BIFF In Action: At the Workplace
A Workplace Example
Rochelle’s boss, Phil, sent an email to the manager of a major project they were working on, explaining that it was running late:
“Jim, I hope to have this project in to you by the end of the month. I know we are running about two weeks behind, so I wanted to give you the heads up now. Unfortunately, my assistant Rochelle has been dragging her feet in getting the statistical analysis finished. I’ve been trying to keep her focused, but she keeps getting distracted by other matters. I’m working with her on prioritizing. I’m not ready to fire her just yet, because she already knows the subject matter and the players. So, just to let you know I’m doing the best I can under these circumstances. With best regards, Phil.”
He copied this email to Rochelle as a matter of routine. When Rochelle saw it, she immediately confronted Phil, although she caught herself and stopped short of calling him a jerk and replaced it with: “What’s this all about, boss?”
“Oh, Rochelle. Calm down. Don’t take it so personally. I just had to get something over to Jim. You know how it is,” Phil said, laughing at her. “You’re so emotional.”
Rochelle was really angry now, but she just turned around and went to her desk. She took out a pad of paper, grabbed the email, and went for a short walk. She decided to send a BIFF response as an email to the project manager, with a copy to Phil.
“Hi Jim, I just wanted to follow up on Phil’s email from yesterday. Regarding the statistical analysis, it’s almost all done. I have followed the schedule completely, even getting some parts of it done early. Now that this is the top priority of our department, I expect you will have the finished results by this Friday. Let me know if you have any questions about the statistical information. Yours, Rochelle.”
Is this a BIFF?
Brief? Yes. Just a paragraph – the ideal length for most BIFFs.
Informative? Yes. She explains what is being done. She reassures Jim that they are on a schedule. She indicates that she is open to questions, rather than being defensive.
Friendly? Yes. She’s friendly to Jim by being helpful, without being antagonistic to Phil or negative about him. Of course, Phil could consider the email to Jim itself as a hostile act, so she will need to be prepared for him to be upset.
Firm? Yes. It ends any questions about her work that were raised by Phil’s email.
She also printed this out as a memo to Jim, so that it would be filed with the other important papers of the project, rather than deleted as a simple email.
Phil was furious. “What are you doing!?!” he demanded.
But Rochelle remained calm. “I just thought it was important for the project manager to know that we were working hard on this project and that he would have it real soon. I think we’ll look good to him, since we are addressing his concerns about the deadline by speeding things up. Say, do you have any plans for this weekend? Anything fun you’re going to do?”
Rochelle resisted the urge to make her memo a personal attack on Phil. Instead, she kept the focus on what is being done, not what wasn’t being done or what had been done wrong. Before Phil could get too upset, she changed the subject to his weekend plans – a subject that he loved to talk about. By being calm, Rochelle was able to keep Phil from getting too heated up over her memo.
With many HCPs, changing the subject to another subject about him often helps keep him from getting stuck in his anger, more than directly confronting his anger – which escalates it. Of course, this doesn’t always work, so you have to be careful in how you manage your HCP boss – or any HCP.
By quickly getting accurate information to the project manager, Rochelle at least created doubt in his mind, before the misinformation settled in Jim’s mind as a “fact.” Such facts could have quickly been passed on to other managers, so timing was very important. Putting it in writing was essential, so that when someone someday looks back in this project’s file, they see Rochelle’s response right next to Phil’s false allegations about her. The effect of this is to at least create doubt in the reader’s mind—even if the reader doesn’t automatically believe Rochelle.
Without her written comment, a reader would take Phil’s comments as unchallenged fact—because they sound so believable woven into his reasonable-sounding email. Of course, an employee has to be careful in going over a supervisor’s head. In general, it is considered inappropriate. But if you look carefully at the way Rochelle wrote her email memo, it had several important BIFF characteristics that helped.
1. She didn’t criticize Phil at all. She resisted the temptation to say that he lied or distorted the facts.
2. She didn’t indicate that she was going over his head, she was merely “following up.”
3. She said what she has done (she always was on schedule) to protect herself, rather than correcting Phil for falsely saying what she hasn’t done.
4. She explained it to Phil as helping both of them in the eyes of the project manager.
5. She confidently changed the subject to Phil’s weekend plans, which sometimes works with HCPs (but not always). You have to evaluate your own situation.
This example demonstrates a written BIFF and a verbal BIFF. First, Rochelle wrote the BIFF to the project manager. Then, she responded to her boss’ irritation with her with a verbal BIFF response. It was brief (just five sentences), informative (“just telling the project manager how we are coming along”), friendly (“we’ll look good to the project manager”) and firm (changing the subject to his weekend plans).
Of course, Rochelle knows how to manage her HCP boss pretty well, otherwise she might not take this approach. I don’t recommend this in all cases. You have to be the judge of your own situation. (This example was taken from my book It’s All YOUR Fault! which explains more about how Rochelle “manages” her boss, Phil.)