Guest Writer: Molly Zimetbaum
An important Interpersonal Effectiveness DBT skill involves learning how to balance goals and priorities when we are dealing with a conflict. This skill teaches us to be mindful about our relationships and the conflicts within them, and subsequently decide how to make effective, gratifying compromises.
Generally, within an interpersonal conflict, there are three factors we must decide how to prioritize and balance: our desire to get what we want, our desire to maintain a good relationship with the other person, and our desire to maintain our own self-respect.
Let’s discuss these factors in greater detail:
The objective: this refers to our goal, or what we want to get out of the conflict. We might want to request something effectively, to deny a request effectively, to stand up for ourselves, or for our opinion or viewpoint to be taken seriously.
(It’s important to note that, no matter how skilled we are at interpersonal communication, sometimes we simply cannot attain our objective. That’s when radical acceptance and distress tolerance come into the mix.)
The relationship: this refers to the importance of preserving the relationship despite the conflict within it. We might preserve the relationship by balancing our immediate goals with the good of the long-term relationship, or by choosing a way to communicate that does not erode respect and trust within the relationship.
Our self-respect: this refers to the importance of maintaining our positive feelings towards ourselves, and our adherence to our beliefs and values while dealing with a conflict. We might preserve our self-respect by remaining true to our morals, or by acting in a way that makes us feel competent, as opposed to lying, manipulating, or giving in for the sake of approval.
These three factors will be prioritized differently depending on the particular situation.
For example, let’s say your boss assigns you work that is far outside the purview of your job description and does not offer compensation. You don’t want to do the work, it is not fair that you have to do the work, but you are concerned with maintaining a good relationship with your boss. Ultimately, you might choose to ask for what you want, prioritizing getting what you want while communicating skillfully.
But let’s say your significant other asks you to stay home with him instead of attending a party you wanted to go to, because he had a difficult day. You might consider your own goal—to attend the party—and your sense of self-respect, which entails independence. But ultimately, you would likely choose to prioritize the relationship here.
Now, let’s say your friend asks you to help him cheat on a test. In this situation, you may be concerned about preserving the relationship, but you would ultimately prioritize self-respect and adhere to your morals, and deny the request using skilled communication.
Of course, these examples are simplified, and real life conflicts are often more complicated and involve more context. Nonetheless, remembering these factors can help us organize our priorities and make better decisions in moments of conflict with others.