Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Try a Bit of BIFF To Reduce Work Stress

BIFFNext time you find yourself dealing with an argumentative attorney or an irate client, try giving them a shot of BIFF.

The BIFF Response Method – brief, informative, friendly and firm – is the brainchild of an attorney who has spent his career working with difficult people.

Bill Eddy is a California therapist, trainer, mediator and attorney with a specialty certification in family law. He is also the author of “BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns,” which can be found here.

His technique may come in handy when you’re hit with a question or demand from a high-conflict individual. You know the type. They can be found in every law office.

And BIFF is particularly helpful in a world where our fingers can fire off tweets and texts before our brains have time to catch up.

Sometimes The Best Response is No Response

The best part of BIFF is it’s easy to remember and use.

Step one is to determine if you need to even bothering responding at all. Often you don’t. If the statement is simply hostile or accusatory (“You are such an idiot!”) just delete it and move on.

And yet how many times have you received a barbed email, only to immediately fall victim to your lizard brain and blast right back, which of course sets off a chain reaction that lasts all day?

So take a breath. Freshen your coffee cup. Gaze out your window at the sunny blue sky.

Then take another look at the offensive missive. Do you really need to waste your time with a reply?

Four Steps to Inner Peace

Sometimes, of course, an important message is delivered in an unpleasant way. This can be done in person, by mail, on the phone or by device. Despite the ugly tone, a response is required.

That’s where the four-step BIFF method comes in:

  • Brief.  Keep it short and sweet.
  • Informative. Focus on straight information – not arguments, opinions, emotions or defending yourself.
  • Friendly. Have a friendly greeting (“Thanks for responding to my request”) and close in a similar manner (“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.

A corollary is to avoid the Three A’s: advice (telling the other person how they should behave or feel rarely works; offer a plan or proposal instead), admonishment (chiding the other person or saying they’re overreacting will only make them more defensive) and apologies (this usually backfires with high-conflict people, who interpret an apology as an admission of guilt).

3 Examples From Work and Home

Here are excerpts from a recent post on the BIFF blog that gives hypothetical scenarios of BIFF in action:

  • 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! 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 until Friday. I am available all afternoon. What time can you meet to finish the figures? Have a good morning.”
  • A family 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 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.”
  • 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 and you’re going to have to give me a ton of money. I hate you and now you’ll be sorry you filed for divorce.” Your reply: Nothing.

What do you think about BIFF? How do you deal with high-conflict individuals?


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

Read More by Jay >

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