Do you have trouble standing up for yourself?
Maybe when you try to assert yourself, you freeze and can’t think of what to say.
On the other hand, maybe you get so angry that you fly off the handle and say things you later regret.
Either way, the DEAR MAN skill can help!
What Is the DEAR MAN DBT Skill?
DEAR MAN is a skill from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, which was created by acclaimed therapist Marsha Linehan. DBT is a set of mental health skills based on CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and mindfulness concepts.
DBT has four skill modules: Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Distress Tolerance. The DEAR MAN skill is from the Interpersonal Effectiveness module of DBT.
What Does DEAR MAN Stand For?
DEAR MAN is an acronym that stands for Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, stay Mindful, Appear Confident, Negotiate.
Here are each of the steps with examples to help you understand how to use them.
When describing the situation, stick to the facts! Do not include your interpretation of events, as doing so may put the other person on the defensive and derail the conversation.
Example: “You said you would take the trash out today, and I just noticed it’s still full.”
NOT: “If you actually loved me, you’d take out the trash.” If what you want is an argument, this is a good way to start one! However, it’s not an effective way to get the other person to take out the trash.
State how the situation makes you feel. Use “I” statements.
Example: “I feel disappointed and irritated that you haven’t done it yet, because it stinks and I want it out of here.”
NOT: “You’re a slob for not taking it out!” Name-calling and insults won’t help you get what you want, and you’re likely to regret them later.
Say, as directly and in as much detail as possible, exactly what you want.
Example: “Please take the trash out now.”
NOT: “Please take out the trash when you can get around to it.” This isn’t direct or specific enough. The person may not “get around to it” for hours, days, or weeks. You want it done now!
Say what the other person will get out of doing what you want them to do.
Example: “I’ll stop asking you about it when you do it, then we’ll both get some peace and quiet.”
NOT: “You need to do this for me because I said so.” There’s nothing people hate more than being told what to do and not given a good reason.
If the other person tries to change the subject or pick an argument, don’t take the bait! Stay focused on your goal.
Example: “I know there are things you’re frustrated with me about. We can talk about them later tonight. Right now, I just want you to take out the trash.”
NOT: “Whatever… I know you want me to do dishes, but the trash stinks and the dishes don’t.” This is likely to derail the conversation into an argument, and your point may get lost.
Even if you don’t feel confident in what you’re saying, fake it ‘till you make it.
Example: Making eye contact, standing up tall, speaking audibly and clearly.
NOT: Looking down, slumping, mumbling. This will make the person think they can ignore what you want because you’ll give up easily.
Be reasonable and willing to compromise - as long as the compromise is still something you feel good about.
Example: “I know you’re in the middle of something right now. Please take out the trash as soon as you finish up.”
NOT: “Okay, fine, I’ll just do it myself.” This response doesn’t get you what you want, and may lead to resentment later.
Who Can I Use the DEAR MAN Skill With?
This skill can be used with virtually anyone - your partner, hairdresser, kids, or even your boss.
When Is a Good Time to Use DEAR MAN?
Use the DEAR MAN skill anytime you want someone to do or not do something, and you’re struggling to assert yourself.
You may be too passive, not knowing how to ask or not pushing hard enough for what you want. On the other hand, you may be too aggressive; shouting, insulting, or pushing too hard. Either extreme is distracting to your message.
Using DEAR MAN makes your message clear and helps you get you the results you want.
What if I’ve Tried to Use DEAR MAN and Still Have Difficulty Asserting Myself?
A therapist who is trained in DBT or a DBT program can help you troubleshoot barriers to using DEAR MAN. They will also have other methods to help you with assertiveness.
About RebeccaRebecca Ogle, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social worker and therapist in Chicago, IL.
Rebecca provides therapy to people with anxiety, low self-esteem, and people pleasing tendencies. She uses a feminist and social justice lens, and interventions based in CBT, mindfulness, and motivational interviewing.
For helpful, free content, follow her on Instagram or go to her website.