Incivility at Work? Use a “BIFF” Response®!

© 2011 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

A front page article in Monday’s (Aug. 8, 2011) USA Today newspaper stated that incivility in the workplace is growing, according to the American Psychological Association. A poll in 2011 by Civility in America indicated that 43% of American workers have experienced incivility and 38% say there is increasing disrespect in the workplace. This confirms what I have observed and heard as I speak to lawyers, judges, human resource professionals and others around the United States and Canada about “high-conflict” people in high-conflict divorce, other legal disputes and in the workplace.

So how can you respond when someone’s uncivil to you?
I suggest a BIFF response®. What’s a BIFF? It’s a statement that’s Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. The key element of a BIFF response is that it is NOT an eye for an eye, or disrespect for disrespect. It’s a method of responding respectfully to someone who has been rude to you, while ending the disrespectful conversation.

We live in a Culture of Blame and Disrespect today and we hear politicians, celebrities and other “leaders” showing disdain for each other on a daily basis. Like it or not, leaders do set the tone for the culture – and today’s increasingly high-conflict leaders are having a powerful effect on the country. Of course, those in the news media who report all the disrespect and gotcha statements are part of the problem. And of course, all of us who listen and soak it up just reinforce this problem. Every day I hear new words and phrases of disrespect and gotcha. This is seeping into our collective unconscious and popping out a home, on the playground and at work. (I’m even finding disrespectful responses in my own brain that I never would have thought of before! These high-conflict statements and emotions are contagious!)

So I am practicing BIFF responses and using them more and more. BIFFs teach me self-discipline and I have received a lot of positive feedback. BIFFs are a way to counter-act the Culture of Blame, to earn respect from those around you, and to actually feel good after you give your response.

The secret is that BIFF responses are geared to the way our brains work. Neuroscientists have actually discovered “mirror neurons” in our brains which mimic what other people do around us. So we often mimic the high conflict behavior of others, such as incivility in response to incivility. But if you understand this, you can calm yourself and give a BIFF response. In many cases, the other person calms down and “mirrors” you. The friendly tone of a BIFF also seems to calm a person’s amygdala in their brain, so that they feel less threatened, rather than more threatened by your response. By using a Friendly tone and being Informative with neutral information, BIFFs appeal to the problem-solving aspects of the other person’s brain, so that problems can actually be solved rather than simply blaming each other.

By being Brief you don’t give the other person more ammunition to fight about and you show self-restraint – which is a rare but well-respected quality these days in social discourse. By being Firm, you end the conversation, rather than stimulating the other person to respond with more disrespect. Sometimes your BIFF response is your last word and sometimes it’s a choice you offer to the other person to solve a problem. In either case, it calms the conflict and makes you look good and feel good. Who could argue with that?

If you’re struggling with how to respond to a high-conflict person in your life, try a BIFF response. If you want more information about BIFF responses, see my new book: BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns.

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.

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