© 2014 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. and Trissan Dicomes
In 2014, the second edition was published of Bill Eddy’s book BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns. High Conflict Institute’s BIFF Response® Coordinator, Trissan Dicomes, interviewed Bill about this second edition.
TD: So Bill, before we talk about this second edition of the book, can you tell us how the “BIFF Response method” got started in the first place?
BE: I was giving a training in managing high-conflict personalities to family law professionals in Phoenix, Arizona in January 2007. Megan [Hunter] and I had just started working together putting on seminars in managing high-conflict people. Two judges were attending and asked what I thought could be done about the hostile emails that high-conflict parents regularly sent each other. I said I thought that they should be told to keep it brief, to focus on straight information, and to make it a little bit friendly.
They said: “But they keep going and going with their email attacks.” I said I thought they should be told to end the conversation. Then I thought about it some more and realized that brief, informative and friendly spelled BIF – and to end the conversation I wanted to add something with another “F.” So I thought of Firm and said they should keep it “BIFF.” They liked that! I’ve been teaching people to use the BIFF Response method ever since. It’s so easy to remember – I do them myself too.
TD: How many people do you think have been taught the BIFF Response method?
BE: I would estimate over 10,000, considering our seminars and book sales. I repeatedly get feedback from lawyers and counselors that their clients are learning and practicing how to use a BIFF Response. One lawyer told me that his client had gotten so good at them, that the client started receiving emails back from her angry “ex” in the BIFF Response format – he learned it just from reading her emails and realizing how much better they looked than his angry diatribes!
TD: What is different about the second edition of the BIFF Response book?
BE: This second edition includes a new chapter on Coaching for BIFF Responses. This is becoming more and more important as people ask for help with the BIFF Response technique. It is very important that someone else look at a BIFF Response before you send it, if at all possible. So this chapter includes a method of 10 questions to ask when you’re coaching a friend, relative, co-worker, employee or a client in writing a BIFF Response.
TD: Why do you have 10 Questions? What are they?
BE: The most important thing about the 10 questions is to hold back giving your thoughts on how it should be written and instead asking the writer to reflect on what they have written first – then give your own thoughts (which is question #10). That way, the writer learns to reflect on their own BIFF Response writing and will be better able to write a good response in the future on their own, if you’re not available. But it’s very hard to hold back giving your thoughts, so this takes practice and is one of the major reasons why people should get this second edition. It also has the same basic chapters as the first edition, so people new to the BIFF Response method can just buy the second edition and have the full package of information: How to write a BIFF response in all different settings, such as the workplace, with family members, with neighbors, volunteer groups and so forth. But for the 10 questions, people should read the book!
TD: Is there one element of a BIFF Response that’s the most important to use/remember?
BE: I think the most important thing to do is to keep what you say to a minimum. The biggest problem people have is saying too much. However, I think it’s best to remember all four parts of the BIFF Response technique: that it’s Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. All of those are important – and fairly simple.
TD: So, it’s good for professionals to learn and use. Can you give us an example of how someone might use the BIFF Response method in an everyday context?
BE: Sure. Let’s say you get an email from a co-worker, who says:
“Bill, You blew it! You were supposed to get me the document yesterday! Now I’m late in doing my report – and it’s all your fault! Fred.”
You could write back:
“Fred, I can understand your frustration. I’m frustrated too. The underlying data for this document has been slow in coming to me from the Finance Department and I don’t have it yet, but I reminded them again today and they expect I should have it tomorrow. Then I should be able to get my document out to you tomorrow as well. I’ll stay late to get it done. I understand that your report is due next week, so hopefully you can still use this document and get your report in on time. Best wishes, Bill.”
TD: Would this look any different if you got some coaching on it, as explained in the second edition?
BE: Yes, a coach might ask me to look at it with the 10 Questions, then ask if there’s anything I might take out, add or change. That’s Question #9. With that in mind, I would probably take out the following and make it Briefer, less emotional (take out “I’m frustrated”), more firm (take out “hopefully” and replace with “probably”) and less likely to appear that I think I did something wrong (take out “I’ll stay late…”).
“Fred, I can understand your frustration. I’m frustrated too. The underlying data for this document has been slow in coming to me from the Finance Department. and I don’t have it yet, but I reminded them again today and they expect I should have it tomorrow. Then I should be able to get my document out to you tomorrow as well. I’ll stay late to get it done. I understand that your report is due next week, so hopefully you can still use this document and probably get your report in on time. Best wishes, Bill.”
This keeps the focus on straight information (“informative”) and is unlikely to get an angry response back – or any response. This type of response usually ends the conversation.
TD: Why does the BIFF Response technique work so well?
BE: I think it’s really about the brain science, which I explain briefly in the book. The defensive part of our brain is looking for threats to us and if it sees one, it wants to go into “fight, flight or freeze” mode. So using the BIFF Response method, you significantly reduce the chance of appearing to be a threat, while still addressing a problem and focusing on the problem-solving parts of the brain. That’s why “informative” without emotional words is so important. Just saying “I’m frustrated too,” to an angry person may reinforce their emotional response and they might respond: “You think YOU’RE frustrated! Let me tell you…!” That’s why we avoid emotional words and try to give it a friendly opening and closing.
TD: Why would anyone be friendly to someone who habitually attacks them?
BE: It’s purely to calm down their defensive brain. It doesn’t have to be very friendly – just open and close it with a friendly comment to help them stay calm. Of course, I tell people I’m consulting with that they have every right to be angry and stay angry – it just means that you’ll waste a lot of your time in a pointless series of back-and-forth angry emails. Most people don’t really enjoy doing that (although some do!).
TD: So, if I gave a BIFF Response to my hostile ex, he’d stop sending me hateful emails?
BE: It usually slows them down and eventually some of them start writing BIFF Response-type emails themselves. So it’s definitely worth a try. Besides, if you send angry emails, there’s always the chance that others will see them and think you’re a “high-conflict person!” While it’s not guaranteed to stop hateful emails, it seems to have success in 90% or more of email conversations.
TD: Is this only for use with High-Conflict people?
BE: No, you can use the BIFF Response method with anyone who’s upset. You don’t ever have to figure out if someone is a high-conflict person with a pattern of extreme behavior. You can try the BIFF Response method at any time to anyone.
TD: How do I know what to respond to out of 10 paragraphs of ranting and raving?
BE: I suggest that you pick the most essential issue and give some information about that. Usually there’s something that you can clarify. Then you can broadly say about the rest of the paragraphs something like: “Let’s just agree to disagree on some of these issues, as we each have our own point of view.” And then wrap up your Response.
TD: Can you use the BIFF Response method verbally? Is anything different about that?
BE: Oh, yes! You can use the BIFF Response technique verbally. The same calming principles apply. Of course, the BIFF Response method was designed for written communications, so that you have time to think about them. But if you use them in person, you can still emphasize being Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. Don’t worry as much about the words you use – just emphasize getting your information across without unnecessary emotion or criticism. Being brief helps avoid giving the other person something to react to. And being Friendly toward an upset person can help them calm down and focus on problem-solving.
TD: I want to thank you for responding to these questions in such a friendly and informative manner!
BE: My pleasure! And I just want to add that the second edition is available directly from bookstores, from Amazon, from our company bookstore and also available as an eBook. Thanks!
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.