A Review of “BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People” by Bill Eddy
Bill Eddy (a certified Family Law Specialist in California) has written a marvelous and succinct book on how to deal with (what he calls), High Conflict Personalities. He defines a high conflict personality as one who lacks the skills for being able to deal with conflict. HCP’s are people who do not understand (nor deal with) their own emotions.
The book has an intriguing and ingenious title, Biff: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns. [affiliate link*]
Here is how Eddy describes High Conflict Personalities (HCPs) —
When problems and conflicts arise, instead of looking for solutions, HCPs look for someone to blame. They have an all-or-nothing approach. They think that it must be all your fault or else it might appear to be all their fault – and they can’t cope with that possibility for psychological reasons. They become preoccupied with blaming others in order to escape being blamed themselves. But you can’t point this out to them, because they become even more defensive.
(Kindle Locations 85-88).
They blame everyone else for their own inner conflict. “Instead of sharing responsibility for solving problems, they repeatedly lose it and increase conflict by making it intensely personal and taking no responsibility.” (Locations 69-70) Bill Eddy teaches us to handle HCP’s with kid gloves . . . almost treating them like children, diffusing the high-conflict situation and quickly ending it before it escalates. He speaks clearly to those of us receiving what he calls “blamespeak” and greatly encourages us not to succumb to the temptation of counter-blaming, as that only adds fuel to the fire. HCP’s are not going to listen, take our viewpoint into consideration or, by any means, be rational. Eddy explains that HCP’s have a great deal of unmanaged and masked fears inside of them . . . not any type of neurotic fears . . . just unmanaged. HCP’s are reminiscent of character-disturbed individuals, as described by George Simon — they are aggressive, unruly, manipulative and entitled.
This brief book of only ten chapters gives examples of almost every kind of conflict that can occur over social media, emails, texts and letters and then gives examples of how to respond in BIFF-fashion. He touches on phone calls and personal attacks but mostly adheres to online experiences because, as we have all experienced, many become more aggressive when they do not have to look us in the eye. Eddy gives advice about dealing with high conflict neighbors, friends, family, and even politicians. I was most interested in the friends and family chapter and, oh! How I wish I had had these nuggets of wisdom when I was dealing with HCP’s the year after I left my ex!
Eddy’s main thread, which runs through every chapter is this method can be easily remembered by the acronym BIFF:
Brief — When responding to a high-conflict message, he suggests brevity, as HCP cannot handle too much information at one time. They begin to feel accused, even if we are not accusing them, if too many words are said. They can twist things.
Informative — Only answer what is necessary and keep it factual. Keep out emotion or any sort of blame.
Friendly — Not too friendly. Just a tone. Maybe a, “I hope you are well” at the beginning or a “take care” at the end.
Firm — Make sure that, in writing back, the message has been clear and conclusive. Bring the matter to an end or give concise guidelines. (“If we do not hear back from you in 3 days, we will bring this matter to a close.”)
Eddy warns against the “Three A’s”:
An apology would fuel the aggressor’s fire. Admonishments or advice would only lead the HCP to become more agitated and blameful, putting them on the defensive.
I loved this book. It will truly help me to be able to stop and think about the fact that I am not actually the problem upon receiving a high conflict message of some sort. Eddy says we can retrain our brains. It is not exactly like “grey rock” because we are actually accomplishing something — we are getting the message across that we will not be pulled into emotional warfare and we are ending the conflict in an informative way. He writes,
You can train yourself to think, feel and say to yourself: “His comments are not really about me.” “The issue’s not the issue.” “Her personality is the issue.” And other short, quick sayings that train your brain to not react defensively. (Kindle Locations 546-547)
These messages that we can tell ourselves, coupled with practicing writing back BIFF’s, can lead to a sense of empowerment over our own behavior whilst wiping away the shame we might feel if we react equally blamefully or emotionally. I think this book is best used to diffuse situations with families or, even in communication with an abusive ex who shares custody or who is simply jabbing. I do not believe it would work within a marriage very well. As we all know, not much “works” in an abusive marriage except getting out of it.
I highly, highly recommend this work and I look forward to reading Bill Eddy’s other books — some of which might more pertain to abusive situations:
High Conflict People in Legal Disputes [affiliate link*]