Modulating intensity is a DBT term that refers to how strongly we request for something from someone else, i.e. how much intensity we are using to make a request. Everyone has their individual needs, emotions and thoughts, so sometimes it can be tricky to navigate making a request in an assertive enough but not an overbearing way. For example, you want to ask your partner to help you with the housework but they’ve been working overtime for days and you feel doubtful about your request. The modulating intensity skill is meant to help you in situations like these. For people who tend to have a more passive or aggressive style of communication this can be a particularly helpful tool to use. Let's start!

DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness: Modulating Intensity
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When deciding about how insistent you should be when you are requesting something, there are two things that you should pay attention to - the level of urgency of your need, and the level of vulnerability the other person or the relationship has.

Step One : Level of Urgency of your Need

First, try to be mindful of how urgent your need is. Try to put a percentage to it, from 0 to 100%. Take the context and the whole situation into account. Is your request something that you inevitably have to have right now, or is it something that is not so urgent and that can be postponed for later? Is there room for flexibility when it comes to your need or not so much ?

Take your time to start thinking about your requests in this new way. After you've become familiarized with these two factors (urgency of your need and the level of vulnerability the other person has), we will move on to try to practically apply this new concept.

Step Two : Level of Vulnerability

Since there are always at least two sides participating in every communication process, in this step we will work on the level of vulnerability that the other person has, or that the relationships has. Think of the context that the other person experiences and try to evaluate how vulnerable that person is regarding the request.

Is the other person experiencing a stressful period or deals with something that requires a lot of energy? This is not to say that you should not communicate your need. Maybe you've had a rocky month with your children, or with your boss and this would probably affect the context in which you are making your request.

Take your time and try to put a number on the level of vulnerability of the other person or the relationship (from 0 to 100%).

Step Three : Adjusting the Level of Intensity

Now that you've evaluated how urgent your need is and how vulnerable the other person is, would you change the level of intensity of making your request of would it be the same?

Think of a recent situation where you were requesting something from another person. Try to remember how urgent your need was and how vulnerable the other person was. How would you ask differently about what you needed, having in mind these two factors? Write the answers in the worksheet.

Situation: I was tired of my son not cleaning up his bedroom time after time, and I really wanted him to start to be more responsible.
Level of urgency of my need : I would say that my level of urgency was about 60%. As time passes by and nothing is changing, the level started increasing.
Vulnerability of the other person or relationship : Although I didn't take that into account when the situation happened, my son was having a bad time with his friends and I know that this affected his mood. I would say that his level of vulnerability was probably about 60% too.
Adjusting the level of intensity : I think that I wasn't mindful enough of my son's mood, so I would've probably ask him to clean his room in a milder manner. I think that I would've acknowledged that I knew how he'd been feeling but still gently ask him to try to tidy up his room.

Think about how you can apply this skill in the future. Is there a request you've wanted to ask for recently? Is there a need that you would want to communicate to somebody? How would you apply the skill modulating intensity ?

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I think that with some people it will be difficult to evaluate how vulnerable they are at the moment. What should I do in situations like that?

If this is a person that you spend a lot of time with, try to think about how they were feeling recently, what type of mood they were in, whether there were certain stress factors that might have influenced the way they feel of behave. You can always ask the other person how they are doing and acknowledge that you want to take into account the state they are in before making the request. Be curious and try to convey an atmosphere of validation and mutual respect.

Should I always think about the level of urgency and vulnerability in terms of numbers?

It is true that sometimes there won't be enough time to stop and put a number on these two factors. After you've become familiarized with the concept, it will be enough to simply have these two factors in mind and take them into account when you are requesting something. Try to be mindful throughout the conversation and organically sense the appropriate amount of intensity of the request.

I find it a little difficult to always think about these two factors when I'm asking somebody for something. It seems a little tiring.

There is no need to actively think about this concept if you are asking somebody to hold the door for you, or pass the salt. Use this concept if there is something important that you've had on your mind and that you needed to convey but you are doubtful about how to approach the situation. The modulating intensity technique is a more advanced interpersonal effectiveness technique, and it can take a little time to learn it. With time you will find that it will be easier for you to navigate asking for something using these two factors.

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If you have any behavioral health questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare or mental health care provider. This article is supported by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from behavioral health societies and governmental agencies. However, it is not a substitute for professional behavioral health advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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