Not every relationship is worth preserving. For those relationships you want to maintain or improve, The ‘GIVE’ skills from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) help you do just that.
G — (Be) Gentle. One part of being gentle is to avoid being attacking or threatening in your communication. These types of actions are likely to put others on the defensive and to have a destructive effect on the relationship. This skill is important to use especially when the other person doesn’t do something you’d like them to do. It can be tempting to use anger or threats to change their mind, but this will not help you accomplish your goal of maintaining the relationship. Instead, be willing to take “no” for an answer.
Another part of the “be gentle” skill is to avoid denigrating the other person. This means no name-calling or showing disrespect. Work from the assumption that he or she has reasons for their decisions and opinions. Even if you don’t agree with them, you can still treat the person with respect. Try to make sure your facial expressions convey this respect as well as your words and actions.
I — (Act) Interested — even though sometimes you won’t be interested. People respond well to expressed interest from the person they’re with. You may wonder whether acting interested when you’re not is a bit dishonest. Think of it this way: what you’re trying to accomplish is having a pleasant interaction and maintaining the relationship. Acting interested will help you accomplish those goals, and who knows, you may even find yourself becoming interested.
Sometimes acting a given way can help you feel that way. (This is the premise of the “opposite action” skill from DBT.)
Notice whether you’re maintaining some eye contact. Nodding and facial expressions also express interest. Practice this skill in a situation where you’re less than 100% interested, and see what the results are. It may be easier than you think.
V — Validate. This means expressing that 1) you understand the other person’s perspective or opinion and 2) it makes sense to you that he or she would feel that way. Validating is not the same as agreeing! You can validate someone’s perspective without agreeing with their actions.
For example: let’s say you’re upset with your friend because she canceled plans with you at the last minute. Her excuse was that her cat was sick, but you’re not convinced that really warranted her canceling the plans. You can validate her concern about her cat without agreeing that she should have canceled the plans. You might say something like, I’m sorry your cat was sick, I know how upsetting that can be. Notice how the response doesn’t even address her canceling the plans! This is an example of validating, and it will help maintain relationships that you want to maintain.
The validating skill can be useful during a disagreement, but it’s really useful anytime in relationships. Even if your relationship with a given person is already good, practicing validating can make it stronger. If you practice, this skill also makes you more understanding of others in your life generally, which will only help your relationships.
E — (Use an) Easy manner. Smile. See the humor in situations and bring that to your conversations with the other person. The more tense and painful conversations a relationship has, the more strained the relationship will be. You can counter that by using this skill. Even if you and the other person disagree on something, don’t let that turn your conversation into an adversarial one. Having a light, easygoing tone can soothe difficult situations.
The DBT GIVE skills are just one example of the useful tools taught in DBT therapy. (For other examples visit our other DBT skills pages). If you think that therapy involving DBT skills might be useful for you, please contact us to discuss your options.
Skills described above based on those presented in Marsha M. Linehan’s DBT Skills Training Manual, 2nd ed. (2015), Guilford Press, New York.