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Interpersonal skills are defined as “behaviors and tactics a person uses to interact with others effectively.” More specifically, they are a set of abilities that enable a person to positively interact and work with others successfully while avoiding disputes and personal issues. There is a particular form of psychotherapy that relies heavily on teaching interpersonal skills. One of the four pillars of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a module called interpersonal effectiveness. Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan developed DBT in the late 1980s as a means to help better treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It is an evidence-based psychotherapy that is founded on the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) but places greater emphasis on the psychosocial aspect of treatment. It combines standard CBT techniques for emotional regulation and reality-testing with concepts derived from Buddhist meditative practices such as awareness, mindfulness, and attentiveness to current situations and emotional experiences to encourage acceptance.

Interpersonal Effectiveness Module and Goals

The interpersonal effectiveness module in DBT is intended to teach people skills to navigate interpersonal problem solving, improve assertiveness, and hone social skills to modify aversive environments and to realize goals in interpersonal encounters. These skills involve helping individuals identify and understand their own needs in a relationship. While one’s interpersonal goals will be unique to each person, below are examples of common interpersonal goals:

  • I will practice communicating eloquently, clearly, and directly.
  • I will learn to develop and build on my confidence and poise when expressing myself.
  • I will initiate and engage in meaningful conversations.
  • I will develop and maintain strong and positive relationships with others. 
  • I will provide constructive feedback to others and be open to feedback by taking constructive criticisms positively.
  • I will listen to others when they talk, without interrupting.
  • I will be approachable and project an image of confidence.
  • I will learn to effectively manage and express my feelings and emotions.
  • I will draw upon conflict management and resolution skills to assess and manage potential conflicts at a personal and group level.
  • I will ask open-ended questions in to gain a more detailed understanding of the person’s perspective with whom I am communicating.
  • I will express empathy and provide comfort to people when they need it.
  • I will monitor my body language to avoid appearing disengaged and/ or aggressive.
  • I will exercise self-control by taking pause and not immediately responding to an unfriendly comment.
  • I will not allow someone else’s tone dictate mine in a conversation.

Skills taught during the interpersonal effectiveness module and setting interpersonal goals can help an individual learn to cultivate, engage, and maintain healthy relationships with others that enable one’s needs to be met. This includes advocating for one’s needs and communicating in a way that is non-damaging, assertive, maintains self-respect, and strengthens relationships. 

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.