Interpersonal Effectiveness

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In the Interpersonal Effectiveness module, all the skills come together in a synergistic way. In this lesson, therefore, I will take you through the journey of my thinking process, including whichever skills came to mind as I sought to solve the problem.

As with all the DBT modules, practice using the skills for small, less intense encounters. Don't wait until you are in a crisis and then expect yourself to suddenly remember the skills and know how to use them. That would not be very effective.

Let's start with an abrieviated reminder of the (action) skills in the module.

Situations for Interpersonal Effectiveness

Attend to relationships

Balancing priorities

Balancing 'should's?

Master & Self Respect

Goals of Interpersonal Effectiveness



Self Respect


Factors Reducing Interpersonal Effectiveness

Lack of skill

Worry thoughts







Options for Intensity of Asking or Saying NO

Intensity rating




Guidelines for Getting What You Want (Objective) (DEAR MAN)





Stay Mindful

Appear Confident



Guidelines for Keeping The Relationship (GIVE)

Be Gentle

Act Interested


Easy Manner

Guidelines for Keeping Your Respect for Yourself (FAST)

Be Fair

No Apologies

Stick to Values

Be Truthful

I lived in a fourplex apartment building. In the back of the building were 4 parking places with numbers corresponding to the apartment number. My number happened to be the closest one to the building.

After moving in and settling down, I found myself irritated by the fact that the other residents of the building parked their cars wherever they wanted, including in 'my' spot. Therefore, I often had to park my car on the street or in the parking lot of the next door apartment building. It was not long before I became fuming with anger over the situation.

Using DBT:

The first thing I had to do was find a way to tolerate my distress. I did this by being mindful. I tried to observe the situation without judgment, knowing that I would soon have a solution. I tried to push thoughts away, focus on being one in the moment and doing one thing at a time.

A part of me wanted to avoid conflict and try to live with the situation. I thought about what would happen if I did and realized it would
ncrease my anger and irritation, I might harbor resentment, or generalize by associating their behavior with who they are.

I decided it was clear that I needed to talk to them. I felt very fearful of this. I was afraid of angry reactions and possibly even retribution. I decided to ride the wave of these emotions, which proved helpful because when I tried to run from the emotions, they seemed to grow in intensity. By observing that I was feeling fearful, I could let myself feel it for a while (sort of wallow in it), but it wasn't long before the emotion dispersed and I was distracted by other things.

Next I needed to assure myself that I had a right to say something. So I went through the factors to consider in deciding to ask for what I wanted.





I considered which was most important to me? my objective, the relationship or preserving self respect. I decided it was my objective. We didn't have much of a relationship and I figured I'd preserve my self respect better if I didn't avoid.



I decided they were definitely able to give me what I wanted.



This could be a bit tricky. I didn't know my neighbors well enough to know what time would be good. I had no idea about what was going on in their lives. I thought the best I could do was talk to them on the weekend rather than during the week when they might be tense from working.



The only homework I could think of doing would be to get to know them better before talking to them, but I wasn't willing to wait.



I had no authority over them. We were equals. I could talk to the apartment manager and let him talk to them, but I didn't want to be perceived as a 'tattle-tale.'



I decided I had as much right to ask them as they had to ask something of me. Since the parking spots were already marked, I felt justified in asking them to follow the rules.



What I would be asking was certainly appropriate to the relationship.



I didn't know my neighbors well enough to have established any kind of give and take. However, if I were parking in one of their spaces, I would be willing to discontinue.


Long vs. short term

There could be more general peace in the short term  if I didn't ask. But in the long term, my peace would significantly decrease and harboring resentments could only stir up trouble. I knew I wouldn't regret speaking.



There was no doubt that my self respect would increase by asking. It was possible as well that their respect of me would increase if they appreciated my asking instead of stewing.


When I added up all the increases in intensity, I got 6 with one decrease, so I was at 5. According to the chart below that meant I should ask firmly, and resist taking a no.

Ask firmly, insist. . .


. . .Refuse firmly, don't give in

Ask firmly, resist no. . .


