The GIVE skill is one of those quiet wonders that DBT provides; a very simple but highly effective paradigm on how to improve relationships and have others perceive you the way you would like. I recently compared GIVE to some other schools of thought on how to get people to open up, avoid getting into conflicts, helping others’ understand your view, as well as improve intimate relationships. I did this little bit of research to help me gain some perspective in a personal relationship where their experience of me from the past kept getting in the way of them understanding my intent here and now. After I did that research, not only did I realize there was a common in thread in all these approaches, but more importantly, most of what they pointed to was already contained in the DBT GIVE Interpersonal Effectiveness skill. From the most basic interaction to the most important, intimate relationship, GIVE allows two (or more) people to move past a possible roadblock and allow unnecessary beliefs/conflicts to simply fade into the background.
G: (Be) Gentle obviously means what it says: don’t attack, threat or judge. Yet, there are a myriad of other ways we can be gentle. In my situation, I took time to really open up to this other person’s point of view, to not push it away, or defend against it (even mentally on my own), and at the same time I looked at my own actions that could have elicited their response. Gentle doesn’t mean making them right and you wrong, instead it incorporates the idea of the dialectic and “yes, and” while engaging someone in conversation. Even if the other person resorts to anger, judgment or attack, if you have “tilled the soil” inside yourself and feel clear and compassionate, even the hardest conversation can be discussed and moved through.
Practice- Ask yourself this: “How can I best let go of my anger, resentment, or hurt prior to speaking?” Find your own personal ways to reduce the reactivity inside yourself and then approach this person. The less reactive, the gentler you can become.
I: (act) Interested is really about listening enough to the other person(s) without already planning your rebuttal or defense. If this is a really challenging situation, it might take all you’ve got to seem interested and not just tear apart what they are saying to you, or talk right over them. Simple ways to help others feel you are interested are to give them full focus, look at them directly, nod your head, don’t speak until they’re done, and/or give simple verbal responses that don’t interrupt them, such as “OK,” “uh huh,” “I hear you,” etc. The highest goal with this part of GIVE is to actually become interested, not just act it, which takes more practice but is very powerful interpersonally. When you are really committed to a relationship or to changing a pattern of yours in all relationships, learning how to “be one mindful,” even while in a tense conversation, is a high bar indeed.
Practice – Try slowing your breath down, make your hands and feet “heavy,” and purposefully soften your body (body tension is both a biofeedback signal “to become on guard” personally, and also picked up by others) when you are engaging in a challenging conversation.
V: Validate includes the skill of being non-judgmental (out loud), but also specifically acknowledging the other person’s concerns, feelings, beliefs, thoughts, opinions and/or desires. This doesn’t have to mean that if you have different views, reactions or feelings you need to subjugate them to the other person(s), but for this to be as effective as possible, you will have needed to already have engaged your “Interested” part of self. You’ll actually need to be taking in what the other is saying, so you can give back a verbal synopsis of their viewpoint. As I mentioned, the relationship I was trying to improve was a very long-standing one, so it is easy for me to think “I know what they’re going to say,” but in actuality since both of us had a longstanding pattern, thinking we knew where the other was coming from was the reason we were stuck because we had both stopped validating the other in our attempt to be “right.” One of us had to come at it with “Beginner’s Mind” and just remain open. This doesn’t mean if someone sees you in a really negative light you agree with their viewpoint, but it does ask you to consider how they are thinking and feeling.
Practice – Begin a short sentence with “so you (felt/thought/believed) I was __________” and pick three words max to describe their particular view. An example might be, “So you felt I was putting you down.” This is a simple formula that I’ve seen diffuse anger quickly.
E: (use an) Easy Manner can be pretty challenging if you are really upset about something someone has done. Bringing in a little irreverence or self-effacing humor will quickly help you to modulate intensity. But if that feels like too big of a stretch for you, start with a more casual inquiry like “hey I had a thought,” “you know what?” or “got a second?”. This sets up a conversation to feel more breezy than the usual “I’d like to talk to you about something.” Yikes, no one likes that one! In my circumstance, I chose to get clear first based on past conversations and waited until there was an opening and jumped right in. Because I had spent time doing both some “prioritizing my goals” and getting clear with the G, I, and V part of GIVE first, I was able to maintain my easy manner and the conversation went better than anticipated.
Practice – Try to find a way to express appreciation of them, your situation, or something that occurred to make them feel less on guard. Any kind of acknowledgement will bring about more alignment with each other and less conflict.
Remember to “give” yourself plenty of time to practice this skill and any other Interpersonal Effectiveness skill. Our relationships are some of the most challenging external events in our lives. Start with small things and build up your strength and comfort to bigger and even bigger conversations. As your confidence builds, so will your self-esteem and sense of connectedness to others!