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Writing BIFF Responses to High Conflict People When You Don’t Feel Like It

©2019 Megan Hunter, MBA Receiving an email, text or letter can put a dent in your day when it contains a zinger. It can get right under your skin and ruin your day and maybe even a few nights’ sleep as you perseverate about it and draft numerous responses in your head. Then you write a response, re-write it, and finally send it. If the BIFF Response® method has been used, then it likely worked to calm the conflict or stop the emails/texts. If you didn’t respond in a BIFF® way, it likely resulted in continuing conflict rather than de-escalating or stopping the conflict altogether. And if you only half-BIFF’d it, then you probably got mixed results. Discipline Responding to HCPs requires discipline. Sometimes the HCP communication doesn’t get under your skin and is easy to respond to. It mostly depends on the relationship. If it’s a client taking jabs at you, writing a BIFF Response® may be an easy task. If it’s a colleague you’ve been dealing with for years, or an employee or boss who has a long history of hostility and blaming behavior along with other HCP behaviors like hiding information, gossiping about you, lording authority over you, then it’s not quite so easy to respond in the way you know you should. Sometimes they finally push that final button and you feel the anger or annoyance reach new levels. Now it’s tricky. Now you may be hooked by their HCP emotion/defensive right brain making it nearly impossible to respond with BIFF. Why? Because you’re now in your emotion/defensive brain, so you’re going to be communicating emotion brain-to-emotion brain instead of logic brain-to-emotion brain, and when you do, you’ve just lost the ability to manage the communication and it is instead managing you! EXAMPLE Here is an example of an email sent by two co-managers to an employee. The employee was being let go after two years’ worth of repeated patterns of high conflict behavior. Initial Email Dear Tyler – We’ve been working on next year’s strategic plan. We are planning to ramp up our marketing in order to see a minimum 10% growth over the next 12-18 months, which is going to take a lot of communication and planning to accomplish. We’ve realized that we need strong marketing expertise to reach these goals, which requires a new hire.  We are sorry to inform you that we need to find someone with a strong marketing background to fulfill your duties. You’ve been working with us for a long time, so this has not been easy decision for us but we have to do what is best for the company. We apologize for doing this via email but we chose it this way because we all work remotely and email has been our normal mode of communication. We’d like to get this handled over the coming 30-60 days, which provides ample time to find a new position if that is what you’d like to do.  We have compiled a list of everything that will need to be transferred over to us, which you will find attached. If you can think of anything that we might have overlooked, please let us know. On your request, Beth and I will write a letter of recommendation and provide references whenever you need them. This isn’t easy information to absorb, but please know your work has been highly valued and you’ve been an integral part of the team. All the best in your future endeavors. Sincerely, Jack and Beth Response from Tyler Hi Jack and Beth, I’ll think about your proposal. I’m not overly inclined to continue working with you another 30-60 days. I’ll look at your list. I may well decide not to work at all, but I’d appreciate a letter of recommendation from Jack. I doubt Beth’s would be sincere, so it’s not necessary. Thanks for your email, and the timing. It’s the kind of thing I’ve come to expect of you, Beth. Thank you,Tyler OPTION 1: Response from Jack and Beth Dear Tyler, To clarify, our email was not a proposal. We will be wrapping this up in 30-60 days regardless of what you decide to do. How can you expect either of us to want to write a letter of recommendation after making a comment like “I doubt Beth’s would be sincere”? There’s no good timing for the end of a job. Sometimes the bandage just has to be ripped off, and whether you think we’re horrible people or not, we are in charge and have to make decisions in the best interest of the company. Jack and Beth OPTION 2: Response from Jack and Beth Dear Tyler, Thanks for thinking about our proposal to work through the coming 30-60 days. Hopefully it will give you some time to find something new if you decide that’s what you’d like to do.  Thanks also for taking a look at the list. You’ve kept the files and records extremely organized, so it should be fairly easy to accomplish those items. I will send a letter of recommendation this week, and please let us know if you decide you’d like one from Beth. She will be more than happy to write one. All the best, Jack and Beth The Difference is Discipline Jack and Beth felt like writing Option #1. This is the easiest way to respond because it only requires spewing out what’s brewing in your brain. It’s defensive. It’s only going to escalate the conflict. They didn’t feel like using the time and discipline required to write a BIFF Response®. After several years of Tyler’s undermining behavior, Beth and Jack snapped. But writing under the influence of snap is dangerous writing and the opposite of what’s required to de-escalate the conflict and avoid further back-and-forth emails. Jack and Beth did not feel like writing Option #2, but they knew it was the right thing to do if they wanted to avoid the email merry-go-round, and to possibly avoid a potential lawsuit. You can bet that writing Option #1 felt great

