The holidays are here and for many, it’s not a bright and merry time of year. This season can be challenging for a number of reasons, whether it’s because of the increased expenses or brutal weather. Another challenge for some is spending time with family, particularly those that have been hurtful, insensitive, or problematic. I have worked with many clients who dread the holidays as they have to try and communicate with difficult family members. With this in mind, I wanted to share a skill that we often use in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) when working towards effective communication. DEAR MAN can be used to express wants and needs in a way that is respectful to both themselves and others, ultimately increasing the likelihood of a positive outcome. Below I will break down the acronym, provide a description and example of each step, as well as a guiding question that can be used for a specific interpersonal challenge.


  • Describe
      • Clearly and concisely describe the facts of the situation, without any judgment
      • “You are asking me a question that I don’t feel comfortable answering”
      • What are the facts of the situations?
  • Express
      • Use “I” statements to express your emotions and feelings
      • “I feel violated when you ask such personal questions”
      • Write an “I” statement: “I feel _____ when _____”
  • Assert
      • Clearly state what you want and/or need; be specific when giving instructions or making requests
      • “I need you to honor my boundaries”
      • How will you tell someone what you need?
  • Reinforce
      • Reward the other person if/when they respond well to you
      • “Thank you for respecting my wishes”
      • How will you reward the other person for responding well to you?
  • Mindfulness
      • Be mindful of your goal; don’t get distracted by other issues
      • “I would like us to resolve this issue before talking about anything else”
      • What is the goal of your interaction? What topics might distract from the goal?
  • Appear confident
      • Use body language to show confidence, even if you don’t really feel it
      • Avoid fidgeting, make appropriate eye contact, speak clearly, and stand up straight
      • Describe the eye contact, posture, and tone of voice you will use
  • Negotiate 
    • Know the limits of what you are willing to accept while also being willing to compromise within them
    • “I won’t leave now, but if you ask similar questions again I will have to go”
    • What are the limits of what you are willing to accept?


Blog by Cody Flynn, MA
Photo by Maria Orlova via Pexels