Teaching the GIVE skills (Part 1)

Sep 3, 2021 | DBT Skills

This feature by Christine Dunkley, DClinP is Part 1 of 2 in a series about one of the skills in the interpersonal effectiveness module. In this first part, Christine begins by examining the first two GIVE skills: Gentle and Interested.

In this blog we are going to look at one of the skills in the interpersonal effectiveness module. The GIVE skills are those we teach the client to add in when the relationship is important. They are ‘softeners’ that say to people, “Hey, I am asking for something or saying no to something, but I still want to be friends.” That concept alone is a step for some clients to take. They often believe any dissent in a relationship heralds the end of it.

GIVE stands for be Gentle, act Interested, be Validating, and keep an Easy manner.

If we ask the question “what is the top indicator of being gentle?” most people get it – tone of voice. Have you ever heard your voice on tape and thought I don’t sound like that, do I? How we sound inside is not necessarily how we come across, and many people appear angry when they are anxious, because they tense up. To get that gentle tone you have to do some practice. It can be fun to go around in group and try different voice tones, asking aloud, “Does that sound more gentle or less so?” Here we are teaching dialectics – the ability to increase or decrease a response in order to suit the circumstances. You can have clients rate the degree of gentleness you might need from 0-10  for the following scenarios:

  • Your beloved niece, 5 is puling the heads off your prize roses to give you a bouquet
  • Your boss has asked you to stay late to finish a project, as a favour, but you don’t want to
  • You want to ask your friend for a lift to group
  • You want to ask your partner not to leave wet towels on the bed

These situations also make nice role-plays for people to practice on.

So how do we come across as Interested? If we ask this in group most people say eye contact, nodding, and body language. Certainly, if we withdraw these things, we look bored and disinterested. But alone, these are not enough. The best indicator of interest is asking a question.

Mia: I am going out on Friday and wondered if you might be free to babysit?

Frankie: I might be able to, but I’m behind with my college work.

Mia: (Nods, smiles) You can do it at my place. The kids probably won’t wake up.

Frankie: Yes, I guess…maybe.

Mia: Great, shall we talk about times then?

Frankie: Er…I’ll get back to you. Ok?

Now compare this:

Mia: I am going out on Friday and wondered if you might be free to babysit?

Frankie: I might be able to, but I’m behind with my college work.

Mia: Ah, what subject is that?

Frankie: It’s social geography. I’m looking at ‘food miles.’ You know, how far from where crops are grown to where they are eaten.

Mia: Wow, has it made you think differently about things you buy?

Frankie: Yes, actually. I try harder to get things locally.

Mia: That’s a service to everyone, really. I need to pay more attention to where our food comes from…So, do you think we might be able to plan for Friday, or is it too soon to say?

Frankie: I guess I can work at your place as well as mine. Ok, what time?

The second conversation flows much more naturally, because Mia is asking questions.

Now that we have addressed the first two skills of GIVE – be Gentle, act Interested – read here for part 2 of this piece, in which Christine shares about the remaining two GIVE skills – be Validating and keep an Easy manner. 

Christine Dunkley DClinP is a consultant trainer with the British Isles DBT training team. She had 30 years in the NHS as a medical social worker and psychological therapist. She is a Fellow of the Society for DBT and author of  ‘Regulating Emotion the DBT Way.’ Read her full bio here.


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