Interpersonal Effectiveness

By Joe Alberts
Clinical Psychologist, The Resilience Centre

To use interpersonal skills effectively we have to decide the relative importance of:

  1. Achieving our objective
  2. Maintaining our relationship with the person(s)we are interacting with, and
  3. Maintaining our self-respect

It is important for us to know what we actually want – in other words what our goal is.  This is easier said than done and many interactions go off track when emotions interfere with knowing what we want.

Try this before your next “difficult interaction” with someone.  Decide before hand what you want to achieve and be clear in your communication.

Objectives Effectiveness 

The key question to ask yourself here is “What specific result or change do I want from this interaction”?  It may be what the other person is to do, to stop doing, to commit to, to agree to, or to understand.  It is important for the objective to be as specific as possible.  The clearer you are about what you want, the easier it will be to apply objectives effectiveness skills, and the clearer you will be as to whether or not you succeed in reaching your goal.

Examples are:

  • Refusing an unwanted or unreasonable request and making the refusal stick.
  • Requesting others to do something in such a way that they do what you ask.

Relationship Effectiveness 

The key question to ask yourself here is “How do I want the other person to feel about me after the interaction is over (whether or not I get the results or changes I want)?” At its best, you will get what you want and the person may like or respect you even more than before.

Examples are:

  • Acting in a way that makes the other person actually want to give you what you are asking for.
  • Focus on their needs and happiness and listen attentively. People who feel understood often wants to help in return.

Self-respect Effectiveness 

The key question to ask yourself here is “How do I want to feel about myself after the interaction is over (whether or not I get the results or changes I want)?”  Self respect effectiveness means acting in ways that fit your sense of morality, and that make you feel a sense of competence and mastery.

Examples are:

  • Standing up for yourself
  • Defending a friend
  • Stepping forward to say something courageous.

Deciding on the Relative Importance of the Three Effectiveness Types 

  1. All three types must always be considered
  2. Each type of Effectiveness may be more or less important in a given situation
  3. Each type of Effectiveness can be overused to our own detriment

As always balance is the key: 

Objectives Effectiveness – If we always focus on achieving our objectives others will feel unimportant or even used.  Choose wisely when you pick your objectives.

Relationship Effectiveness – Always subverting your needs in an interpersonal relationship does not work.  You lose yourself in the relationship and also lose the respect of others.

Self-respect Effectiveness – Some individuals make maintaining their self-respect the major issue in almost all interactions.  Always wanting to be on top or to have control or power, wanting to prove a point or defend  a position no matter what will compromise long term effectiveness.

This key lesson in Interpersonal Effectiveness was taken from the Dialectic Behaviour Therapy (DBT) Skills Training Manual by author Marsha Linehan and published in 1993.  Dialectic Behaviour Therapy is proven to help with emotion dysregulation, including people who have traits of Borderline Personality Disorder, suicidality, self harm and addiction problems.  The Resilience Centre offers a fully adherent Comprehensive DBT program consisting of Individual Therapy, Group based skills training, telephone coaching and therapist peer support.