The Easiest Way To Get Exactly What You Want In A Conversation

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man and woman in conversation together

Most people think that assertiveness and effective communication skills are something you’re either naturally blessed to have or destined to never have.

But that's not true!

The ability to communicate with confidence and assertiveness is merely a skill that you learn and practice over time until it becomes who you are, and learning how to be assertive is easier than you might think.

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If you’ve never been assertive before in your life or if you've always felt awkward about being direct in a conversation, don’t worry!

Assertiveness is just a skill like any other that you learn and get better at the more you use.

If you’re reading this, you’re obviously aware of the importance of communication and are open to the idea of becoming more assertive. Or, at the very least, assertiveness is a quality you are curious enough about to peruse this article, so stay in that mindset of curiosity and openness as we take a look at the formula.

The good news with formulas is that they give you a practical road map of how to do something, and the 'DEAR MAN' formula really breaks the process up into simple and practical action steps to take to communicate with confidence. 

In Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), you can learn how to be more assertive through the acronym 'DEAR MAN.’

The DEAR part covers each step you need to use to communicate what you want or don’t want assertively and the MAN part is for handling resistance when the person you’re communicating with gives you some opposition. 

However, this technique doesn’t provide you with a guarantee that you will always get what you want in every situation, but it does increase the chances of it by allowing you to communicate in an effective manner.

Assertiveness is directly linked with confidence and self-esteem, and so every time you communicate assertively, the payoff itself is that you're increasing your sense of self-esteem and confidence (not bad consolation prizes if you don't end up actually getting the outcome you wanted from being assertive).

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To help with your understanding of the DEAR MAN formula, here's a sample situation:

John has been feeling upset and ignored because his fiancee Sarah has been spending all of her evenings on her phone. When he tries to speak to her she doesn’t look up from her phone and instead gives him short and distracted answers while continuing to have her face glued to her phone. John's goal in this situation is wanting to let Sarah know how her actions are making him feel and to start having phone-free time in the evenings. 

DEAR MAN stands for Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce; (Stay) Mindful, Appear (Confident) and Negotiate.

The Easiest Way To Get Exactly What You Want In A Conversation 

Here is how this DBT skill helps you communicate more effectively.

1. Describe

Describe the situation neutrally, using only the facts. Tell the other person specifically what you’re reacting to using non-judgemental language.

Describe the situation without interpreting or evaluating it, by just stating the facts of what actually happened or is happening.

For example: "For the past few weeks you’ve been on your phone for most of the evening, and when I try to talk to you, you don’t look up from your phone."

2. Express 

Express how you feel or think about the situation, using words to describe your emotions and opinions in a clear and direct manner.

For example: "When you’re on your phone for most of the evening and don’t look at me when I talk to you, I feel invisible and like I don’t matter, and that really hurts."

3. Assert

Communicate what you want or don’t want to happen as a result of how you feel about the situation.

State clearly what you want the other person to do or not do in this situation. Articulate your desires or request directly. No hinting or ambiguity.

For example: "I want us to have some phone-free time in the evenings."

RELATED: 4 Ways To Be More Assertive & Respond To Overly Controlling People (Without Being Rude)

4. Reinforce 

Communicate a potential reward or positive consequence that the person will receive as a result of doing what you ask.

In certain situations, you can use a negative consequence, but offering a positive consequence provides more incentive and motivation for the person to oblige your request. 

For example: "Having phone-free time would allow us both to feel closer to each other and would give us more quality time together, and that would mean a lot to me."

5. Stay Mindful 

Be peaceful and present when communicating and make sure you ignore any attempts from the other person to derail the conversation with attacks or accusations. Use the broken record technique to repeatedly keep making your request, saying no, or expressing your opinion.

Don't allow yourself to get caught up in their efforts to get you off track. Stay focused on your goal of the interaction, and keep reaffirming and restating your sentence.

For example: "I understand you use your phone as a way to wind down and relax after a day at work, but it would still mean a lot to me to have some phone-free time each night.”

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6. Appear Confident

Present yourself as confident when talking to the other person. Make sure your body language and tonality is reflecting a confident demeanor and be sure not to avoid eye contact or present as unsure or fearful.

You may be feeling nervous, but just try to act confident even if you're not feeling that way. 

7. Negotiate

Be willing to arrive at a compromise or use the turn the tables technique ("What do you think we should do?") to enlist the other person to help arrive at a collaborative solution. 

For example: "Okay, how about we have a phone-free hour every night after you’ve had a few hours to wind down from work?" or "What do you think would be a good solution to help me to feel more connected and close to you in the evenings?"

Remember, practice makes perfect, so start using the DEAR MAN formula to be more assertive in your life.

A good idea is to start scripting out what you want to say and prepare in advance for possible resistance by creating some statements to invite collaboration for a win-win outcome!

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Miya Yamanouchi is an empowerment counselor with specialist sex & relationship training.