Teaching the GIVE skills (Part 2)

Sep 13, 2021 | DBT Skills

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

In this blog we are looking 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. Read here for part one, in which we start by discussing the first two GIVE skills of Gentle and Interested. Now we move on to Validation and Easy manner.

Validation is often hard for people to get their heads around and yet is the single most effective skill in bonding with other people. Clients may believe validation is praising or saying nice things , so it is good to bust that myth straight away. Validation is showing in some way that you think the person is making sense, has got a good point, is right about something. Clients can be wary of it because they don’t want to lose face, “what if I tell someone they have a good point and then they refuse to listen to my side?” The fact is they are more likely to listen if they think you can see their point of view.

Our difficulty as skills trainers is to get people to really relax into validation, and what we often see is the client skim it, almost as though they are thinking they need to get it over with so they can have their say.

Mother: I know all your classmates are going to the party, but there will be alcohol there and you can’t take that risk.

Daughter: I am going to be the only one who doesn’t go. I will look like a right loser.

Mother: It is hard, but I’m saying this because I love you.

Daughter: If you loved me, you’d let me go.

Mother: I do love you.

Here the mother will rightly argue that she was validating because she said, “I know all your classmates are going to the party” and “I know it’s hard.” Even though these phrases are certainly validating, they are simply not enough. The mother will have to go MUCH further to get the validation to hit home.

Mother: I guess all the other kids will be at the party, so I know this is a massive thing for you to not go. It sits heavily on me too.

Daughter: I’m going to be the only one who doesn’t go. I will look like a right loser.

Mother: I know it doesn’t seem fair, and nobody wants to be the kid who is left out. Going back to school will be really hard, and I want us to think together about what might make that easier in some way, rather than just going back in as the ‘loser.’ I honestly hate the thought of you being in that position. It’s more that I don’t want to risk you drinking and getting suicidal. I’m honestly not here to spoil your fun, yet I know that’s gonna be part of it.

Daughter: If you loved me, you would let me go.

Mother: In your shoes, that’s how it looks – like I am ignoring how upset you are about this. Believe me, I can feel how painful it is. And truly? If I DIDN’T love you, I would let you go. I would rank my popularity as more important than your safety. But hey, me telling you all this won’t make it any easier for you. I know that. I’m not doing this lightly.

In the second example the mother is really sitting in the uncomfortable position and uses additional words to describe the daughter’s feelings. The more she can acknowledge her daughter’s pain, the more validating it seems. She also adds in a functional validation, which is looking at whether she can do anything to help with the return to school after the party. The mother is not losing her position but she is going much further to touch the truth in her daughter’s stance. A top tip is to avoid saying ‘but’. That word is the pin that bursts the validation balloon! Phrases such as ‘and at the same time’ or ‘on the other hand’ are so much easier to hear.

Finally we have Easy manner. What are the indicators? Well, this is one that is in the body and the voice, with little bits of humour added in. This is the hardest one to teach, and it can be helpful to ask people to search for GIFs on their phone – using terms like, ‘no problem,’ ‘happy to help,’ or my favourite, ‘sure, why not?’ The aim is to show people the face and body language that goes with being easy and light rather than tense – and then to practice. They can pick their favourite GIF and act it out (better for people to do it at the same time so nobody is self-conscious.)

The main message from the GIVE skills is that you can change how other people see you and respond to you by taking control of how you act with them, but don’t expect instant results. There are some mantras that can act as a reminder:

“I can only do my 50 percent, the other person adds theirs.”

“GIVE works like water over a stone, gradually not instantly.”

“You can fake it ’til you make it.”

“There’s always another flip of the coin.”

This last one refers to an exercise you can do with clients if they get hopeless about relationships. Get them to flip a coin 12 times and write down heads or tails (H or T)

1H 2H 3T 4H 5H 6T 7T 8T 9H 10H 11T 12H

Let’s say the 12 flips represent the last 12 meetings you had with your friend Joe. An H means it went well, a T means it went badly. If we look at the section 6,7 and 8 there are three tails in a row, the relationship looks dire, but 2,3 and 4 give a different picture, as do 10,11 and 12, The flips don’t stop as long as we still have contact with Joe and by using our GIVE skills we have a chance to nudge the coin so it falls to heads more often.

Interested to learn more about DBT skills? Read here for this blog about Using DBT Skills in the Natural Environment.

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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