Interpersonal Effectiveness – Part two (Making requests, being assertive & and assertive listening)

When interacting with others, you will sometimes need to decide whether it is appropriate to ask for something (and how to go about doing it), and whether it is appropriate to refuse a request when asked. How you ask or refuse should depend on the situation, and these skills are an important part of looking after yourself and maintaining healthy relationships.

There are four components which make up a simple request, and remembering them will enable you to structure your requests in future:

1) A brief justification of the request (not always necessary) – a short sentence explaining what the problem is

2) A softening statement (A statement to establish you as a polite and non-demanding person.

3) A direct, specific question – be clear and exact, and try to avoid emotion.

4) An appreciation statement – to reinforce the behaviour of the person saying yes, and makes them feel valued

Here are a few examples:

In a restaurant “The sun is in my eyes, would you mind closing the curtains? Thank you so much.”

In a friends car “I am a little nervous that you are driving so fast. Would you mind driving a bit slower? Thanks for doing that for me”.

In a relationship, your behaviour can be passive, aggressive or assertive. Unfortunately, many borderlines lack the skill of being assertive so end up either being continually passive, continually aggressive or rapidly switching between the two. Either way, it makes for a very unhealthy relationship which often ends in a dramatic way. So, as being assertive is an important skill to learn, I will run through a way of teaching yourself to be assertive in any given situation, by using a set script. There are three basic components to being assertive:

1) “I think” – Here you describe the facts and your understanding of the situation. Don’t include judgements or opinions.

“I think you have been behaving inappropriately”

“I think you have been taking advantage of the situation”

“I think you have been late to work several times this week”

2) “I feel” – This is a descriptive account of your feelings. It is optional and should be used with friends and family, but not people that you don’t know that well. These always start with “I” rather than “You” (“You” statements tend to be judgemental or apportion blame, making the other person defensive, e.g. “You are hurting me”) and describe your own feelings rather than blaming someone else.

“I feel sad”

“I feel lonely”

“I feel rejected”

Examples of blaming statements are:

“I feel that YOU are making me sad”

“I feel that YOU are rejecting me”

3) “I Want” – This is you making a request. You need to ask for a change in behaviour (it is not fair to ask someone to change how they think or feel), and you need to ask for one change at a time (keep it simple!). Be specific rather than vague, and ask for something that is relevant rather something that may happen much later, when the request is likely to be forgotten about.

Optional Extra: Self Care Solution. This is providing the other person with the details of what you will do to take care of yourself if they do not comply with your request. It isn’t blackmailing or threatening them, simply advising them of your plans.

For example:

“If you can’t help me with the cleaning, I will hire a cleaner and then we will share the expense”

“If you can’t leave for the party on time, I will take my own car”

Here is an example, using all of the above components.

I think – I’ve been working to meet a deadline tonight, so I haven’t had time to cook dinner.

I feel – I am hungry, and I am anxious and overwhelmed that I won’t get this work finished

I want – Would you mind making me some dinner?

Self-care – If you can’t do that, I will order a pizza.

On top of being assertive when making requests, it is also possible to be assertive when you are listening to people. It is important to listen to others as communication is key to a healthy relationship and requires give and take.

Being assertive when listening means you are actively paying attention to what the other person is saying. You are attempting to seek out what they want and need, and sometimes you may need to ask questions to further clarify this. Good questions could be:

“What is the problem?”

“How are you feeling?”

“What do you need/ What do you need me to do?”

“What needs to change?”

Note: Remember that assertive listening doesn’t mean to have to give the person everything they need or want.

There are several known “blocks” to assertive listening, so be careful not to do any of these. Sometimes people do them without realising, and this can really break down the communication within a relationship:

1) Mind reading (I am totally guilty of this) – assuming you know what the other person thinks and feels without asking

2) Rehearsing – planning what you will say next and missing what is actually being said (easy to do when you first start out with DBT)

3) Filtering – only listening to certain things and ignoring the rest (perhaps what is only relevant to you)

4) Judging – making a judgement on the other persons choices rather than trying to understand and empathise with their point of view (I am ashamed to admit I am also guilty of this)

5) Daydreaming – not paying attention

6) Advising – Offering solutions rather than actually listening to the problems

7) Sparring – arguing or debating instead of listening, thereby invalidating the other person

8) Being right – Ignoring others as you believe you are right and everyone else is wrong

9) Derailing – changing the subject as soon as you feel uncomfortable

10) Placating – agreeing too quickly without listening, often accompanied by being too passive and apologising too much

Thanks for reading, and keep following, I will post more on interpersonal effectiveness soon!


Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan

The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook by Matthew McKay et al


  1. Thanks for sharing this I actually think it is helpful for most people even those without BPD, we live in a world where everyone seems to think their wishes and demands take priorities over everyone else. The only one I found strange was under 1 “I think you have been late to work several times this week” surely if some one has been late then that is a statement of fact rather than your thoughts, if you get what I mean, if you word it in that way can they not just reply no I haven’t and create a bigger issue? Does it provide you with ways to deal with the way people respond to you? Sorry for asking so many questions I am just curious and like to learn 😀

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