When speaking about what women need when travelling through their separation, I often use the analogy of a pilot taking their first solo flight. Just as a pilot always flies with a good communication device, having an effective communication strategy is essential for a less stressful separation (and beyond!).
I get it - emotions run high and at times you may look at your ex’s behaviour and wonder what alien has taken over. Not to mention, there will be times you are stretched thin like a rubber band – you’re tired, stressed, frazzled, the kids haven’t unloaded the dishwasher, you’re worried about a million things and like a band stretched to capacity, one more thing and ping! You will snap!
When you have to face up to difficult discussions/emails/texts with your ex while this emotional ticker tape runs in the background, you need one easy, sound strategy.
That strategy is that you…give the BIFF. Give the BIFF to your Ex / your annoying colleague / your mother / anyone you need to have a challenging exchange with.
BIFF is a technique created by Bill Eddy who has researched and written a lot about high conflict in family law cases. BIFF responses are Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.
Let’s say you’ve received a snarky, accusatory email or text from your ex in response to you trying to sort out the children’s care arrangements so they may attend your mother’s birthday party at a time they would ordinarily be in your ex’s care. In the course of your ex’s email, you’ve had the quality of your parenting challenged, your integrity questioned nd even your sanity! You’ve been solely blamed for the issues between you both and for why one of your children isn’t doing well at school. You are left feeling sick, frustrated and angry. You are about to launch into drafting your reply with a few “hometruths” for your ex. Let’s break down what a BIFF response would look like…
BRIEF: Keep the response brief. What actually really needs responding to? If nothing, don’t respond or just politely acknowledge receipt of the message.
If a response is needed, keep it on point – cover only what is relevant to the problem at hand and keep it very short. Some of your ex’s comments or accusations may really rile you up but does responding to them advance getting the problem at hand solved?
BIFF responses are a repetition-free zone. Being a broken record, saying the same thing more and more times, isn’t usually an effective tool for making your message more acceptable to the other person. Instead, it just may increase their irritation and they switch off.
INFORMATIVE - A BIFF reply will focus in on information about the problem and not on the other person or how they are wrong. The problem at hand is the children attending the birthday party so a defence of your parenting, your sanity and your conduct is not required nor are accusations towards your ex.
If your reply is focussing on information about the problem at hand, it will be an opinion and defensiveness-free zone.
FRIENDLY – Now, I hear you being all “I don’t want to be all friendly with him when he is feeding me nothing but grief!”! You don’t feel like being friendly when you’ve received the horrible message you’re replying to. You're not alone, this is the part of BIFF that most struggle with.
Try switching out “friendly” for “collegial” or “civil”. You don’t need to be best friends. However, to be a BIFF reply, it should pass the collegiality test, that is, would your boss or a respected senior colleague think it was ok if the same tone was being used in an email to a colleague?
If your email is passing the collegiality test, your communication should be a hostility-free zone!
An easy place to set the collegial tone within your email is in the beginnings and endings – “Thanks for coming back to me so promptly about the question of the children attending Mum's birthday" or "Thanks for your concern about getting the home maintenance sorted.” or “We’ve worked together well in the past to get through problems so I am confident we can work through this and look forward to hearing from you” or "I respect the children's time with you so I am withdrawing my request".
FIRM – Just because you are being friendly/collegial and you are not diving into responding to your ex’s recriminations of you with some of your own, doesn’t mean you cannot be firm on the issue at hand. This may involve closing the gate on future discussions on the issue “I don’t intend to go further on this at this time” or “I don’t intend to discuss this further until I have had the opportunity to take some advice”. Being firm may mean fencing off some clear boundaries, for example, around time frames and consequences.
If you’ve always avoided conflict or yielded to your ex’s demands, the ‘firm’ ingredient in a BIFF response may be challenging for you but a BIFF response is a spineless-free zone.
Remember, being firm means also being firm in following through on the boundaries you have set.
What are the advantages to you of using BIFF responses?
You Don't Ride the Blamespeak Rollercoaster - When you give BIFF responses, you avoid the momentary emotional highs of blamespeak (“yes, that showed him!”) followed by the lows which is often the stress of receiving further recriminations and emotionally harmful responses and increased, spiralling conflict that has no end in sight.
It Controls the Temperature - Giving the BIFF is a powerful tool to bring the temperature down on a dispute by keeping the focus on what is relevant to the problem while avoiding damaging relationships further through personal attack.
It can Mitigate the Litigation Risk - In a worst case scenario where you and your ex end up in litigation, – BIFF responses reduce the risk to you if your communications are brought into evidence. A finally crafted BIFF response will help you counter accusations that you are unreasonable or hostile.
BIFF can Save You Money & Stress- Getting this tool to work for you can help make things smoother and less inflamed in your separation which leads to you saving money on legal arguments, prolonged joint counselling sessions and the like and the stress that goes along with that.
At first, using the BIFF technique requires careful and conscious consideration. It can take practice but, over time, you will build up your skill at using this tool and it will become easier and like second nature to you. You will find it isn’t just handy to use with your ex but in all manner of difficult communications!
Bill Eddy's book, BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People, Their Personal Attaches, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns is a great guide to working on BIFF responses in a range of situations.
I'd love to hear how using BIFF has helped in your communications with your ex or about any challenges you've had in using it. Head on over to The Divorce Lighthouse Private Facebook Group to share so we can all learn from each other and help each other out.