Having Difficult Conversations and Getting What You Need
Several of our previous blog posts have discussed ways for being assertive and the importance of setting boundaries. This post will continue the theme of how to be effective in interpersonal relationships, and discusses a set of skills for navigating difficult conversations in order to get what you want or need. These skills are taken directly from Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (see Linehan, 2014).
Imagine your partner is not doing his/her share of the housework. You both work hard, and are often tired at the end of the day, but it often falls to you to do the majority of work around the house. This is frustrating, but you have avoided discussing this with your partner because you don’t want to upset him/her. Consequently, you have felt more distant and your frustration increases each time he/she doesn’t do their part around the house. You would like to divide up the housework evenly, and to express how the situation makes you feel. You can use the following skills in your conversation and remember them by using the acronym DEAR MAN.
Clearly describe the situation in objective terms and avoid using language that criticizes the other person.
“We both work hard each day, but over the past few months I have done the majority of work around the house.”
Discuss how the situation makes you feel.
“I feel a little frustrated that you haven’t helped more, and it makes me feel that you don’t appreciate how much I do for the family.”
It is important to assert your desire or needs. Remember, as discussed in previous posts, assertiveness has nothing to do with being aggressive. Being assertive entails clearly expressing your needs, but in a way that does not attack the other person.
“I’d like to split up the work a bit more evenly, so we each take turns with the cooking, cleaning, and helping the kids.”
Reinforce the other person for complying with your suggestion. Individuals are more likely to comply if they can see the benefit for themselves.
“If we are able to balance the work a bit more, I think it will decrease the stress for both of us, and it will free up more time for us to spend as a couple and as a family.”
It is important to remain focused and on task. The other person may attempt to derail the conversation or may become defensive and angry. Being a “broken record”, by repeating your request or continuing to bring the conversation back on target, may help keep the conversation from being derailed, while being accepting and mindful of your own emotional responses may reduce your own emotional reactivity and help you maintain a non-judgmental stance towards the other person.
You have a right to express your desires and needs in an assertive manner, and it can be helpful to maintain a confident tone and body language (e.g., eye contact).
Just because you have used the skills effectively doesn’t mean the other person will immediately comply. It may be necessary to negotiate so that you both can get what you want. This does not mean that you have to comprise your values, but it may mean that you can reduce aspects of your request in a manner that the other person agrees to and is still beneficial for you.
Michael Treanor, Ph.D., Psychological Assistant | Behavioral Associates Los Angeles
Behavioral Associates Los Angeles is a group of cognitive-behavioral therapists specializing in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders. To find out more, contact us by phone at 310-205-0523 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Linehan, M. M. (2014). DBT Skills Training Manual: Second Edition. New York: The Guilford Press.