In our day-to-day lives, we encounter all types of personalities. Some are much easier to deal with than others. And too often, we don’t get to choose the players in our divorce cases, so we must learn how to work with others in an effective, respectful manner in order to get things done.
The key is to develop an array of communication skills so that we’re prepared for the different people, personality styles, and situations that come our way. Teams depend on quick communications internally with colleagues as well as externally with clients in a variety of different mediums: phone calls, email, texts, meetings, etc.
In a perfect world, every communication exchange is efficient and to the point. Divorce cases are made up of diverse people with different temperaments—from those who are calm, cool and collected to High-Conflict People (HCP)—all of whom have varying levels of communication skills and motives. Toss in a couple disruptive people, whether they are clients or colleagues, and the probability of depleting productivity and morale is high.
Most every divorcing couple is in conflict, by definition. And many of them are high-conflict individuals by nature which only exacerbates the situation.
Do these examples sound familiar?
- Perhaps you dread reading the daily complaints in your inbox from your soon-to-be ex-spouse?
- Have you ever received an irate email from a client, blaming you for their dissatisfaction and threatening to sue?
- Do those written reviews from your High-Conflict clients just make you want to quit?
- Having trouble collaborating on a divorce case with that certain person who never seems to actually work, and blames others for not getting things done?
- Maybe you have a client who sends you countless antagonistic emails and consumes far more time than you can give to any one client.
- Are you irritated with Karen and Bob’s never-ending series of aggressive emails to each other, all of which get copied to you?
These are just a few of the situations where you might find a High-Conflict Person or be an HCP’s target of blame. Chances are it’s happened before and it will happen again. Do you and your teammates know how to respond?
BIFF Responses, from a valuable book by Bill Eddy entitled Biff: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns, are specifically designed to help you address written hostilities, but this technique can also be used in person-to-person verbal confrontations.
BIFF stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm. It’s a simple response technique that’s quick and effective in dealing with today’s High-Conflict communications. I’ve used BIFF responses with great success in both my personal and professional lives, but they take practice!
Responses should be very short: one paragraph of 2-5 sentences in most cases. The point is to avoid triggering HCP defensiveness in the other person and focusing them on problem-solving information. The more you say, the more likely you are to trigger another negative response.
Provide a sentence or two of straight, useful information in neutral terms on the subject being discussed. Shift the discussion to an objective subject rather than opinions about one another.
You can start out by saying something like: “Thank you for telling me your opinion on this subject.” Or: “I appreciate your concerns.” Or: “Thanks for your email. Let me give you some information you may not have…”
The goal of many BIFF responses is to end the conversation—to disengage from a potentially high-conflict situation. You want to let the other person know that this is really all you are going to say on the subject. In some cases, you will give two clear choices for future action. If you need a response, then it often helps to set a firm reply date. If you are going to take action if the other person does not do something, then you could say, for example: “If I don’t receive the information I need by such and such date, then I will have to do such and such. I really hope that won’t be necessary.” (Note this is both firm and friendly)
What’s the Goal?
There are usually three goals to consider with HCPs:
- To manage the relationship, such as when you work with the person, when this person is your child, or is a spouse with whom you’re negotiating a settlement, etc. In other words, when the relationship is important to you OR you have no way to get out of it.
- To reduce the relationship to a less intense level, such as with a friend, neighbor, or even a family member.
- To end the relationship, usually by phasing the person slowly out of your life.
How you respond makes a big difference to the HCP. If you give him negative feedback, you will increase the intensity of his interactions with you, as HCPs can’t handle negative feedback. It’s better to use BIFFs and avoid talking about the past as well as putting the emphasis on the desired future behavior.
I’ve used the BIFF technique in countless situations: defusing team disagreements, getting business partners (and married couples) unstuck from their defensiveness and deal breakers, keeping mediation and negotiation sessions on track and moving forward, breaking up family arguments that no one thought could ever be resolved, etc. These tools will help prevent defensiveness, defuse arguments and create connections with teammates as well as family and friends. Truly a must-have for your skills toolbox!