How to respond when someone attacks you publicly

© 2015 Trissan Dicomes

How do I defend myself? Say your coworker fires off another nasty email accusing you of dressing sloppily. She goes on and on about how you watch online videos and spend most of your time on Facebook or doing other personal things on company time. Or, maybe you get a text from the spouse you are in the middle of divorcing. The email expresses the “concern” the ex has about little Mary’s word choices for body parts and accuses you of being the creep that taught them to her. The Ex is on a roll about how inappropriate you always are and how traumatized Mary was because of what you did. In either case, you know it’s not true – that it’s just more of the distorted thinking and “blamespeak” this person often displays, so do you defend yourself or not? Consider the Context

If you’ve been following the blog, you know that we often suggest simply ignoring the outrageous or hurtful comments someone makes about you.  This helps you diffuse the other person (and yourself) and makes the conflict shorter. If someone calls you a creep or does not appreciate your attire – so be it. It’s generally not worth your energy in dwelling on it or trying to change their mind. Just Forgedaboudit, right?  BUT- what if that email was CC’d to your boss and coworkers? What if there was a good chance your ex’s text would be printed and filed in your custody case?  Now what do you do?

Correct Without Defending

People can make up their own minds if you are a creep or wear ugly sweaters, and no real harm can come of it. However, you should respond when potentially damaging misinformation is sent to a wider audience. Don’t rush into it without thinking, but you don’t want to wait long or you run the risk of other people believing it. When a rumor goes uncorrected, it can take on a life of its own and start becoming an accepted truth. You would not want your supervisor believing you spend all day watching cat videos and you don’t want a judge to infer sexual misconduct from texts attached to pleadings saying “See, he doesn’t even deny it!” In the book “It’s all YOUR Fault at Work” the authors remind us that “high-conflict emotions are highly contagious. Misinformation delivered with intense emotions is likely to emotionally “hook” one or more people. …[and] inaccuracies quickly become “fact.” Don’t assume that people won’t fall for the misinformation, because the accompanying emotions can be very persuasive.”

So, What Do You say?

Once you have established the need to respond, the questions then become what do I say and what’s the best way to go about it? As above, you should make a reasonably quick response to avoid the myth of truth being attached to it.  You should also respond in the same venue in which the attack was presented (by text, email, etc.).  Choosing your words may be tricky. As with replying to any hostile communication, when responding to misinformation we recommend the BIFF Response® technique- Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.

  • Brief: 2-3 sentences is usually enough and will reduce the chance of a prolonged and angry exchange in the public view. Keeping it brief shows your intent to be done with the subject and that it’s not open for further debate.

  • Informative: The goal is to correct the inaccurate statements. Focus on “just the facts” and the accurate information you want to give. You do not need to explain why the other person was wrong or get into a battle of opinions. Avoid sarcasm, threats and personal remarks about the other person. For example: “I am doing assigned research for the new social media campaign.” Period.

  • Friendly: This does not mean tagging on a smiley at the end nor going over the top. It’s sufficient to be neutral, polite, relaxed and non-threatening and as above, avoid personal comments. “I appreciate my coworkers’ attentiveness to the use of company time” or closing with “I wish you all a good day” will do.

  • Firm: The intent is to provide the information and end the discussion. You should concisely state your accurate information without inviting further comments unless it’s really needed. In that case, ask a “yes or no” question and ask for a response by a certain date and time. Otherwise, something like this is fine: “I trust this new information will clear up any misunderstanding about the use of company time.”

Put It All Together:

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 A

The decision to reply or not is sometimes tricky, but the tips presented here should help you know if you should respond, and how do so if needed.  Keep practicing your BIFF Response® techniques and you’ll be prepared for the next time something like this comes up. For more information on BIFF Responses, check out our selection of books and videos or set up a personal coaching session.

Trissan Dicomes is the BIFF Response Coordinator for High Conflict Institute. She runs the website and social media for High Conflict Institute, and she provides BIFF Response coaching and a regular BIFF Response(sm) blog. She has over 20 years in the legal field and worked for 8 years as a paralegal at National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego with the Divorce Mediation Group, where HCI co-founder, Bill Eddy, does his mediations. During that time, she acquired a lot of hands-on experience helping clients learn to write and speak with the BIFF Response method. Contact: – (916) 258-2433. © 2015 – High Conflict Institute

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