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How to Reply to Angry Texts & Emails – 5 BIFF Response® Examples

©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 books, 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: Bob’s email: “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!” Sue’s Response: “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.” Your reply: 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.” Dad says: “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!!!” You: “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

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Don’t Comment!

© 2015 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. There is a lot going on in the world right now, and opinions are running rampant. Automatically commenting on social media posts and in other places has become a habit for many.  Should we be doing that? Bill Eddy, co-founder of the High Conflict Institute, says “no.”___________________ Recently in my divorce mediation sessions I have noticed an increase in commenting by the parties on each other’s way of saying things, intent of what they say and repeating remarks that obviously trigger defensive reactions from the other person. By and large these are sincere people, working hard at reaching agreements. This “commenting” seems to occur almost unnoticed by each person saying it, as if it was part of the language of the day. I’m spending more of my time as a mediator redirecting people to talk about the future and “don’t comment” on how each other speaks, their tone of voice, their intent, their intelligence or morals – and “don’t comment on each other’s comment.”  I don’t remember this happening so much ten or more years ago. Unfortunately, I think that negative commenting HAS recently become part of the language of today. Over the past ten years, blog postings, Facebook entries, news articles and all forms of online communication officially invite “comments.” While initially this was designed to get discussions and interaction going, it frequently devolves into “your comment was so stupid” and “no, you’re the one who’s REALLY stupid!” and back and forth. I have seen this happen even in professional communication online, including professional listserves and blogs. Online comments seem to carry no immediate negative response and no risk. There’s no frown or angry look to discourage the “commentator,” as there is in person. It even happens in the news. Recently, a talk radio commentator said that a political group invented the term “polar vortex” to explain a severe drop in temperatures, especially in the Midwest. It was a criticism of those who believe in global warming, since these extreme cold temperatures seem to counter the idea that the planet is getting warmer. The radio commentator negatively “commented” on those who created the term polar vortex as having a political agenda. But interestingly, in response to this criticism, a TV Weatherman got out his old school textbook and showed the page explaining polar vortex from the 1950’s. He did a great educational presentation on the news one morning, but then he ended with telling those who challenged the term that they could “stuff it.” It was almost a perfect “BIFF Response®,” until the ending. The idea with a BIFF Response® is to keep it Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm – a method we teach in most of our programs for High Conflict Institute. Thinking about this I flashed back to my childhood in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when my parents made sure that the six of us had family dinners several nights a week. I distinctly remember my parents saying to me and my siblings “don’t comment.” Because we were regularly tempted to comment on what each other said about their day, and our parents were going to have none of it. They trained it out of us early and gave us the message: “If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all!” From my observations of truly effective people in today’s world, especially successful business leaders, they don’t comment, except to encourage the people around them. “Public praise and private criticism,” used to be a common motto. I think we’ve lost that in today’s world of easy commenting without consequence. I hesitate to ask for comments on this blog, but I’m open – especially to constructive feedback about the ideas presented here (rather than personal “comments” about the blogger). BILL EDDY, LCSW, ESQ. is the co-founder and chief innovation officer of the High Conflict Institute. 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 is the author of 20+ books and has a popular podcast and a blog on Psychology Today.

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Reader Review of BIFF® Quick Responses to High Conflict People

