BIFF Communications for Estranged Families

two people sitting on beach with ocean in background

BIFF Communications for Estranged Families   ©2019 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.   This time of year we think about and visit with our families. Hopefully happy times. But for many people, it is a sad time because of estranged family relationships. Maybe there’s an adult relative who has cut off all contact with another adult relative because of their difficult personality. Or maybe it’s a child who has become alienated and rejected one of his or her parents in the middle of a high-conflict separation or divorce. Maybe it’s because of politics. Is there anything that can be done to help reconcile these relationships during the holidays? BIFF Communications For the past dozen years, our BIFF® method of communicating has helped many people in family conflicts calm things down while getting important information across. We believe that it can soothe some wounds and sometimes help bring people back together who have become estranged. The method is simple. Just keep the communication: BRIEF: Usually 2-4 sentences is sufficient, so there’s nothing to trigger further conflict. INFORMATIVE: Straight information, no opinions, defenses or arguments. FRIENDLY: Have a friendly tone, so that it calms a conflict rather than generating more. FIRM: This doesn’t mean harsh. End the conversation or ask a simple Yes/No question. Estranged Adults In one situation I know about, three adult daughters confronted their mother at a family gathering with the news that they figured out that her problematic behavior throughout her life was because she had a personality disorder and that she could get help with it. Mom promptly kicked them out of her house and said she never wanted to see them again. Dad reluctantly supported Mom in this. They were distraught, as their intent was to help her. The solution they figured out was to never mention personality disorder again. Instead, they waited a couple months, then sent her occasional holiday cards that simply included brief cheerful greetings, comments about the weather, and hopes to see them at a future holiday. Essentially, BIFF® communications. Over time, Mom and Dad softened up and let them back into their lives, but without further discussion of this difficult topic. Alienated Child Many parents (and grandparents and other relatives) who have become rejected by a child in a high-conflict divorce will not see the child at all over the holidays. Perhaps the child told them to never contact them again and they may have agreed or wonder what they should do. In general, parents are encouraged to send holiday greetings and other occasional cards to the child. Generally, they should be BIFF® communications. A tip that the parent learned recently that might be helpful to the child. For example with a teenager: “I learned this week that multi-tasking isn’t really possible. I saw a video that explained that we have to start and stop concentrating on each task, so what we call multi-tasking is really switching back and forth, which can be exhausting. I thought you’d be interested to know this as you get older and do more and more things in your life. Love, [Mom or Dad]” The idea is that it is helpful information that the child can use of the type that they need to learn from both of their parents. It carries no baggage, as it doesn’t refer at all to the past, to conflicts, to the other parent, etc. Just straight information. And in the worst case scenario if the child doesn’t open his/her mail, or tears it up, or the other parent discards it so the child never knows it came, the parent who sent this can still someday tell their child that they kept trying to communicate. Many adult children who were alienated eventually contact their rejected parent and wonder why they didn’t try to communicate. This solves this problem. Politics This is a relatively new area of intense emotional conflict in families these days. The same BIFF® approach can be used, before or after a tense interaction. For example, you could write in advance: “I know that we have different opinions on certain issues in the news these days. I’m happy to avoid discussing them and focus on enjoying our time together this holiday. I hope you will agree.” And if there has been a blowup of some sort, it doesn’t hurt to reach out in a BIFF® communication: “I know we had a heated discussion last week. I just want you to know that I value our relationship and look forward to seeing you again in the coming year. There’s so much that we share that I would love to talk about next time.” Conclusion BIFF communications are easy, feel good and often calm a conflict. These are just a few suggestions for any situation, and especially for those who have become estranged and want to reconnect. We wish you well for the holidays and look forward to our own communications with you next year. Resources BIFF Response® Book Series BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, BIFF at Work BIFF for Co-Parent Communication BIFF for Lawyers and Law Offices     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, developed methods for managing high-conflict disputes, and has taught professionals in the U.S. and more than ten countries. He is also co-host of the popular podcast, It’s All Your Fault, and writes a popular blog on Psychology Today.

What Does Splitting Have to Do With Politics?

