©2017 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Dealing with High Conflict People and their irate communications can leave you at a loss for words. The BIFF Response® Method helps you get your thoughts organized and under control so you can respond effectively.
To be most effective, we suggest you explore the method in the BIFF Response® book to give you the method essentials. Then we tell people to practice, practice, practice!
When you want to utilize The BIFF Response® Method, you may find yourself staring at a blank screen wondering, “What do I say?” The answer will vary from case-to-case, but let’s review the ground rules and then go over a few examples.
Rule #1 is always to ask: “Do I need to reply to this at all?”
Pause. Take a deep breath. Then read the email/ text with a critical eye: Is there anything that really requires a reply? (A deadline, an appointment, a PTA conference, a needed decision). Look for valid matters and ignore the barbs. A decision on an appointment time is valid. An accusation that you never communicate is invalid. Asking what time to pick up a child is valid. Saying everybody is mad at you/blaming you is not valid. Additionally, a decision needed for a concrete issue is only valid if it’s new. Further demands to discuss the same matter are not valid and need no reply, or a shorter version- one time – of what you said last time. Don’t take the bait when the next re-worded email with the same demand comes along.
If you need to reply, then follow BIFF®:
Brief: Keep it brief. Long explanations and arguments trigger upsets for HCPs.
Informative: Focus on straight information, not arguments, opinions, emotions or defending yourself (you don’t need to)
Friendly: Have a friendly greeting (such as “Thanks for responding to my request”); close with a friendly comment (such as “Have a good weekend”).
Firm: Have your response end the conversation. Or give two choices on an issue and ask for a reply by a certain date.
Leave out the 3 A’s
An entire chapter is dedicated to this in the BIFF Response® Book, but the highlights of what to avoid are:
Advice. Are you telling the other person what to do, how to behave, or how to feel? If so, you can expect a defensive reaction and more email/texts. It’s better to avoid unsolicited advice such as “You just need to do X.” Make a proposal instead.
Admonishments. Telling a defensive or upset person what they do wrong and how to fix it will just make them more defensive and earn you another accusatory reply. Things like “You’re overreacting” or “You should be ashamed” are not going to help them hear you.
Apologies. Most of us apologize sometimes, but it easily backfires with HCPs. “Sorry I was late” is OK as a social nicety. “I’m sorry my email upset you” is accepting responsibility for the other person’s emotions. It’s almost guaranteed to be taken as an admission of guilt, which an HCP will use against you to place blame and defend their actions.
A Family Member Example:
“Thanks for nothing. My boss threatened to fire me today. Some sister you are! I TOLD YOU I COULDN’T BE LATE AGAIN. You know I’ve been meaning to get the car checked. I can’t control when it breaks down. BUT YOU COULDN’T BE BOTHERED WITH HELPING ME GET THERE, COULD YOU???? You and your FANCY JOB. You don’t have to worry about unreasonable bosses. You could have taken time off to help YOUR OWN BROTHER!!! Mom’s mad at you too. I hope you’re happy!”
“Hi Bob, I’m glad you were able to make it and that you still have your job. As I said this morning, I couldn’t miss my meeting. I can make time to help you drop off your car for repairs on Saturday or Tuesday. Let me know by 11:00 tomorrow what day and time you need to go since I must give advance notice to my work. If I don’t hear by then, I’ll just assume you won’t need my help with it. Have fun at the baseball game tonight. –Sue.”
A Divorce Example:
Text from the Ex:
“I got a new lawyer today. Boy, are you in trouble. All the BS you say about me is going to get you hammered in court. You’ll NEVER get any custody because you’re such a sack of s**t and you’re going to have to give me a ton of money. Lots more than that crappy amount you pay now. I hate you and now you’ll be sorry you filed for divorce.”
Nothing. Sometimes the hardest part of a BIFF Response is not doing it at all. Choose to ignore this and you’ll avoid spending the next few hours battling it out.
A Co-Parenting Example:
Text from Mom:
“Thanks for nothing you pile of crap. Those clothes you bought for his birthday are junk. I’ll be asking the judge for more money so I can get him something decent to wear when he does things like go to his doctor appointment on Thursday. Drop dead.”
“Thanks for letting me know about his doctor appointment. I’ll check in after to hear what the doc said.”
A workplace Example:
Team member email:
“Who do you think you are? You’re messing up the whole project and making me look bad!!!! You know we were supposed to turn in the figures yesterday, but noooo. You’re so important you thought you could get away with a TWO-HOUR BREAK. I couldn’t get it done and it’s YOUR fault! You need to get your s**t together, EVERYONE thinks so!!!”
“Hi Coworker A, I appreciate your concern for getting reports in on time. As I mentioned in my email to everyone last week, my meeting could not be rescheduled. I’ve attached a copy of the email for you. You’ll see that Ms. Boss gave us an extension until Friday. I am available all afternoon. What time can you meet to finish the figures? Have a good morning. –Me”
A Public Accusation Example:
Email cc’d to everyone in the office:
“In case you hadn’t noticed, we are all busy around here. Why is it that you spend your whole day checking your Facebook and watching YouTube? I don’t think this is the best use of company time so on behalf of everyone here, I ask that you get back to work.”
You should respond with factual information when potentially damaging misinformation is sent to a wider audience and has the risk of doing some harm. You don’t want your supervisor believing you spend all day watching cat videos, so you write:
“Hello everyone, Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address this. I appreciate my coworkers’ attentiveness to the use of company time so I would like to clarify that I am doing assigned research for the new social media campaign and was asked to review how other companies use media platforms for trends and ideas. I’m sure we are all working hard to make the campaign successful. I wish you all a good day. –signed Coworker”
That’s just 5 examples we hope you found useful. If you know what to expect from an HCP, and you practice and prepare, giving a good BIFF Response® is a lot easier and will even start to come naturally over time. Of course, if you have a complicated situation that needs more help- please check out our Biff Response® Coaching. We can work with you to craft a response that will ease the conflict.
BILL EDDY, LCSW, ESQ. is the co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of the High Conflict Institute in San Diego, California. He pioneered the High Conflict Personality Theory (HCP) and is viewed globally as the leading expert on managing disputes involving people with high conflict personalities. He has written more than twenty books on the topic and has taught professionals in the U.S. and more than ten countries.