BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Emails and Social Media Meltdowns – By Bill Eddy
BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Emails and Social Media Meltdowns helps us communicate in this age of rapid change and instant communication, and in a society with a growing Culture of Blame and Disrespect. Managing your responses to high-conflict emails, texts, letters, and social media meltdowns is imperative, according to author Bill Eddy.
A BIFF response can be applied in any communication anywhere – on the Internet, in a letter or in person. It can be used at work, earning you respect and success. It can help you get along with difficult family members, friends, neighbors and others anywhere in your life. BIFF was designed to protect you and your reputation by responding quickly and civilly to people who treat you rudely – while being reasonable in return.
BIFF stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. A BIFF response is easy to remember, but hard to do. It takes practice! This little book gives over 20 examples of BIFF responses for all areas of life – plus additional tips to help you deal with high-conflict people anywhere. See if you can do a BIFF! Not everyone can!
Improve your BIFF Responses even more” using Bill Eddy’s DVD How to Write a BIFF Response. More info here.
Take A Peek Inside Here
Publication date: 2011
Author: Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, mediator and the President of High Conflict Institute. He developed the “High Conflict Personality” theory (HCP Theory) and has become an international expert on managing disputes involving high conflict personalities and personality disorders. He provides training on this subject to lawyers, judges, mediators, managers, human resource professionals, businesspersons, healthcare administrators, college administrators, homeowners’ association managers, ombudspersons, law enforcement, therapists and others. He has been a speaker and trainer in over 25 states, several provinces in Canada, Australia, France and Sweden.
As an attorney, Bill is a Certified Family Law Specialist in California and the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego. Prior to becoming an attorney in 1992, he was a Licensed Clinical Social worker with twelve years’ experience providing therapy to children, adults, couples and families in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient clinics. He has taught Negotiation and Mediation at the University of San Diego School of Law for six years and he is on the part-time faculty of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine University School of Law and the National Judicial College. He is the author of numerous articles and several books, including:
High Conflict People in Legal Disputes
It’s All YOUR Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything
SPLITTING: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder
He is also the developer of the “New Ways for Families” method of managing potentially high conflict families in and out of family court. He is currently developing a method for managing potentially high conflict employees titled “New Ways for Work.”
You may be dealing with a high conflict personality when you receive an email, social media post, or personal attack that is intensively emotional and out of proportion to the problem, out of context, very personal, which blames you with the speaker feeling no responsibility for the problem or the solution. It’s often shared with others to emphasize how “blameworthy” you are and how “blameless” the speaker is. They really pushed your buttons and you immediately feel the need to react in the same way you were attacked.
This book answers the question: What is the Best Way To Communicate With High Conflict People? It matters because the attacker tends to be in a position of temporary or long term authority over some aspect of your life that is important to you.
I found it helpful to learn that the secret is that these personal attacks are not about you. There are about the blamer’s inability to control himself and solve problems. They can’t manage their own emotions, they feel like a victim. They lash out at you. The only thing you can do is to manage your response.
The best way to communicate with a high conflict personality is to be Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm (BIFF). A BIFF response is a balanced approach which is not mean or confrontational, yet helps set limits and focus on solving problems. Here is a brief overview.
The point is to avoid triggering defensiveness and focusing them on problem solving information. Don’t give too many words for the other person to react to. The more you say, the more likely you are to trigger another blaming response.
By keeping it brief, there is less potentially negative information to trigger defensiveness. Writing a good BIFF response is more about what you leave out (avoiding all those nasty comments).
Give a sentence or two of straight, useful information on the subject being discussed. It shifts the discussion to an objective subject, rather than opinions about each other. Avoid getting emotionally hooked into defending yourself unnecessarily. Information should be focused on something positive, friendly and future focused.
A list of “do nots” will trigger almost anyone’s defensiveness. A friendly response provides encouraging words, optimism that problems can be solved, and a sense of connection between the writer and the reader.
Being friendly can calm the person down. Your response may be able to move them back into logical thinking. The combination of being friendly and informative seems to help the attacker shift in ways they can’t do for themselves.
You can also end it with a friendly comment. For example: “I hope you have a nice weekend”. “I hope your family is doing well”. “Warmest regards”. “Best wishes”
Use your BIFF response to end a hostile conversation respectfully or to narrow the communication to focus on two choices regarding a solution. Giving the other person a choice of two options for problem solving is a good way of being friendly. Giving two choices focuses attention on thinking logically about the two choices, rather than having them feel defensive about having no choice at all or feeling overwhelmed by too many choices.
It is not helpful to say “stop doing negative behaviors”. It is helpful to suggest positive behaviors and/or deadlines for change.
It is useful to inform about possible consequences, also known as setting limits. Threats are intended to be threatening, whereas informing about consequences can be done by someone who intends to be helpful.
If a person who has communicated with you in a high conflict manner feels respected, calm and focused on neutral information, they may be able to let go of the conflict and get themselves back to calm, logical thought. They can relax and no longer feel they have to defend themselves, so they no longer need to attack you.
It really helps to have someone look it over before sending your BIFF response. The book is full of examples that illustrate how to use empathy, attention and respect to respond to the attack and set goals before you respond.
I enjoyed reading about when is it best not to respond, when you really have to quickly respond, who to include in your response and how not to expand the conflict, and how to think through your goals in responding instead of reacting with blame of your own.
Bill Eddy describes common mistakes we make in responding to a high conflict persons such as giving unsolicited advice or admonishments, and why you might avoid apologies. He is particularly helpful in explaining how a high conflict person will recruit other people to advocate for their negative solutions, emotions and behavior and how you can be skillfully manipulated into being a supporter of such a person.
This book concludes with techniques such as the art of indirect confrontation and the reasons for avoiding negative feedback that will likely escalate the problems you are experiencing.
I use the concepts in this book in my legal practice every day. I wish I had learned them 30 years ago when I started practicing law. These are skills we can all learn to manage our relationships with clients, opposing counsel, bosses, and family members. It takes practice, but a BIFF response gets easier to write with practice. Sometimes difficult people on the other end start doing BIFFs too, since they respect your ability to stay calm. So, live longer with less stress by applying these concepts in everyday life.
–Thompson Family Law, P.A., Fort Meyers, Florida
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”:
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:
– A Cry for Justice
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