. . .Refuse firmly, resist giving in

Ask firmly, take no. . .


. . .Refuse firmly, but reconsider

Ask tentatively, take no. . .


. . .Express unwillingness

Hint openly, take no. . .


. . .Express unwillingness, but say yes

Hint indirectly, take no. . .


. . .Express hesitancy, say yes.

Don't ask, don't hint. . .


. . .Do what other wants without being asked

Next, I had to consider how I was going to ask for what I wanted. I decided that over the weekend, I would try to catch one of my neighbors hanging around and if I didn't run into them, I would knock on the door and ask if I could speak to them for a minute.

But what would I say? I was very angry at that point. I wanted to say, "would you keep your *&!)%# car out of my parking spot?" But I doubted I would be very effective. So I considered the DEAR MAN skills which I had used in the past with great success. I wrote down my answers to each acronym in the skill.


I wonder if you have noticed that in the parking lot, there is a single spot assigned to each apartment. I'm the newest resident and I have noticed that everyone seems to park wherever they want. Sometimes I have to park my car in the street or in the next apartment building parking lot.


I have been feeling very disappointed and annoyed that the parking spot assigned to my apartment number is frequently full.


I would like it if I you could avoid parking in my allotted spot.


I think we could all get along better and avoid misunderstandings by following the posted parking rules.

Stay Mindful

I resolved myself to stay focused on the subject if the other person steered away with something like "well everyone parks in my spot as well." I could say, "Isn't that irritating? I'm planning to talk to each resident about the situation. Are you willing to comply with the posted parking number?"

Appear Confident

I knew I would not feel confident. I hated conflict and I was terrified of people being angry with me. A part of me felt I would crumble and cry if they didn't immediately agree to my solution. I decided to use a trick I had learned from a previous therapist. Before encountering each person, I would close my eyes and remember a time when I was very confident about something. I would re-experience those feelings and make my body posture and facial expression look like it did then.


This didn't really apply to the situation. It seemed pretty black and white to me, either they complied or not.

The Outcome

Despite all my preparation, I couldn't catch anyone at home during the next weekend. Therefore, I decided to write down what I wanted in the form of a letter, apologizing for contacting them through writing, but I was finding it difficult to catch people at a convenient time.

Within a few days, people stopped parking in my place. When I encountered one of my neighbors, I would say, "did you get the note I put under your door" I wanted to speak with you directly but the timing was off." Two people responded by saying that they were glad someone finally dealt with the issue. The other person just mumbled something under his breath.

About a month later, my parking spot stopped being available again. I didn't think it would be appropriate to repeat my previous actions. I began to notice that only one of the tenants wasn't complying. I asked the manager if she would speak to the individual. She did, and for the most part the issue went away.

Discussion Questions

Have you ever experienced a similar situation? Most people have. Discuss how you handled the situation and how you could have handled it differently using the DBT skills.

As a group, make up a fictional circumstance. Role play with one another (like a director giving instruction to actors) ways in which the conflict could be resolved.

Discuss the challenge of describing a circumstance without judging it. Pay careful attention to the difference between observation words like "his face became red, his eyebrows furrowed and the tone of his voice increased to a higher pitch" (all observations) as opposed to 'he became angry' (a judgment). Observe how you feel about using (or receiving) observing words as opposed to judging words.

Practice Exercises

Think of a difficult situation in your life that occurred in the past. Don't start with an important major crisis, rather with an annoying circumstance. Go through the Factors to Consider in determining what you could have thought about. Write out your answers to the 'DEAR' acronym.

Consider what behavior is difficult for you. Do you avoid conflict? Do you blow up and behave in a reactionary way? Do you feel justified in anything you do or do you feel you don't have the right to stand up for yourself? Do you have difficulty making eye contact or do you look at others intensely when there is conflict? Use this exercise (along with your own questions) to ascertain the things you feel you need to work on in relationships. Talk to your therapist about these things.

Consider an important conflict that occurred in your past. For each conflict you think over, write a letter using the rules of 'DEAR MAN.'

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