This page provides an introduction to DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness skills, whose main focus is to help you achieve ‘Change’ in your emotions or your situation.

So, what are ‘interpersonal effectiveness’ skills?

Interpersonal effectiveness skills are all about helping you to achieve what you want or need through communication with other people. Mostly, interpersonal effectiveness skills help you to say what you need, at the same time as protecting the relationship and keeping your self-respect.  Self-respect means feeling good about yourself.

Why is communication so important?

Communication has a very important part to play in our relationships with those around us; it’s the way we let each other know what we want or need from a relationship or situation. What we achieve from a relationship or situation is strongly influenced by how effectively we communicate.

The interpersonal effectiveness skills of DBT are about helping you to connect with your ‘wise mind’ so that you can consider the situation and keep in mind what you want to achieve from it. You can then work towards the outcome you want or need (rather than reacting impulsively to strong or difficult emotions that you might be experiencing at that time).

When might you want to use these skills?

These skills can be helpful in lots of situations, including:

  • when there’s a good relationship you want to keep and protect
  • to end a relationship which is not good for you
  • to deal with difficulties in a relationship and to stop them getting worse
  • when you need to ask for something
  • when you want or need to say ‘no’ to somebody
  • to help you balance your priorities (what you want or need to happen) with the demands of others (what they want or need from you); so that you don’t have too much or too little to do
  • to balance ‘wants’ and ‘shoulds’: what you want to do (because you enjoy doing it), with what you feel you need to do (because it has to be done)
  • when you need your views and opinions to be taken seriously

DBT focuses on 3 types of interpersonal effectiveness:

Objective effectiveness

when getting something you want or need is what’s important

Relationship effectiveness

when keeping a good relationship is what’s most important

Self-respect effectiveness

when keeping your self-respect is what’s most important

In each situation, it can be really useful to prioritise which type of interpersonal effectiveness would be most helpful to you. By choosing to use the interpersonal effectiveness skills that match your priority, you are more likely to get a positive outcome from the situation. The other pages in the section outline these skills in more detail.

Being interpersonally effective

DBT interpersonal effectiveness skills can help you to clearly state your needs and wishes, without the other person having to ‘read your mind’. These skills can help you to ask respectfully for the things you want in a way that is considerate of the other person’s feelings, without causing harm to the relationship. With practice, you will come to find yourself interacting with people in ways that will make you feel competent and effective; where you may have before found yourself feeling helpless and not in control of the situation.

As with all DBT skills, the key to mastering them is practice. Use the skills as much as you can, in as many different situations as you can. Practice asking people for things more often. Try saying ‘no’ more often. In each situation, think about:

  • what your interpersonal effectiveness priority is
  • what you want or need from the situation
  • how you are going to achieve this

It’s common for young people to feel uncomfortable using these skills to start with. Maybe because they’re not used to asking for things or saying ‘no’; or when they do, they don’t always do it in an effective way, so that things often don’t turn out well for them. In each situation, it’s important to keep your focus on the outcome you want to achieve and not let worry thoughts prevent you from acting effectively. Try our activity below, for support and encouragement in using your interpersonal effectiveness skills.

Overcoming barriers

Something that can get in the way of us acting effectively, are myths about not being able to do it or it not working out. ‘Cheerleading statements’ that challenge these myths and give us strength and encouragement to behave effectively can be really helpful. See our example below:


Taking a CD back to a shop


Shop assistants are always rude to teenagers

Cheerleading statement

I have a right to take it back if it’s broken and I can ask calmly


My 4D Toolkit Activity

To get you thinking about ‘Cheerleading statements’ that work for you, why not download and make our Teller? Then, when you mindfully notice thoughts that get in the way of you acting effectively, remind yourself of these statements to help you get through.

You could make your own Teller, with your own personalised ‘Cheerleading statements’!

Download the Teller

Related Pages: Objective effectivenessRelationship effectiveness, Self-respect effectiveness,