Difficult conversations with difficult people: Use the DEARMAN approach.

Have you ever felt strongly about how someone’s behavior affects you and then find it hard to discuss it with the other person? Are you non-confrontational or passive with your communication? Worried about how the other person might respond or if you can communicate it the way that you want?

I find these are common difficulties for individuals in their personal and professional lives. Trying to convey what we want, or need can be difficult when there are emotions attached to it. When using the DBT interpersonal effectiveness skill, DEARMAN, we can practice assertive communication. 

D(describe): the current situation (if necessary). Stick to the facts. Tell the person exactly what you are reacting to or asking for.

E(emotion): your feelings and opinions about the situation. Don’t assume that the other person knows how you feel. 

A(assert): yourself by asking for what you want or saying “No” clearly. Do not assume that others will figure out what you want. Remember that others cannot read your mind.

R(reinforce): (reward) the person ahead of time (so to speak) by explaining positive effects of getting what you want or need. If necessary, also clarify the negative consequences of not getting what you want or need.

M(be mindful): Keep your focus on your goals. Maintain your position. Don’t be distracted. Don’t get off the topic. Speak like a “Broken record.” Keep asking for what you want. Or say “No” and express your opinion over and over and over. Just keep replaying the same thing again and again. Ignore attacks. If the other person attacks, threatens, or tries to change the subject, ignore the threats, comments, or attempts to divert you. Do not respond to attacks. Ignore distractions. Just keep making your point. 

A(appear confident): confident, effective, and competent. Use a confident voice tone and physical manner; make good eye contact. No stammering, whispering, staring at the floor, retreating. 

N(negotiate): be willing to give to get. Offer and ask for other solutions to the problem. Reduce your request. Say no but offer to do something else or to solve the problem another way. Focus on what will work.

The DEARMAN skill can be helpful to plan out exactly what we want to say prior to talking to the other person. The other person’s reaction is outside of our control and using DEARMAN can help us focus on what is within our control. I encourage my clients to write out what they want to say in either bullet points or paragraph form and take it with them to talk to the other person. By doing this you can verbalize wanting to read through your entire DEARMAN letter before receiving feedback and minimize any interruptions. This skill can help gain confidence and build our assertive communication skills.