Yes They Can (Talk Civilly)!
By Bill Eddy
More and more people (former generals, national commentators, conflict resolution professionals and others) are speaking out about the negativity of the current Presidential election campaign. This negativity is now spilling over into many other state and local campaigns. It seems that all politicians running for office have decided that they better “go negative” or they will be swept away. As we mention in our new book, SPLITTING AMERICA, everyone seems to be afraid of being “swift-boated” (the new verb for John Kerry’s failure to respond to false allegations about his war record in the 2004 Presidential election).
But there’s a third choice, between failing to respond and going negative. Politicians can be assertive and respectful by using “BIFF Responses” – statements that are Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. We have been teaching this method of responding to hostile statements in high-conflict divorce and workplace settings for over five years, with a lot of success. (See BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People.) But could this method be applied in a political campaign? We believe it can.
BIFF responses are less exciting, but more informative. They don’t poison the atmosphere, which is essential if we are going to get along as a nation after the election. Here’s two examples of what they said and how they could say the same information as a BIFF response:
ROMNEY: [In response to recent comments, including Joe Biden’s remark that Romney and the Republicans will roll back Wall Street regulations and “put y’all back in chains” spoken to a mixed race audience in Virginia.]
“So, Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago.”
Our suggested BIFF for Romney instead: “I’m glad to have the opportunity to talk about comments being made about me in this campaign. It’s my goal to keep it civil, while also responding with information. For example, my proposals regarding Wall Street allow the most flexibility to encourage investors to invest and companies to hire new employees. If you look closely at my recommendations, they are a balance of regulation and freedom – not something that will result in a huge change and not something that will result in Americans becoming financially worse off. In fact, I sincerely believe the opposite will occur – more jobs and better incomes for all.”
Is it a BIFF? It’s Brief – just one paragraph. It’s Informative, by showing his sincere efforts to balance regulation and freedom. (Of course, he could stick in some specifics here – that’s what people really want and need to know.) It’s Friendly, as he appreciates the opportunity to respond and shares his sincere hopes for Americans. And it’s Firm, meaning that it ends the conversation, rather than escalating hostility.
OBAMA: [In response to Romney’s statements that he will “act to repeal Obamacare…on his first day in Office” if elected President.]
“You know, maybe we should call his plan ‘Romney-Doesn’t-Care’ because I do care. I do care.”
Our suggested BIFF for OBAMA instead: “I’m glad to have the opportunity to talk about comments being made against me in this campaign. It’s my goal to keep it civil, while also responding with information. For example, the Affordable Healthcare Act is important because it protects citizens with pre-existing conditions, protects students up to age 26, and addresses many other long-standing problems. I care about these problems of Americans, so I have worked hard to implement my proposals while President. I respect the opinions of those who seek a different approach, but this is very important to me and I proudly stand by this Act which has been upheld by the Supreme Court as the law of the land.”
Is it a BIFF? It’s Brief. It’s Informative, by showing his sincere efforts to protect Americans from healthcare problems and that it has been validated by the Supreme Court. (Of course, he could stick in some specifics here – that’s what people really want and need to know.) It’s Friendly, as he appreciates the opportunity to explain his policies. And it’s Firm, in that it ends the conversation, rather than escalating hostility.
Can you imagine how much respect each candidate would get for that type of statement on a regular basis? In high-conflict divorce and intense workplace situations, these types of statements stop the hostilities and are often contagious, as the other “side” realizes they can look a whole lot better to communicate in this manner as well.
Let’s send BIFF to Washington!
About Bill Eddy William A. (“Bill”) Eddy, L.C.S.W., J.D. is a family law attorney, therapist and mediator, with over thirty years’ experience working with children and families. He is the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California. He is also the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides speakers, trainers and consultants on the subject of managing high-conflict people in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare and education. He has taught Negotiation and Mediation at the University of San Diego School of Law and he teaches Psychology of Conflict at the Strauss Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law. He is the author of several books, including:
For more information about Bill Eddy, please visit: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.