Written by: Krista Redlinger-Grosse, PhD, Staff Associate at LeaderWise
Do you find yourself struggling to ask others for something? Are you someone who says ‘Yes’ even when you mean ‘NO!’? Do you sense resentment building when you realize that your needs are not getting heard or understood in a relationship? If you answered yes to any of these questions (and be honest), I argue that you are not alone. Through the years, I have learned that it comes down to assertive communication – asserting, asking, and advocating for yourself.
As a “recovering” people pleaser, I have also found myself stuck with how to assertively ask for something that I want or need. One “tool” that I find helpful in assertiveness communication was one I picked up in training for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (a skill-based form of individual and group therapy that teaches mindfulness, emotion management, and interpersonal skills).1 The skill – termed DEAR MAN – is an acronym to guide us in effectively asking for something we want or saying no to something we do not want.
Here is a simplified explanation of DEAR MAN along with an example. Let’s say, you are being pressured by your family to attend an upcoming reunion. You do not want to go, especially as it would use up all your summer vacation time.
- Describe exactly what you are reacting to – stick to the facts!
“You have asked me three times to go to this reunion.”
- Express how you feel about the situation.
“I am feeling pressured.”
- Assert yourself by asking for what you want or saying no.
“As I have told you, I cannot go to the reunion.”
- Reinforce or reward the person ahead of time by explaining the consequences.
“I have limited vacation time this summer.”
- Keep focused on your objectives.
- Be mindful of not getting derailed by other person’s comments, blame, subject changing or verbal attacks (e.g., “But the family needs you to be there.” “Mom will be so disappointed.”). It is helpful to think in advance about potential distractions so you are not caught off-guard.
- Use a confident tone of voice and physical presence (e.g., good eye contact, no stammering, or retreating like “I’m not sure”)
- If needed, by willing to “give to get.”
“Is there another time you think we could spend time together as a family?”
Asserting our thoughts and needs is understandably challenging. Like any skill, it takes practices. Sometimes it will go well, and other times not. Keep trying! Whether at work or at home, assertiveness communication is an important element to establishing mutually beneficial and trusting relationships. DEAR MAN gives a format to take the first step in asserting ourselves in those relationships. It is been helpful to me and hopefully, can be for you.
1Linehan, M. (2014). DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets. (2nd Ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.