Writing Effective Emails during Divorce – The BIFF Method

During the period of a peaceful divorce and emotional confusion, we sometimes say and write things to our partners that are offensive and inappropriate. Instead of clearly communicating our thoughts and calming down the situation, we respond with critical, judgmental words that inflame passions and throw fuel on the fire. Mr. Bill Eddy, LCSW and Attorney At Law, has developed a method for effectively dealing with hostile email and communications in a high conflict situation. He has entitled it BIFF – be Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. At Peace Talks, we encourage considering this communication style during the course of your mediation sessions. These types of concise messages help us assist you in moving your divorce forward with the goal of a congenial future relationship for the entire family.

In his book, BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns, Bill Eddy explains what to do when you receive an email, social media post, or personal attack that is intensively emotional and out of proportion to the problem. In this situation, the hostile commentary blames you instead of the speaker who feels he or she has no responsibility for the problem or solution. The key thing to realize is that these personal attacks are not about you. It is the blamer’s inability to control him or herself that is the trigger. Since the individual is incapable of managing his or her own emotions, lashing out and feeling like a victim are the resulting consequences. In circumstances like this, the only thing you can do is manage your own response.

Mr. Eddy believes 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 focuses on solving problems. The following examines the components of this approach:

BRIEF:

The point is to avoid triggering defensiveness and to shift to focusing 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 going to generate another blaming response. By keeping it brief, there is less potentially negative information to provoke defensiveness.

Thus, writing a good BIFF email response is more about what you leave out, such as all those possible nasty retorts, than what you put in .

INFORMATIVE:

The next step is to be informative by giving a sentence or two of straight, useful information on the subject being discussed. This shifts the discussion to an objective subject rather than opinions about each of the participants. As you write, try to avoid getting emotionally hooked into defending yourself unnecessarily. Your information should be directed on something positive and future focused.

FRIENDLY:

A list of “do not’s” will provoke 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 reader. When your tone is friendly, it can calm the person down. This tactic may be able to move the other person back into logical thinking. Mr. Eddy believes that the combination of being friendly and informative seems to help the attacker shift in ways they cannot do for themselves. Ending the correspondence with a friendly comment, such as “I hope you have a nice weekend”, or “Warmest regards,” emphasizes your desire to keep things pleasant.

FIRM:

To create an effective email, use your BIFF response to end a hostile conversation respectfully or to narrow the communication to focus on two choices to solve a problem. Giving the other person a choice of two options is respectful and considerate ways to problem solve. Having only two choices helps eliminate the other person feeling defensive by having no choice or feeling overwhelmed by having too many choices.

In order to be effective, Mr. Eddy believes suggesting positive behaviors and/or providing deadlines for change is the preferred content strategy. It may be useful to educate about possible consequences and set limits. This method avoids threats which are nonproductive in favor of explaining consequences which provides helpful information.

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 do not feel they have to defend themselves, so they no longer need to attack you. The skills taught by Mr. Eddy are useful to learn to manage relationships with all types of people: bosses, clients, and even family members.

At Peace Talks, we want to help you improve your communication skills and consider incorporating the BIFF email process while you are going through this time of trauma. Hopefully, the lessons you learn will bring you more peace in your relationships and make this mediation process a more peaceful one.