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The DEARMAN skill for effective goal-oriented communication

Posted on Mon, Mar 15, 2021 By:
Posted in: blogMental Health & Mindfulness

Welcome to a new week! Hope you all enjoyed a relaxing weekend!

In my last blog article, I brought up the topic of managing conflict and outlined some conflict management styles. Did you have a moment to think about whether you tend to approach conflict as a turtle, mouse, tiger or owl? One of our co-workers let me know that she is a turmouwl.  I loved that, and isn’t it true that we often use different conflict management styles depending on the situation, the person with whom we are having a conflict, and our resources at the time?!

I thought we could go a little further with communication and review the DEARMAN strategy developed by Marsha Linehan in her Dialectical Behavior Therapy program. DEARMAN is an acronym that helps us remember 7 steps involved in effective goal-oriented communication.

D stands for DESCRIBE: being clear and concrete about what you want or don’t want the other person to do. For e.g., instead of saying “stop annoying me”, you might say “I don’t like it when you ask me to lend you money three more times after I’ve said no”.

E stands for EXPRESS: Let others know how the situation makes you feel by using “I” Language. For example, instead of saying “stop bugging me, you’re making me mad” say I feel (annoyed) when you (ask me for money even after I’ve already said no).

A stands for ASSERT:  Get to the point of your issue. Say what you need to say without beating around the bush, exaggerating, or being overly vague or cautious. Rather than saying: “You always do this to me. You always bug me until I give in”, you could say: “If you continue to ask me for money, I will end this conversation”.

R stands for REINFORCE: Let people know that you appreciate it when they listen to you and follow through with your request. This can be a simple “thank you“, or a smile, or an acknowledgement like “I feel good about our relationship when you respect my boundaries to say no“.

M stands for staying MINDFUL: don’t get caught up in other issues that may distract you from the issue at hand. Focus on what you want from this conversation and stick to the current issue. Avoid blaming, name-calling, kitchen-sinking (bringing up other unresolved issues from the past), threatening, etc. that can harm the relationship.

A stands for APPEAR: use your body posture, tone of voice, eye contact and other non-verbal body language to demonstrate your confidence to stand up for what you need, and your interest in engaging with the other person for a win-win outcome.

N stands for NEGOTIATE: be willing to compromise so that you and the other person are able to come to a mutually satisfactory resolution. Validate the other person’s needs while expressing what you need. For e.g., you might say “Let’s work on a budget together so that you don’t run out of money by this time every month, and we don’t keep having this issue in our relationship”.

You can try practicing this way of managing conflict with something pretty simple and non-emotional. For e.g., when I took the Adapted-DBT training, our instructor got us to use DEARMAN to request a piece of chocolate from our classmate. It was comical, but it really helped me remember the steps when I was in a real-life conflict. And anyone who knows me knows I’ll do ANYTHING for a piece of chocolate 😅

stay well,



A fantastic animated video on the steps in DEARMAN:

Therapist aid has a simple DEARMAN handout:
as well as a handout reviewing DEARMAN and other interpersonal communication skills:

I’ve just found the DBT-RU website where they have quite a few animated videos explaining DBT skills for emotion regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal communication.  Check it out:

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