When You Say Too Much!

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“So, I wrote my BIFF Response but Marvin wrote me another angry email. Actually, he wrote 6 more this week, so what’s up with that? Why didn't he stop after my first email?”

Beth was fairly annoyed. Marvin is on the same church committee and was prone to sending angry, blaming emails. Beth is the charitable committee head. She had read the BIFF Response(sm) Book, watched the video and was feeling pretty good about her response to his latest rant, but then he just wrote back angrier than before.

What The Heck Happened?!?

Let’s take a look:

“Hello Marvin, –Thanks for writing. I am sorry my emails have upset you, but it’s unproductive for you to be so reactive when someone does something you don’t like. We must find ways to work together or it won’t work. I’m sure you know that sending so many emails is just making you feel worse, annoys others and wastes time. So from now on, I need you to focus on fundraising, and calmly bring any issues to my attention so we can work on them together. This way, you will feel better and we can get better as a team. I hope you have a good evening, and I will see you Tuesday. Thanks, –Beth”

A BIFF Response is Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm with a goal of ending the conversation or giving two limited choices. When asked, Beth concluded it was Brief. She thought it was Informative and Firm because she pointed out behaviors and implied he needed to stop sending emails. She thought the overall tone was Friendly. When she re-read it though, she realized she’d forgotten something.

Remember Your Triple A’s

Advice, Admonishments and Apologies - These are less obvious and a little trickier than the four basic steps in a BIFF Response. An entire chapter is dedicated to this in the BIFF Response Book, but the highlights are:

1.   Are you giving Advice? Are you telling the other person what to do or how s/he should feel or what they should do to solve a problem? If so, you can expect a defensive reaction and more email. It’s better to avoid unsolicited advice such as “you will feel better if you do [blank].”

2.   Are you Admonishing the other person? Chances are you would not be writing a BIFF Response if the person was not already acting defensively. Assuming that’s true, telling them what they do wrong and how to correct it will simply make them more defensive (or angry, or both) and earn you another defensive reply.

3.   Did you Apologize? Most of us will apologize sometimes to make someone feel better, but sometimes it backfires. “Sorry I was late” is OK as a simple social nicety. “I’m sorry my email upset you” is accepting responsibility for the other person’s emotions. It’s almost guaranteed to be taken as an admission of guilt, which will likely fan the flames or be used against you to place blame and defend their actions.

With the Triple A’s in mind, Beth Revised Her Reply:

“Hi Marvin, –Thanks for taking the time to write me. I understand you want to focus on fundraising, so if something concerns you in the future, I propose that you bring it to my personal attention so we can find solutions together. I hope you have a good evening, and I will see you Tuesday. Thanks, –Beth”

The revised BIFF Response hits the 4 main points and omits the Triple A’s. It’s Brief and Friendly, Informs Marvin she is available to work on future issues and is Firm by subtly indicating that this occurrence is now closed.

In a charitable committee, Beth’s position has similarities to that of a manager in a company. However, if this were a workplace scenario she would be faced with a slightly different situation. After all, managers sometimes must set limits and correct behaviors. We are rolling out more workplace solutions for 2015, so stay tuned for more information on topics such as Feed Forward, New Ways for Work Workbook & Coaching Manual and check out the most recent book by Bill Eddy and Georgi DiStefano: It’s all your fault at Work: Managing Narcissists and Other High-Conflict People. For everyday situations, see: It’s All Your Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything.

© 2015 – High Conflict Institute

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trissTrissan Dicomes is the BIFF Response Coordinator for High Conflict Institute. She runs the www.BIFFResponse.com website and social media for High Conflict Institute, and she provides BIFF Response coaching and a regular BIFF Response Blog. She worked for 8 years as a paralegal at National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego with the Divorce Mediation Group, where HCI co-founder, Bill Eddy, does his mediations. During that time, she acquired a lot of experience helping clients learn to write and speak with the BIFF Response method.  Contact: info@biffresponse.com – (916) 258-2433