Blog Series: DBT Applications on Workplace Stress

Improve Relationships at Work

Blog Series: DBT Applications on Workplace Stress

Part 1: Managing Relationships with Interpersonal Effectiveness Skill

Welcome to Part 1 of a blog series where we apply core DBT techniques to managing stress in the workplace. DBT integrates techniques and skills that centre around mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance.  To learn more about DBT, check out this great post on Advocating Hope: What is Dialectical Behaviour.

Managing your Workplace Relationships can be daunting

I had written about the impact of workplace stress and many of the key contributors in a previous blog.  The workplace continues to be a key contributor to our stress, and I am imagining that this is further amplified with the “next normal” of the pandemic.  We have collectively spent the last two years navigating a pandemic and finding ways to cope with all the changes around us and now having to readjust to another set of rules.  

Interpersonal relationships tend to be a key stressor and can affect how we show up to work every day.  Think about that boss you just can’t seem to please, or that colleague that is always trying to gaslight you.  It can be difficult to manage relationships at work and maintain your self-respect at the same time..

The Interpersonal Effectiveness skills emphasized in DBT focus on setting clear goals, having self-respect, and developing conflict-free relationships.  A big part of conflict is not having clear boundaries or not being able to communicate effectively with those that we work with.  Often emotions get in the way of building and maintaining these healthy relationships.

What we say is important, but how we say it can have more impact.  An acronym used in DBT, that I find particularly helpful is DEARMAN.   This is used to effectively maintain your rights and wishes and still offers respect to others.

What does DEARMAN stand for?

The DEAR part of the acronym focuses on the “what”.

D = Describe: Describe the situation. Remember just focus on the facts and not your interpretation of the facts. Clearly describe the situation without any judgement. An example of this would be: “You have asked me to work late 3 days this week” or even “I have worked late 3 days this week”.

E = Express: Express how you feel about it. Remember to use “I” statements, instead of “you”. This is an important distinction because it can really set the tone of the conversation. An example of this would be: “I have been feeling overwhelmed by the extra work and hours.”

A = Assert: Ask for what you want. Remember to clearly state what you want or need. You need to be really specific when giving instructions. An example of this would be “I need to resume my original 40-hour work week.”

R = Reinforce the other person: Reward people who respond well and reinforce why your desired outcome is positive. An example of this would be: “I will be more productive if I am in a better headspace and not so burnt out. I want to bring my best self to work.” This will let them know how they can benefit from your boundaries as well.

The MAN part of the acronym focuses on the “how”

M = Be MINDFUL: Focus on your goals and maintain your position. Don’t start distracting yourself with other topics or bringing up stuff from the past.  Ignore attacks, threats or comments that may deregulate your emotions.

A = Appear Confident: In other words – “own it”. Use a confident tone and have good physical posture. Also remember to make eye contact.

N = Be Willing to Negotiate: Remember: both people can win in this conversation. Be willing to give to get.  Offer other solutions to the problem.  Focus on solving the problem – not winning the argument.

I would encourage you to try your own example and see how it lands.  I find role playing with a trusted friend or colleague can be a great way to practice.