There is a skill in the Interpersonal Effectiveness module of DBT known as the DEARMAN skill. It is an acronym which represents a prescriptive way to go about stating one’s wants and/or needs within a relationship or situation. To learn more about what DEARMAN stands for, look at this page here, or see below.
The other day I was talking to the Mum and Dad of the kids I look after, discussing my changing hours with them over summer when I finish my secretarial position elsewhere. Initially they had asked me for 30 hours a week with the kids, which suits me perfectly. However on Tuesday they told me they will actually need me from 8am until 6pm Monday-Friday. That would be 50 hours a week, minimum (as they tend to be late and unreliable getting home on time) and not including babysitting.
I got myself into a panic thinking about the impact this commitment would have on me: I wouldn’t be able to make either of my therapy sessions, I wouldn’t be able to have my driving lessons, I would rarely be able to go out and see friends, and would have to be up at the crack of dawn. I wouldn’t have much of a life and I certainly wouldn’t have this vital thing I thrive on known as BALANCE!
I spoke to my therapist about the palaver in a frenzied state. My all-or-nothing head was racing: I genuinely thought I either had to agree to these hours, or I would be fired. There was no inbetween. Catastrophic thinking also kicked into gear as I told her that if I did those hours I “would not cope” and would even “surely die”.
She asked me to write a DEARMAN-based email and send her the draft. The email went something like this:
- Describe the situation – “I would like to share my thoughts with you after our conversation on Tuesday about my summer hours. I understand you would like me to work 10 hours a day, 5 days a week from the chat we had. I was however under the impression I would be needed for around 30 hours a week from our previous emails, which is what I committed to”.
- Express emotions – “I want you to know how much I enjoy spending time with the girls and how grateful I am to you all for welcoming me into your family. I would be so sad to lose the opportunity…”
- Assert wants/ needs – “… At the same time I don’t think that working 50 hours per week is feasible for me at this stage. I was wondering if we could please talk about the options, perhaps looking to reduce the hours or days slightly so that they feel more manageable for me. I am happy to work 30-40 hours a week…”
- Reinforce why they should meet my wants/needs – “… And I believe that in turn this will enable me to be the best nanny I can be, ensuring that the time we do spend together is as fun and full as it can be.”
I am not very good at stating my needs or putting myself first very often, so this was a huge challenge for me. My therapist also told me to delete all the apologies I had initially put into the email, so I felt even more rude and undeserving than I previously had. Not forgetting the “MAN” in DEARMAN, together we ensured I stayed as Mindful as I could, whilst also Appearing Confident and being open to Negotiation or compromise if needed.
It took a number of hours and about twenty redrafts, but finally I did manage to press the ‘send’ button.
The response I received was unanticipated and a huge relief! The Dad sent me a text saying that the girls adore me very much, that they love spending time with me, that they completely understand, and that we will work something out which suits me better.
I could breathe again!
Later in the day when I saw him, he asked if I would feel better working Mondays through Thursdays, 10am – 6:30pm. This works for me perfectly, and so we had reached our compromise.
I couldn’t believe how easy it seemed to get the outcome I desired without letting anyone down or “ruining anyone’s life”. I couldn’t quite fathom how much turmoil the process had caused me, and I laughed at how unnecessary all my prior panicking had been. I was just like “Oh, wow, is that it?!” because I was so surprised the dilemma had been sorted so easily. (Almost too easily!?)
I guess I am not used to effectively advocating for myself, and so the success of my DEARMAN came as a huge (baffling, though pleasant) shock to me.
I suppose if you don’t ask, you most certainly don’t get. Although of course it is not realistic to think that requests will go this well every time… hey, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. And you never know – you may even find a simple and effective solution like I did today, with no fuss, drama or upset caused to anyone whatsoever!