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5 Tips for Setting Boundaries in Relationships

5 Tips for Setting Boundaries in Relationships   ©2017 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.   We continue to get requests for suggestions for setting boundaries in relationships—especially when there is a high-conflict person involved. (See past article: Boundaries in Separation and Divorce) The most recent question involves what to do when your boundaries are not respected, even when you’ve made them clear. First of all, this is a very common issue with high-conflict people. They tend to “push the limits” of most relationships they are in, because they lack self-management skills, are driven by their upset emotions, lack empathy, and are so absorbed in their own needs and chaos that they can’t see the effect they have on others. Yet individuals and relationships need boundaries to survive, so this is a very important issue. Be prepared for setting boundaries to be an ongoing problem with a high-conflict person, rather than a one-time thing (“Hey! I don’t like it when you do that!” And yet they keep doing that.) So here’s several choices or tips: You may have to keep reminding the person. If you’re getting something positive out of the relationship, then just be prepared to regularly say: “Remember, I don’t like it when you do that!” And: “Let’s stay focused on the subject we’re talking about. Or the project we’re working on right now. Or our plans for dinner.” Keep it simple. “That’s enough Joe.” Then change the subject. That may be all you need to say. Don’t bother going into a long explanation of why you are setting a limit, or why the person should change, or how frustrated you are with the person. It’s not about logic and insight for a person who repeatedly violates your boundaries. It’s about stopping the behavior right now. Reduce your relationship contact. This may be someone you can’t be around as much as you had thought. Yet there may be some good qualities to the relationship, so find a new balance that you can feel more comfortable with. For example: “My time is really crunched right now. I’m not going to be able to get together this week after all.” Or: “I’m not willing to talk about that subject. Let’s talk about something else.” Or: “I’m not willing to do this with you, if you’re going to be inviting other people along. I had hoped we could spend this time together ourselves.” Or: “I’m not willing to get together with you, unless so-and-so can join us too.” It’s all about telling yourself you have the right to set limits on when, where, how and with whom you do things. End your relationship contact. If you have a friend, relative or partner who repeatedly violates your boundaries, it may not be beneficial for you to continue in that relationship. If you’re staying in it because you hope the person will change, you may need to forget about it. Of course, do this carefully if you think the person has a high-conflict personality. They may feel intensely abandoned, belittled, dominated, ignored or betrayed when you say you want to end it. It may help to slowly distance yourself from the person in steps, rather than dramatically and suddenly ending the relationship. Also, don’t blame the person or blame yourself. Just recognize that your styles and needs are different, and try to go away in peace. When people dump a long, angry statement on the person when they want to leave, it tends to escalate the relationship intensity, rather than reducing it. That’s when things can get dangerous. Get help, if necessary. Get help if you are afraid of the person or believe he or she may do something harmful to you or your reputation, if you end the relationship or simply set strong limits. Speak to a counselor or lawyer or respected friend or family member who may be able to assist you in setting limits. This can be hard and sometimes dangerous. Get advice and possibly have someone with you when you set limits. In some extreme cases, it’s best to have someone such as a lawyer be a go-between and communicate with the other person for you, so that you are not in direct contact at all. This is a common practice in high-conflict divorce cases where there is a restraining order for no contact, so all communication goes through a lawyer. Setting boundaries is a bigger issue these days, because relationships no longer have the social standards they used to have. Everything has become much more flexible and negotiable. This has a lot of benefits in the modern world, but it also means we need to strengthen our own skills at saying “No,” making choices and expressing what we want and need—including boundaries.   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.

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