I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, where I was the youngest of ten children. I first started thinking about ways to build and strengthen relationships as a way to survive being the youngest of such a large family. While we all tried to build and maintain our relationships, it was commonplace to have conflicts, as with all families and relationships. During these times my mother was always a voice of reason and kindness. She always told us that the hardest thing in life is learning to get along with others, and that we should, “Expect nothing and rejoice in everything.” Her reason for this was to help us understand that it is our expectations of what people should or should not do that often creates conflict and hurt feelings.
One way this can be overcome is by learning effective modes of communication that increase our flexibility and understanding of the other person, while helping us stay true to our own values and objectives. It also helps us learn to stop expecting others to read our minds, know how we feel, or even to know how they should fix it. Undoubtedly every relationship has its fair share of challenges. It is for this reason that a big part of building and maintaining any relationship is to learn how to effectively communicate during times of conflict, frustration, anger, or hurt feelings, in a way that helps the relationship rather than hurts it. Utilizing the following skills can do this. First, when considering how to effectively express oneself in a way that will be well received by the other party, we think about our end goal as one of the following:
• Is it most important to get what you want out of the interaction?
• Is it most important to maintain, keep, or improve the relationship during the interaction?
• Is it most important that you feel congruent with your own values and stand up for yourself in a way that increases self-respect after and during the interaction?
Then we use a set of skills specifically meant to help us either get our objective, maintain or strengthen our relationship, avoid losing self-respect, or a combination of all three.
First, the skills to help us get our objectives can be remembered by using the following acronym: DEAR MAN
• Describe – means to describe the situation using only the facts
“I noticed you borrowed my shirt without asking.”
• Express – means to express how it makes you feel
“This makes me feel frustrated because when I went to look for it I couldn’t find it.”
• Assert – means to tell what you’d like to happen or what you need
“I’d really appreciate it if you would ask to borrow my things instead of taking them without asking.”
• Reinforce – means to thank them or tell them how happy it would make you if you were to get your outcome or vice versa
“I would be really happy if next time you asked before you borrowed something.”
• Mindful – means to focus on your one objective rather than bringing up many things at once or getting off track. Stay focused on what you’d like to happen. Ignore threats, attacks, or attempts to change the subject
• Appear confident – use a confident voice tone and physical manner; make good eye contact, don’t stare at the floor or whisper.
• Negotiate – be willing to give to get. Offer and ask for alternative solutions to the problem. Turn the problem over to the other person and ask them for alternative solutions, “What do you think we should do?”
Second, the skills to maintain and strengthen a relationship can be remembered by the acronym: GIVE.
• G- Stands for Be Gentle. This means be courteous and temperate in your approach. Do not attack, threaten, or judge the other person. Do not make comments like, “If you were a good person, you would…” or “You should…” or “You shouldn’t…”
• I – Stands for Act Interested. Listen and be interested in the other person. Be patient and listen to the other person’s point of view, opinion, reasons for saying no, or reasons for making a request of you. Don’t interrupt or talk over the other person.
• V – Stands for Validate. Acknowledge and validate the other person’s feelings, wants, difficulties, and opinions about the situation. Be nonjudgmental out loud.
• E – Stands for Use an Easy Manner – use a little humor and smile! Ease the person along and use a soft shell instead of a hard shell.
Third, ways to keep respect for yourself are remembered by using the acronym: FAST.
• F – Stands for Be Fair to yourself and to the other person.
• A – Stands for No Overly Apologetic behavior. Don’t apologize for being alive, for making a request at all, for disagreeing, or having an opinion.
• S – Stands for Stick to your own values. Don’t sell out your values or integrity for reasons that aren’t important.
• T – Stands for Be Truthful and don’t lie, act helpless when you are not, or exaggerate. Don’t make up excuses.
Dr. Steve Maraboli said, “Just because your pain is understandable, doesn’t mean your behavior is acceptable.” This quote reminds us that even if the situations we are in are difficult, it does not make acts done out of revenge, anger, sadness, or emotional impulse all right. It doesn’t strengthen your relationship, your self-respect, or even help you accomplish your original objective. However, if you take a step back from the first emotional impulses that conflicts bring and use these skills, you may benefit from more lasting relationships that help you respect yourself and gain what you need.
Relationships are hard. There is no doubt about it. No matter what type of relationship you find yourself in there will be times where it is a struggle to strengthen and maintain it. However, what wonderful benefits come from putting aside differences, learning to forgive, communicating effectively, and creating lasting bonds of friendship and love. Abraham Lincoln said, “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.” We as humans struggle with the art of finding the right tool to be interpersonally effective and to make our perceived enemies our friends (e.g. defiant teenagers, controlling parents, emotional friends, etc), but what I’ve found is that the more skills you learn and practice, the easier it is to navigate through the battlefield of conflict and come out the other side with a team that has been strengthened through difficulty. Although improving interpersonal relationships is a life long journey, we can feel the impact of these skills immediately as a fight with a child, parent, spouse, or friend turns from heated arguments and impulsive words to conversations of understanding and shared agreements. This won’t always be the case, but when it is, it’s worth it.
My name is Tina, and I’ve been working at the Child, Adolescent, and Adult Treatment Specialists for about six months now. I have been seeing individual clients, as well as running groups to help others learn more effective social, mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation skills.