Congratulations! You have just learned how to be more assertive in four simple steps: Describe, Express, Assert, and Reinforce. Of course, healthy relationships involve much more than just walking around and asserting yourself all day! No matter how well we assert, relationships will not work if that’s all we do. Relationships involve lots of give and take, lots of trial and error, and lots of repair work when relationships do not go like we expect them to. Just as we have needs that we want other people to meet, not surprisingly, other people also have needs that they want us to meet. And just like other people do not always meet our expectations, we do not always meet the expectations of other people either.
In short, if we only learn to assert well, our Relationship Stool only has one of the three necessary legs. The other two legs required for effective relationships are Appreciation and Apologies. The more you can appreciate the perspectives of other people and apologize when you have caused hurt or harm in a relationship, the more other people will be willing to meet your wants and needs as well. In other words, we need all three legs of the stool!
The Relationship Stool
- Assert – Express your own needs and perspective and ask people to change
- Appreciate – Value the needs and perspective of other people
- Apologize – Offer to repair any damage you have caused in a relationship
The good news is that we have already learned the DEAR Adult formula to assert. Now we can use the same formula to both appreciate and apologize! Here’s how. Let’s start off using DEAR Adult to appreciate someone else’s perspective.
DEAR Adult (Appreciate)
D – Describe: Summarize or paraphrase the main points of what the other person has stated.
E - Empathize: Instead of expressing your own feelings, empathize with the other person’s emotions. Explain that you understand why they feel however they feel.
A - Appreciate: The word appreciate has three distinct but related meanings. First, sometimes appreciate simply means to understand. For example, if you tell your boss that you feel like you are working too many hours and she says, “I can appreciate that,” what that means is that she gets what you are saying. Even more commonly, appreciate means to value something or someone. For example, if your supervisor tell you, “I really appreciate you as an employer,” that means that she values you. However, appreciate also has a third meaning: to increase in value! For example, if you say, “the value of my house has appreciated,” what you mean is that the value of your house has just increased. All three definitions apply to effective communication! If you want other people to respect your perspective, then you will also need to appreciate theirs:
1. Understand their perspective
2. Value their perspective
3. ADD value to their perspective
R – Reinforce: Recall that reinforce means to either strengthen something or increase a behavior. When it comes to this formula, what we most want to reinforce is the ability of both parties to compromise and negotiate. After you have described the other person’s perspective, empathized with the other person’s perspective, and then even appreciated the other person’s perspective, both of you are now in a much better position to find and reach a consensus.
It would be great if everything in life could be resolved by either asserting our perspective or appreciating someone else’s. Of course, that is not realistic. We all make mistakes, and sometimes we even cause hurt and harm to someone else. But fear not: DEAR Adult is once again coming to the rescue!
DEAR Adult (Apologize)
D - Describe: In this case, describe what you did wrong.
E - Empathize: Empathize with the other person’s perspective. Explain how your actions have affected the other person.
A - Apologize: State that you are sorry, that you regret what you did, and that you regret how your actions have affected the other person.
R – Reinforce: Of course, it’s not enough to just say you are sorry, with no evidence that you are truly sorry. Remember that to reinforce means to either strengthen something or increase a behavior. In this case, you need to strengthen your apology with some sort of follow up, which in turn may increase the other person’s willingness to forgive you. There are several ways to reinforce an apology, and all of them begin with R: repair, restore, reconcile. As we all know, words are cheap and actions speak louder than words—so the key to reinforcing an apology is to put your words into action. Explain what you will do differently in the future. Explain exactly how you will repair the damage, restore the situation, and reconcile the relationship. And then do it!
Now that you have already practiced your first DEAR Adult to assert, let’s practice two more DEAR Adults: one to appreciate and one to apologize.