Those conversations that you avoid, the ones you need to have but put off, dread and agonise over, it’s not often that we’re taught how to manage those effectively.

And yet, business seems to be a breeding ground for them. Asking for a salary increase, giving negative feedback, asking someone to do something or saying no to work, can send us all into varying degrees of panic.

A tidy acronym and a bit of practice can help. Borrowed from an evidence-based therapy called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, DEAR MAN might just increase your success with difficult conversations – whether you define success by getting what you want, feeling happy with how you managed it or maintaining a relationship through it.

What to do:

DDescribe the situation.
An obvious one maybe, but perhaps the easiest to get wrong. The key is to leave out any judgments or opinions and, instead, describe the issue using objective language.

EExpress how you feel about it.
This doesn’t have to be an over-the-top outpouring of emotion, but often people don’t know or think about how others feel. So sometimes, you just have to tell them.

AAssert yourself.
Tell the person what you want, clearly and succinctly.

R Reinforce the other person for doing what you want.
Make sure you let the person know what’s in it for them. This isn’t a bribe; it’s making it clear why doing what you want would be a good thing.

How to do it:

M – Be mindful.

If it’s a truly hard conversation, the likelihood is you’ll meet resistance. Don’t let yourself get sucked into an argument or sidetracked off the topic. Be aware of your own emotions and remember what your goal is. If the person isn’t listening or taking you seriously, just become a broken record and repeat. Sometimes you need to for people to realise that you’re serious.

AAppear confident

Inside you might feel like a marshmellow, but in these situations it’s the outside that counts. Act confident in your body language, your tone and your words.


It’s hard to swallow, but sometimes we just can’t get what we want. Be willing to negotiate to meet at a middle ground.

DEAR MAN sounds simple, but applying it can get tricky. Sometimes you don’t need every step, but usually it pays to at least have thought through each. To get your brain juices flowing, here’s an example:

“[D] You’ve asked me to help John with his budget work but in the past two weeks I’ve been working ten-hour days. [E] I’m worried about how to fit it in and am feeling stressed. [A] I’d like to reduce my current workload. That way I’ll be able to help John and do a better job of my own work.”

You can of course change the tone and the language to suit the situation. But the bones of DEAR MAN are there.

Good luck!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jo Walker | Content Creator for Executive Support NZ Ltd. Jo is a Psychologist by training and an all-round go-getter! She is a fun-loving traveller and an adventurer who likes to get things done.


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