Communicating with high conflict people


Have you ever had to communicate with someone who wants to blame everyone else for their problems? This can be very challenging when someone cannot see their own role in the conflict that surrounds them. Although communicating with high conflict individuals occurs in business and in personal settings, I see it most often in divorcing couples, where there is anger, blaming and an unwillingness to accept the situation as it is.

Bill Eddy, the creator of The High Conflict Institute, has written a book, called BIFF: Quick responses to high conflict people, their personal attacks, hostile emails, and social media meltdowns (see it here on Amazon). BIFF is the acronym for how to respond appropriately to inflammatory, hostile communications from people at work or in your family. The idea is to defuse negativity by stating only necessary information in a respectful and determined manner.

Brief  –  Informative  –  Friendly  –  Firm

Brief: Stick to the facts. Don’t give any extra information to which the other party can use to inflict blame. The fewer words you use, the less the other person can be triggered to defensiveness.

Informative: Summarize your request or response to brief, fact centered words. Take all emotional response out. Do not include your feelings or what you think the other person should be doing/saying/etc. Do not react with blame directed toward the other person.

Friendly: A friendly tone disarms the other person, as they are not expecting this response to their hostility. You are conveying hope that the situation will be resolved. This can be the most difficult aspect of the BIFF. You do not have to be fake or pretend you care for the other person, you are simply being civil. A friendly tone can be as simple as closing your email with “best regards,” or “have a good weekend.”

Firm: Try to give choices instead of ultimatums. Be clear on your stance and provide factual consequences to choices. It is not helpful to tell the other person what they should be doing. This only raises defensiveness. Do not give unsolicited advice, or over-apologize.

Using the BIFF formula helps you detach from your own reactivity and an emotional response to the other person’s hostility. If the other person feels respected, he/she may be able to let go of some of their hostility and blame.

If you would like some guidance managing your responses to a high conflict individual, write me an email, or give me a call. 512-593-0583.

Peace, friends.

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