© 2015 – High Conflict Institute Bill Eddy (a certified Family Law Specialist in California) has written a marvelous and succinct book on how to deal with (what he calls), High Conflict Personalities. He defines a high conflict personality as one who lacks the skills for being able to deal with conflict. HCP’s are people who do not understand (nor deal with) their own emotions. The book has an intriguing and ingenious title,  Biff®: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns. * Here is how Eddy describes High Conflict Personalities (HCPs) — When problems and conflicts arise, instead of looking for solutions, HCPs look for someone to blame. They have an all-or-nothing approach. They think that it must be all your fault or else it might appear to be all their fault – and they can’t cope with that possibility for psychological reasons. They become preoccupied with blaming others in order to escape being blamed themselves. But you can’t point this out to them, because they become even more defensive. (Kindle Locations 85-88). They blame everyone else for their own inner conflict. “Instead of sharing responsibility for solving problems, they repeatedly lose it and increase conflict by making it intensely personal and taking no responsibility.” (Locations 69-70)  Bill Eddy teaches us to handle HCP’s with kid gloves . . . almost treating them like children, diffusing the high-conflict situation and quickly ending it before it escalates. He speaks clearly to those of us receiving what he calls “blamespeak” and greatly encourages us not to succumb to the temptation of counter-blaming, as that only adds fuel to the fire. HCP’s are not going to listen, take our viewpoint into consideration or, by any means, be rational. Eddy explains that HCP’s have a great deal of unmanaged and masked fears inside of them . . . not any type of neurotic fears . . . just unmanaged. HCP’s are reminiscent of character-disturbed individuals, as described by George Simon — they are aggressive, unruly, manipulative and entitled. This brief book of only ten chapters gives examples of almost every kind of conflict that can occur over social media, emails, texts and letters and then gives examples of how to respond in BIFF-fashion. He touches on phone calls and personal attacks but mostly adheres to online experiences because, as we have all experienced, many become more aggressive when they do not have to look us in the eye. Eddy gives advice about dealing with high conflict neighbors, friends, family, and even politicians. I was most interested in the friends and family chapter and, oh! How I wish I had had these nuggets of wisdom when I was dealing with HCP’s the year after I left my ex! Eddy’s main thread, which runs through every chapter is this method can be easily remembered by the acronym BIFF®: Brief — When responding to a high-conflict message, he suggests brevity, as HCP cannot handle too much information at one time. They begin to feel accused, even if we are not accusing them, if too many words are said. They can twist things. Informative — Only answer what is necessary and keep it factual. Keep out emotion or any sort of blame. Friendly — Not too friendly. Just a tone. Maybe a, “I hope you are well” at the beginning or a “take care” at the end. Firm — Make sure that, in writing back, the message has been clear and conclusive. Bring the matter to an end or give concise guidelines. (“If we do not hear back from you in 3 days, we will bring this matter to a close.”) Eddy warns against the “Three A’s”: Admonishments Advice Apologies An apology would fuel the aggressor’s fire. Admonishments or advice would only lead the HCP to become more agitated and blameful, putting them on the defensive. I loved this book. It will truly help me to be able to stop and think about the fact that I am not actually the problem upon receiving a high conflict message of some sort. Eddy says we can retrain our brains. It is not exactly like “grey rock” because we are actually accomplishing something — we are getting the message across that we will not be pulled into emotional warfare and we are ending the conflict in an informative way. He writes, You can train yourself to think, feel and say to yourself: “His comments are not really about me.” “The issue’s not the issue.” “Her personality is the issue.” And other short, quick sayings that train your brain to not react defensively. (Kindle Locations 546-547) These messages that we can tell ourselves, coupled with practicing writing back BIFF’s, can lead to a sense of empowerment over our own behavior whilst wiping away the shame we might feel if we react equally blamefully or emotionally. I think this book is best used to diffuse situations with families or, even in communication with an abusive ex who shares custody or who is simply jabbing. I do not believe it would work within a marriage very well. As we all know, not much “works” in an abusive marriage except getting out of it. I highly, highly recommend this work and I look forward to reading Bill Eddy’s other books — some of which might more pertain to abusive situations: Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder * High Conflict People in Legal Disputes * It’s All Your Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything  * Don’t Alienate the Kids! Raising Resilient Children While Avoiding High Conflict Divorce * * Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ  gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link This article was originally posted on the “A Cry for Justice” website 2/17/14. We thank them for the time and consideration it takes to read and publish reviews of our methods.  Learn more about the author, Megan C, and the ACFJ program.

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