Do you have trouble with interpersonal relationships? Have you been told you’re a bit too harsh, critical, intense, or overbearing? This week, the Savvy Psychologist will help you focus on a communication skill designed to help you have more effective communication in your relationships.
Do you have trouble starting or maintaining relationships with others, whether it be a romantic relationship, a relationship with a coworker, or friends and family? Today, we’re going to discuss the GIVE skill. GIVE is part of DBT, dialectical behavioral therapy, and helps with relationship effectiveness.
Relationship effectiveness is required in all of our interactions with others. It doesn’t matter if it’s with the wait staff at a restaurant or our nearest and dearest family member.
While we may not weigh these relationships equally, we do want to consider how we want others to feel about us after an interaction. If the waitress forgets to add cheese to my grits as I requested, there are different ways I can go about getting my objective met. We’ve all seen someone yell at another person over a seemingly minor mistake. We’ve also seen others respectfully assert themselves in the same scenario. Both can lead to getting cheese on your grits. The former might just mean you get a side of spit as well.
Maybe you’ve noticed that you’re a little too harsh with your best friend or that you’re sometimes dismissive of your grandparents. The GIVE skill, used in combination with other communication skills you may have, is great for appropriately prioritizing your interactions with others. It will help make sure that you’re acting in a way that allows others to feel good about their interactions with you.
G: be Gentle
The G in GIVE is for being gentle. Being gentle refers to being respectful and nice in your demeanor with others. The old adage of “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is the trick here.
This might be my deep southern roots showing (I have already mentioned cheese grits in this podcast), but being hospitable towards others has its advantages. In general, people will respond more favorably to positivity than they will to your harshness.
We have four main objectives with our gentleness: no attacks, no judgments, no threats, and no disrespect.
Let’s start with no attacks. This means that we aren’t making any verbal low blows, throwing objects, or physical attacks.
With no judgments, we are avoiding character attacks, name-calling, and put-downs, both overt and implied. You might be wondering how a put-down can be implied. We can imply things not only through our word choices but through our tone of voice. Let’s practice! Take the sentence, “Have a nice day,” a say it with a warm tone, a neutral tone, and a sarcastic or mean tone. (If you really want to engage, leave me a voicemail with your practice sentences and let me know what you discovered!) I can tell you with full confidence, it’s not just about what you say, it’s how you say it! Finally, with no judgments, you want to avoid guilt-tripping others. It’s a tried and true unhealthy tactic used by many generations, and it rarely leaves a good taste in the mouth of the other person.
Let’s move on to no threats. You want to be careful not to use ultimatums or threaten harm to yourself or others if you don’t get what you want. You have to be willing to tolerate a no. Remember that people have the right to say no to requests, even if we don’t like it. Even when the circumstances are not going your way, remember to exit the situation gracefully. Think of it like being an athlete and showing good sportsmanship.
And finally, no disrespect. It’s important to be willing to have an uncomfortable conversation. If you need a break from a conversation. verbalize that instead of walking away or stonewalling others, which breaks down the relationship over time. Additionally, don’t make any displays of contempt, scorn, or dismissal of the other party’s legitimate position.
I: act Interested
The I in GIVE is to act Interested. Listen to the other person’s point of view, opinion, reasons for saying no, or reasons for making a request of you. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be interested in what they’re saying in order to use this skill!
Take someone’s likes and dislikes, for example. If someone wants to sit and tell me about their love for camping and the great outdoors, I’m going to ask questions and validate their enjoyment of this hobby. Does that mean you’re going to catch me willingly participating in an activity that involves me sleeping overnight without a bed and temperature control? Absolutely not! I am not Goldilocks, the bears will not find me sleeping in their hood. But I have respect for other people’s experiences and there is no need for me to sour their sweet.
When acting interested, you want to avoid talking over another person or interrupting them. Don’t make assumptions, try to mind read, or think you know another person’s opinions or intentions without checking them out with the source. This is especially true when you think the other person is being intentionally hostile, hurtful, or uncaring. If you have a concern about what another person is thinking or what their motivations are in a situation, ask them, and actually listen to the answers.
Sometimes, our interpretations are false or a person said something the wrong way and it leads to an unintentional breach in communication. Maybe they lack some communication skills and didn’t know how to handle the situation appropriately. In this vein, if you’re having a disagreement with someone and they request to finish the discussion at a later time, consider being sensitive to their desires and have some patience. They may be overwhelmed, stressed, or tired.
All of the behaviors I just described show interest in the other person’s wellbeing.
The V in GIVE is for validation. This means communicating that the other person’s feelings, thoughts, and actions are understandable to you, given their past or current situation. Validation is a wonderful way to connect even when you’re in a disagreement with someone. You can validate the why even if you don’t agree with the what.
Let’s say you have a 14-year-old child who wants to say out until 2 A.M. in the morning. As a parent, you think that’s entirely too late and you’re not going to allow them to stay out that late with their friends. But you can still validate why they want this. Maybe they want to seem cool to their friends and this is a way to fit in—which is totally valid! Who doesn’t want to fit in with their peers? There could be someone there who they have a crush on and want to impress or they just have a desire to be more independent, which is natural for that age.
Does that mean you change your stance? No, but you can validate the aspects of the other person’s perspective and communicate that you get it.
This is part of what people mean when they say to fight fair. Most of us are way more hurt from perceived unfairness than we are about having a disagreement. Also, when we can look at a situation and know that we took the time to consider the other person’s perspective, it also allows us to know that we aren’t being purely selfish in our interactions.
E: Easy manner
And finally, the E in GIVE is for easy manner. That means be chill, my people! Try to be a little lighthearted, use humor, and smile. Remember my honey versus vinegar statement from earlier? That applies here as well. If you keep things mellow, it’s easier for other people to be mellow.
People don’t like to be bullied, browbeaten, and broken down by others—when this is your default, most people are going to create as much distance from you as possible. If you’re naturally more of a rigid, intense, type-A sort of person, adopting an easy manner might be difficult for you. You may want to do some mindfulness meditation, yoga, or other relaxation techniques to help you discover more flexibility, both literally and figuratively.
I always remind my patients—and I’ll remind you too—that even if you use perfect communication skills, it doesn’t guarantee that you will have perfect interactions with others. You could do everything right and other people will still respond to you poorly.
With proper communication skills, however, you can reduce the likelihood of this happening and also reduce or eliminate the risk of escalating or worsening situations with your behavior. Hopefully, remembering a little GIVE will help you with all of your interpersonal situations, whether you’re dealing with tough family relationships or with a waiter who forgot the cheese on your grits.
I love communicating with my listeners! Your comments are heartwarming and motivating! Reach out to me on Instagram @kindmindpsych, via my email at email@example.com new email, or leave a voicemail at (929) 256-2191.
Dr. Monica Johnson is a clinical psychologist and owner of Kind Mind Psychology, a private practice in NYC that specializes in evidenced based approaches to treating a wide range of mental health issues (e.g. depression, anxiety, trauma, and personality disorders). Additionally, she has a focus on working with marginalized groups of people including BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and alternative lifestyles to manage minority stress.
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.
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