Managing Relationships at Work

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 center around mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance.

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.

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

Describe – Describe the situation and remember just describe the facts – not how you interpret the facts. Clearly describe the situation without any judgement.

Example: “You have asked me to work late 3 days this week.”

Express – Express how you feel about it. Remember to use “I” Statements. It’s not about what the other person has done but how YOU feel about it.

Example: “I feel overwhelmed by the extra work given.”

Assert – Ask for what you want. Remember: clearly state what you want or need. You should be specific when givinginstructions.

Example: “I need to resume my regular 40-hour work week.”

Reinforce the other person.Reward people who respond well and reinforce why your desired outcome is positive.

Example: If I work my regular work week, I feel refreshed and appreciated, and can offer more to the organization that way.

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 othertopics or bringing up stuff from the past. Ignore attacks, threats or comments.

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.