Be a DEAR MAN

This is not an article about how to turn into a majestic stag-person. I’m sorry that I don’t know how to do that. If you find out, please let me know, because it sounds like a rad afternoon.

This is an article about the DEAR MAN technique, a skill taught in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) that can help you get what you need with minimal conflict.

DEAR MAN is a series of mini skills that make up one big skill – assertive and non-damaging conflict resolution. It’s designed to help people who aren’t good at asking for help to make requests without hurting themselves or their relationships.

Even if you’re not outright asking for something, the skills can come in handy when you’re gearing up for a hard conversation, or it can help you to stay calm and say “no” when you’re asked to do something you don’t want to.

For some people, standing up for your wants can be really scary. For others, it’s difficult to keep a cool head when another person is pushing your boundaries. Even so, I always think it’s worth it to try to resolve non-abusive conflicts with nobody getting hurt, if you can. Maybe DEAR MAN can help you make that happen.

D is for Describe
When you’re asking for something or fighting your corner in a conflict, start by describing the facts of your situation. If you state facts about what’s going on for you and not opinions, the other person can’t disagree with you, and you’re already one step ahead of an escalation.

E is for Express
You’ve just set up the facts of your situation. Now is the time to talk about how the facts make you feel, and to state your personal interpretation of those facts. Use statements that start with ‘I’ and centre yourself, e.g. ‘I think’ and ‘I feel’, because if you’re talking about how you feel and not what someone else has done, it’s more difficult for them to get defensive. Try your best not to be rude or hurtful – nothing will make someone switch off to your requests faster – but don’t budge on genuinely expressing how you feel.

The first A is for Assert
The facts are lined up and your perspective, thoughts, and feelings are backing them up. Now it’s time to assert what you want and need. Be as clear and direct as possible. This can be really scary and difficult, especially if you’re nervous or emotions are generally running high, but it’s necessary if you want to be properly understood. Try not to use hedging phrases like ‘maybe’, ‘a bit’, or ‘I guess’ – they can be a bugger to shake off, but it’ll help you sound clearer in what you want.

The R is for Reinforce
When you’re making a request or laying down a boundary, it’s important to reinforce that this is a positive thing. Remind the person that what you’re asking for, and even the fact that you’re asking, is a healthy thing – this is going to make your life better, and your relationship stronger.

M is for Mindfulness
It’s not just a buzzword, I promise! Mindfulness here means focusing on your desired outcome and the issue at hand. Try not to get distracted by anything else, like going off on a tangent or adding ‘And another thing’. Try not to get caught up in worrying about the future or making any promises you don’t want to make. It’s also not the time for fighting about the past – it really won’t help.

The second A is for Appearances
Try your best to look like you believe in what you’re saying. Confidence, calmness, and openness are all important stances to try to embody. I know that, when I’m in a conflict or asking for something difficult, I tend to cringe, making me already look like I’ve already lost. It’s a difficult habit to shake but, the more confident you look, the more the other person knows how seriously you take this and how much you believe you deserve what you want (and you do deserve it!). Keep reminding yourself to sit tall, relax your shoulders, and make pleasant eye contact, if you can. If you struggle to make eye-contact, it can help to look at someone’s eyebrows or the bridge of their nose instead.

N is for Negotiate
You can’t always get exactly what you need, and you can’t always win 100% of every argument. That’s ok, because a situation where you both win is best for your relationship, even if your own win is only 90%. If the other person can’t give you what you ask for, it’s ok to look again at what you need and ask if you can get that a different way that will help everybody feel like they’ve won.

So, to reiterate:
D – Describe – Lay down the facts.
E – Express – Say what the facts mean to you.
A – Assert – Tell them what you need.
R – Reinforce – Remind them that this will have a positive outcome for everyone involved.
M – Mindfulness – Focus on the present issue.
A – Appearances – Try to seem calm, open, and confident.
N – Negotiate – Try to get what you need in different ways.

Put on your metaphorical antlers, take some deep breaths, and go get what you need!

The stock photos of attractive people talking assertively and calmly are from The Gender Spectrum Collection.

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