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. [Excerpted from Splitting America by Bill Eddy and Don Saposnek] We have come to realize that splitting in politics is driven by the same high-conflict behaviors as in family court. And, the result is also the same! “If you are willing to engage in splitting, you can get very far – until enough people understand this dynamic and set limits on it.” The Five Drivers of Political Splitting 1. Personal attacks (it’s about their morals, intelligence, sanity, etc., not the issue) 2. Crisis emotions (such as fear and anger, which trigger fear and hatred) 3. All-or-nothing solutions (such as eliminating a person or group) 4. Narcissistic behavior (saying you are a hero, while not really showing empathy for anyone else) 5. Negative advocates (recruiting others, such as Super PACs and attack ad consultants) And, there is a lot of repetition, which strengthens the splitting and gives it the appearance of appropriate behavior and widespread acceptance. 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.

Yes They Can (Talk Civilly)!

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. More and more people (former generals, national commentators, conflict resolution professionals and others) are speaking out about the negativity of the current Presidential election campaign. This negativity is now spilling over into many other state and local campaigns. It seems that all politicians running for office have decided that they better “go negative” or they will be swept away. As we mention in our new book, SPLITTING AMERICA, everyone seems to be afraid of being “swift-boated” (the new verb for John Kerry’s failure to respond to false allegations about his war record in the 2004 Presidential election). But there’s a third choice, between failing to respond and going negative. Politicians can be assertive and respectful by using “BIFF Responses®” – statements that are Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. We have been teaching this method of responding to hostile statements in high-conflict divorce and workplace settings for over five years, with a lot of success. (See BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People.) But could this method be applied in a political campaign? We believe it can. BIFF responses® are less exciting, but more informative. They don’t poison the atmosphere, which is essential if we are going to get along as a nation after the election. Here’s two examples of what they said and how they could say the same information as a BIFF response: ROMNEY:  [In response to recent comments, including Joe Biden’s remark that Romney and the Republicans will roll back Wall Street regulations and “put y’all back in chains” spoken to a mixed race audience in Virginia.] “So, Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago.” Our suggested BIFF for Romney instead:  “I’m glad to have the opportunity to talk about comments being made about me in this campaign. It’s my goal to keep it civil, while also responding with information. For example, my proposals regarding Wall Street allow the most flexibility to encourage investors to invest and companies to hire new employees. If you look closely at my recommendations, they are a balance of regulation and freedom – not something that will result in a huge change and not something that will result in Americans becoming financially worse off. In fact, I sincerely believe the opposite will occur – more jobs and better incomes for all.” Is it a BIFF? It’s Brief – just one paragraph. It’s Informative, by showing his sincere efforts to balance regulation and freedom. (Of course, he could stick in some specifics here – that’s what people really want and need to know.) It’s Friendly, as he appreciates the opportunity to respond and shares his sincere hopes for Americans. And it’s Firm, meaning that it ends the conversation, rather than escalating hostility. OBAMA:  [In response to Romney’s statements that he will “act to repeal Obamacare…on his first day in Office” if elected President.] “You know, maybe we should call his plan ‘Romney-Doesn’t-Care’ because I do care. I do care.” Our suggested BIFF for OBAMA instead:  “I’m glad to have the opportunity to talk about comments being made against me in this campaign. It’s my goal to keep it civil, while also responding with information. For example, the Affordable Healthcare Act is important because it protects citizens with pre-existing conditions, protects students up to age 26, and addresses many other long-standing problems. I care about these problems of Americans, so I have worked hard to implement my proposals while President. I respect the opinions of those who seek a different approach, but this is very important to me and I proudly stand by this Act which has been upheld by the Supreme Court as the law of the land.” Is it a BIFF? It’s Brief. It’s Informative, by showing his sincere efforts to protect Americans from healthcare problems and that it has been validated by the Supreme Court.  (Of course, he could stick in some specifics here – that’s what people really want and need to know.) It’s Friendly, as he appreciates the opportunity to explain his policies. And it’s Firm, in that it ends the conversation, rather than escalating hostility. Can you imagine how much respect each candidate would get for that type of statement on a regular basis? In high-conflict divorce and intense workplace situations, these types of statements stop the hostilities and are often contagious, as the other “side” realizes they can look a whole lot better to communicate in this manner as well. Let’s send BIFF to Washington! 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.