Today, we are back into our series taking a trip through each of the DBT skills. We are moving into the Interpersonal skills and first up is DEARMAN (it's an acronym, so read on to see what it all means.) This skill is about asking for what we want and need.
This was the hardest skill for me to learn in DBT. The year was 2009, I had begun practicing standard DBT in Nov 2008, taking my first individual client. At that time, I dug into learning all of the skills in DBT. I was filling out a diary card, doing the homework being assigned to clients, and then there was DEARMAN.
I was able to teach others to do this skill, sitting with people walking through the pieces of this complex, yet vital, skill. I, however, resisted this skill for myself. I don’t like conflict. I want everyone to like me. That’s the simple version. Pretty sure I had the belief that I would not be liked if I had needs, if I wasn’t the one helping. Btw, interpersonally we really need to balance the three skills to have ‘healthy’ relationships. So, I helped others utilize DEARMAN, while pushing off conversations I needed to have in my personal and professional life.
Before I get too far into it, a little DEARMAN explanation. Like many things in DBT, DEARMAN is an acronym. It’s a skill used to ask for wants or needs and to say ‘no.’
D- Describe the situation. In factual terms we describe the current situation with just enough to get the idea across (no long detailed description, that will lose people)
E- Express feelings or opinions about the situation. This is the part where we tell how we are feeling. Important that it’s my feelings and opinions and not what someone else ‘should’ do. This is also the part where we can express feeling about the interaction itself. The handouts in the Linehan handouts and worksheets book has an example.
A- Assert what you want or say no. This is where you ask. What is it specifically I am asking for or saying ‘no’ to?
R- Reinforce why the person would want to give you what you are asking for. This could be something tangible the person will gain or it could be that it will make you happy or it will enhance the time you have with the person, etc.
The last 3 letters are some ‘hows’ of doing the asking.
M- Mindful, Stay mindful of your ask and do not allow the conversation to go off the rails. You can be a broken record and just come back to the ask each time the other person tries to bring up another topic or get things sidetracked. You can also ignore any personal attacks or name calling, etc, and simply stay on track with your ask.
A- Appear confident. Notice is doesn’t say, ‘be confident.’ Adopt a confident facial expression and body posture. You might need to practice this with a friend or in the mirror.
N- Negotiate. Be willing to give a little to get what you want. Know if there is a little less that you will accept in your ask. If it’s a really difficult situation, turn the tables and ask the other person what they would do in the situation, “Ok, what is your solution?” or something like that.
Ok, back to my experience with this skill. My avoidance of this skill was interesting because I could use this skill with my clients at times and yet not with others. So, finally, I came to the end of my avoiding and realized I had several things that I needed to ask for both in my personal life and professionally, so I dug in and wrote down two DEARMANs. Well, I wrote down 1 DEARMAN and made notes on another, figuring the notes would be enough to help me put all the pieces together and deliver the DEARMAN. That ended up being enough for me to do an effective DEARMAN.
My first foray into a DEARMAN came with my wife and I stumbled through it and got the response I was looking for. I have no idea at this point what I actually ask for from her, so that’s probably not super helpful. I do know that asking by using those steps made an impact on her. It was like taking a little time to prepare meant something in the relationship.
The other DEARMAN that I did was with my boss asking for a different approach to a problem we were having at the place I worked full time while I was working to build LifeWork, LLC into a thriving practice. I layed out the Describe in logical terms with a small amount of background. I Expressed the feelings that I was having with the lack of progress we had at the time. I asserted the plan that I thought would be a more effective approach.
I then did Reinforce and stated that our staff would be more energetic and engaged with a new approach. I stayed Mindful as my boss expressed a difference of opinion with our approach to the situation. I Appeared confident without being aggressive (I think), and offered to Negotiate the particular items I was asking for. And, it went exactly nowhere. I felt really good about how I had handled things, how I presented my side. And then I got completely shut down. No more engagement on the issue.
Ultimately, that DEARMAN did not result in the changes I was asking for, and I still felt really good about how skillful I had been and about the way I went about asking.
It was very helpful in determining that the place I was working was not the best fit for me and ended up alerting me to changes that I needed to make in my career path. Eventually, that led to me moving to LifeWork, LLC full time and me putting all of my efforts into creating a practice that worked for our clients and staff members at the practice.
Sometimes, DEARMAN can get what we are asking and sometimes it is not successful in that particular way. Asking for things skillfully always ends up with us being able to feel good (a very clinical and technical term, I know) about how we have gone about asking. Even if we end up ultimately not getting what we want, there seems to always be helpful information gleaned in the process.
Sometimes, DEARMAN must be paired with some of the acceptance skills to be effective. In the case of my DEARMAN with my boss, I had to pair some Radical Acceptance with that particular situation and recognize that it was time for me to move on.
I now use DEARMAN with multiple people in my personal life, my colleagues, my clients, and with those folks who work for me. I suggest that people write out all the components of DEARMAN for at least the first few times that the skill is used. Some of my clients have written out DEARMAN for each time they are asking for something and some learn the components and are able to be effective without writing everything out. As with all things in DBT, the focus is on being effective along the way and on doing what works.