful and irresponsible you never show up on time.

Express: we express how we’re feeling about the situation. We don’t assume the other person knows how we feel or can read our minds, even if we think it should be obvious. We tell them how we feel directly. And if you’ve ever heard about eye messages, that’s what we want to do here: express how we’re feeling with an I message when you do a i feel b. So when you show up late without letting me know, i feel neglected and hurt. Or when you’re not here when you say you’d be, i worry that something happened to you.

When we use I messages, since we’re just speaking about our own experience, it’s easier for others to hear without reacting negatively. If we say, when you show up late you’re being disrespectful, the other person is likely to start arguing with us or get defensive. But if instead we simply say, when you show up late, i feel disrespected, then that’s less likely to provoke an argument since we’re not judging or blaming or criticizing the other person but just stating how we feel.

Assert: then we assert what we’re asking for or want from the other person. And again we don’t expect them to be able to read our minds. We let them know what we want directly. If you’re going to be late, I’d like you to let me know. And again use an I message. I want you to text me and let me know when you’re going to be here, instead of a you message like, you should text me, or you need to let me know when you’ll be here, because i messages are less likely to provoke an argument or defensive reaction, and nobody likes being told what they need to do or should do.

And sometimes asserting involves saying no. We’re asserting that we’re not going to do something that someone requested. So when we are telling someone no we need to be clear about it. I’m sorry but i can’t do that. No beating around the bush. Not, well you know, I’ll do my best to try to be there, but yeah, i really don’t know if i can make it. Be clear with your message. I’m sorry but I’m not going to be able to come.

Reinforce: and then we reinforce the behavior or result we’re looking for. In psychology reinforcement is a reward that encourages desired behavior, so when a dog sits we give them a treat. But here we’re reinforcing in advance and letting someone know what the reward will be if they cooperate. If you can just let me know when you’re going to be late, then i won’t be so moody when you get here.

So the dear part of dear man is the process we use to make a request or to say no. We were supposed to meet up at 9 30 but you got here an hour late. When you don’t let me know you’re going to be late i feel hurt and i worry. So next time I’d like it if you could text me if you’re going to be late. And then i won’t be in such a bad mood when you get here.

Last night you criticized me in front of our friends. When you criticize me in front of other people i feel embarrassed and hurt. If you have a complaint I’d like you to bring it up with me in private. And then I’ll be happy to discuss it with you.

And sometimes that’s all that’s needed, and they respond, i promise I’ll text you next time. Or i shouldn’t have done that in front of our friends, next time I’ll bring it up in private. But sometimes it’s not that simple and dear initiates a discussion or dialogue, at which point the man part of dear man kicks in.

The m stands for stay mindful. We stay mindful of and focused on our objectives. We don’t allow ourselves to get distracted or to let things get off topic before we’ve achieved our objectives. One way we can do this is by using the broken record technique, which involves repeating your message or opinion over and over like a record that keeps skipping back and playing the same passage over and over.

If you’re saying no, then every time they try to convince you to change your mind just repeat, I’m sorry i can’t do that. But you’d really be helping me out. I’m sorry i can’t do that. Come on i don’t know who else to ask. I’m sorry i can’t help you. Just this once. I’m sorry i can’t.

If they attack or insult us or try to change the topic we just keep repeating our point. I’d like you to text me if you’re going to be late. It’s not like i was that late. Please just text me if you’re going to be late. What are you my mother? I’d just like it if you could text me the next time you’re going to be late. You don’t text me when you’re late. Please just text me next time. You’re being stupid right now. I’d still like it if you could text me next time.

Appear confident: speak in a confident voice. Maintain eye contact instead of looking down at the floor or your eyes darting around the room as you talk. Don’t whisper or hem and haw or say things like, I’m not sure, i guess. And if it’s not regarding an issue that’s just come up in the moment, you can try writing out a script of what you want to say in advance and then practice what you want to say beforehand to help you appear more confident and comfortable when you bring it up.

And finally negotiate: just because you’re making a request doesn’t mean the other person has to comply. People are more willing to cooperate if they get something in return, or at least get to participate in coming up with a solution instead of just being told what to do. You can offer other solutions or reduce your request. It’s fine if you’re only going to be 10 or 15 minutes late but anything longer than that I’d really like it if you could text me to let me know. I’m sorry i can’t do that for you, but if i have the time i would be willing to help out with something else.

But only offer alternatives that you’re okay with. Don’t suggest something you don’t really want to do just because you’re feeling uncomfortable and want to end the conversation. Or we can invite their input” do you have any suggestions? Is there something else you’d like to try?

So dear man is a great way to communicate assertively and will often lead to a solution that everyone’s happy with or at least can accept. But there are times where it’s a little more challenging. If you or the person you’re talking to, or both of you are starting to feel angry or frustrated or hurt or reacting emotionally, then it’s a good idea to take a break, set things aside for a while and give yourselves a chance to cool down.

And you can do this with the dear technique. We’ve been going in circles for an hour. I’m feeling tired and annoyed and i don’t think we’re gonna get anywhere if we keep talking about this now. I’d like to take a break and talk about it later once I’m not feeling so emotional.

Or if the other person isn’t being cooperative—i keep saying no to you and you keep asking me again and again. I’m feeling very frustrated right now and I’d like it if we could just drop this. I’m sorry that i can’t help you out—and in this case maybe there is no reinforcement. We just want to say no and be done with it.

And our own views about ourselves and the world can sometimes get in the way of our ability to be assertive. Marsha Lnehan who developed dbt describes a number of myths that can make it challenging to be assertive including things like: i don’t really deserve to get what i want or need. If i ask someone for something it’ll show that I’m weak. I have to know someone is going to say yes before i ask for something. If i ask for something or say no i can’t stand it. If someone gets upset with me if they say no it’ll kill me. Making requests is really pushy and rude saying no to something is selfish. Obviously the problem is just in my head; if i would just think differently i wouldn’t have to bother anyone else. If i don’t have what i want or need it doesn’t make any difference. I don’t really care.

So try not to fall for these myths instead see if you can adopt something like the personal bill of rights from the anxiety and phobia workbook by Edmund Bourne.

The first set of interpersonal effectiveness skills in DBT consists of three skills that help us obtain objectives effectively:

  • objectives effectiveness
  • relationships effectiveness
  • self-respect effectiveness

With Objectives Effectiveness we use the acronym DEAR MAN to communicate assertively in order to have our rights and wishes respected.


(be) Mindful
Appear confident

With Relationship Effectiveness, we use the acronym GIVE to build and maintain positive relationships, and end destructive ones. GIVE stands for:

(be) Gentle
(act) Interested
(use an) Easy manner

With Self-Respect Effectiveness, we use the acronym FAST to build and maintain positive relationships, and end destructive ones. FAST stands for:

(be) Fair
(no) Apologies (for asking for something, or having an opinion, or disagreeing)
Stick to your values
(be) Truthful

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