2Mon

DBT tip: How can I skillfully maintain important relationships?

On a daily basis, many of us have numerous interactions with persons, such as bosses, family members, friends, partners and teachers, with whom we need or desire to maintain positive relationships. Preserving such relationships is important for reasons including job preservation, being able to ask for help when we need it, creating amicable home lives, and developing long-term friendships. The list goes on!

The more life experience we have, however, the more likely it is that we will find ourselves with a boss who pushes our buttons, or a teacher with whom we just can’t seem to connect. We may also find that when we are experiencing distress, whether from a life transition like a move, a break up, or career change, maintaining relationships can become more challenging. If you are someone who struggles with managing your emotions, it is also possible that you may find it difficult, at times, to act in ways that preserve your relationships. For these reasons, having concrete skills to utilize when dealing with intense emotions and relationships can be helpful to all of us.

When our primary goal in approaching an interaction is to maintain an important relationship (i.e.: with our friends, partners, supervisor, boss, or teacher), it can be helpful to practice using the GIVE skill, which stands for: Be Gentle (G); Act Interested (I); Validate (V); and Use an Easy Manner (E).

“Be gentle” is about the manner in which you relate to the other person. This involves being respectful and avoiding the use of judgments and threats. In being gentle, you want to be aware of subtleties, including your tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions. You might show gentleness in some of the following ways:

  • Seeking permission before asking for a request or offering your opinion (ie: “I am wondering if now might be a good time to chat with you about…”)
  • Checking in with someone who you haven’t heard back from by expressing curiosity rather than judgment (ie: “Hi! I just wanted to reach out because I hadn’t heard back from you. Please let me know if you need any other information from me before signing my form.”)

“Act interested” involves listening to what is being said, without being distracted by one’s own thoughts, what you’re going to say next, or things happening around you. It can be helpful to turn your body towards the speaker and minimize distractions by keeping your Smartphone away. If you are preoccupied or in the middle of an important task, you might want to let the person know that you want to be able to give them your complete attention and are unable to do so at that particular time. Let them know when you will be more available and that you look forward to hearing their life updates. Other tips for showing interest include:

  • Try to focus your attention on the person speaker. At times, it may be helpful to share examples of how you can relate. However, be careful to not turn the focus onto yourself, especially if your friend or partner is talking about something very important or particularly emotional for them.
  • Ask questions about which you are authentically interested that will help you to imagine what it was like to be in their shoes.

Validate” means showing the other person that you can understand how their feelings or opinions make sense. It is important to remember that validating does not mean agreement. You might use validation by saying the following:

  • “I can understand how hard it must have been for you when…”
  • “It sounds like that experience was super rewarding.”
  • “I think anyone in your shoes would have felt…”

“Use an easy manner” is about keeping things “light” and practicing being nonjudgmental. You may smile or use humor to communicate your easy manner. When conversing with friends, you might use playful or endearing terms like “dude,” or “buddy.” Generally, when we are using an easy manner out breath feels steady and our bodies feel open and receptive.

It is likely that you are already using some or all of these skills already when you are engaging in conversations, both as a speaker and listener. Nevertheless, it can be particularly helpful to remember to practice G.I.V.E. when we need to have a challenging conversation with someone with whom it is important to maintain a positive rapport. In order to have access to this skillful behavior, however, we need to practice when we are under minimal distress and with persons with whom we have relatively positive relationships.

See if you can find 1-2 opportunities to practice this skill, both as listener and speaker, during the next week. If these skills feel foreign or scary to you, it might be helpful to start by practicing listening to a friend speak in a way that shows interest. You might also experiment with validating them. I invite you to try this out as an experiment. Simply notice the responses you receive from others when you use G.I.V.E. and how you feel, in turn. Take note of whether there are any changes in your interactions.