Conversation can be one of the most delightful ways to get to know another person. But when we need to have a difficult conversation, many of us struggle. It can be hard to assert ourselves, or make our point in a clear and concise way. Do you find it difficult to say no, or to bring yourself to have an uncomfortable, but necessary, conversation with someone?

In our current environment, where we find ourselves physically distancing from one another, this can be even more difficult. We  can begin to experience tensions with people we live with, people we speak to on the phone, people we interact with online, and people we work with.

Through my time working with a therapy called Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, I have found a  structure that can help.  It’s a practical strategy to help you articulate and navigate difficult conversations, called DEAR MAN.

The DEAR part of this acronym, structures what we say:

Describe: Start with the just facts; describe the situation that you are reacting to.  For example, “I have cleaned the dishes the last three nights.”

Express: Here, we state how we feel in the situation. By expressing how we feel, we are showing some vulnerability and giving the other person a chance to connect.  For example, “I feel tired,” or, “I’m starting to feel undervalued,” or, “I don’t want to be doing this every night.”

Assert: This is where you can ask for something, or say no in a clear way. Keep it succinct, and be specific. It’s important that you try to say this part in question form. You want to get some confirmation from the other person and you don’t want to leave the situation unclear. For example, “Can you please wash the dishes tomorrow night?” or, “I am not going to do the dishes tomorrow night, will you do them?”

Reinforce: Here, you need to state the possible benefits that can result from the situation. This is often more effective if we use some positive reinforcement, but we can also use negative consequences as reinforcement. For example, “And then I will do it the night after,” or, “And then I will feel more inclined to wash the dishes in the future.”

Now, the MAN part of this acronym, this structures how we say it:

Mindfully: We ignore attacks; let them come  and go. If we are interrupted, we bring our minds back to the beginning of our DEARMAN and start again. In this way, we’re kind of acting like a broken record.

Appear confident: This does not mean be confident, only that we need to appear confident. You can do this by being aware of your body language and voice. Hold eye contact, chin up, open body posture, stand tall, clear diction, solid flow. Sometimes practicing our DEARMAN in front of a mirror can help with this.

Negotiate. If the other person says that they cannot meet our objective, in other words they will not accept what we are asking for or saying no to, we might have to give a little to get a little. This doesn’t mean you  have to come up with all of the solutions. One quick method for having the other person come up with some negotiation is to say, “Ok, I have asked for X… you have said you can’t do it… what should we do?”

There you have it, a quick structure for those difficult conversations. At first, it might feel uncomfortable, but if you practice this, you will find that it becomes easier and easier.  Implementing DEARMAN does not mean that we will always walk away with our ideal outcome, but it does allow us to articulate ourselves in a clear and mindful way.

If you’re having a problem with your DEARMAN, or are looking for some extra pointers for having difficult conversations, you can get in touch and book an appointment with The Mind Room. 

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