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How To Be Assertive And Communicate Without Being Controlling Or Bossy

In the 1990s, psychologist, Dr. Marsha Linehan developed a self-regulation and communication strategy called D-E-A-R-M-A-N. This conversational technique is based on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy principles, such as identifying emotions, practicing mindfulness, acceptance, and developing a tolerance for distress.

The D-E-A-R-M-A-N approach will help you approach difficult conversations with mindfulness and grace. It will help you to make requests without being bossy, needy, controlling, or nit-picky, and will also help you to accept someone else’s boundary if they cannot meet your request.

Describe: Speak clearly and get right to the point. Be as specific as possible and don’t leave room for confusion or interpretation. Write down exactly what you want to say beforehand and review your key points so you don’t ramble, beat around the bush or speak in an unclear or cryptic manner. Speak about the matter at hand and don’t bring up unrelated topics or irrelevant issues from the past.

Express: Share how you feel through your words. Practice being expressive without losing your sense of balance. Take responsibility for your feelings by starting these sentences with the words, “I feel…” (as opposed to saying “you make me feel”). Remember that self-expression is healthy but cornering someone by oversharing is not healthy. If you feel overwhelmed by intense emotions, take a break to calm down before returning to the conversation.

Assert: State your specific request. Do so in a respectful manner and avoid being vague, controlling, or coercive. You can begin this sentence with the words, “Would you be willing…”.

Reinforce: Repeat your request and check in with the other person to confirm that they’ve understood what you’ve shared so far. At this point, you might want to clarify why you’re making this request, and how you or they can potentially benefit if they respond to your request. Stay away from manipulation or ultimatums. Be honest about the positive outcomes that will result from this request being met.

Mindfulness: Stay connected to your breath and your body. This will help you avoid common pitfalls like being drawn into the other person’s emotional reactions, or getting caught up in the intensity of your emotions. Pause, take a slow, deep breath, press your feet into the ground, open your palms, and let go of attachment to the outcome.

Appear confident: When you exude confidence, this will have a positive impact on the conversation. If you’re not confident, the other person will sense this and won’t be as receptive to your request. Stand in a power pose for 2 minutes before the conversation to activate positive brain chemicals that will help you feel more embodied and confident.

Negotiate: If they say no, take a deep breath and don’t take it personally. If this is their boundary, you need to accept that and explore other options. Letting go of attachment to the outcome takes the pressure off of the conversation and will help you to regroup. Use negotiation to find a way to meet in the middle. This will feel empowering for the other person, and it makes you seem less bossy and more reasonable and logical. Start this sentence by saying, “I wonder how we can meet halfway and make this work for both of us…”.

Experiment by practicing the D-E-A-R-M-A-N technique in a lower-stakes conversation and build your way up to a more important topic. Over time, this will help you to stand up for yourself, be assertive, and speak honestly while also honoring another person's boundaries and respecting their limitations.

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