How to Respond to Hostile Emails/Texts

Shelly Jean John June 23, 2016

He refuses to take responsibility for his actions. She exaggerates the littlest things and blows everything out of proportion. He lies and spreads rumors. All they seem to do is blame, attack, defend and attack again.

We all know and become exasperated by these people. Social worker and lawyer, Bill Eddy, refers to these people as

High Conflict Personalities (HCP’s).

HCP’s often cannot stay focused and answer a simple question with a simple answer. They ignore other people’s questions and, instead, they raise new issues of their own – often in an attacking manner. This behavior can be infuriating. Exes know how to push your buttons and email and texts are some of their favorite platforms. If you’re not careful, these personalities will drag you down into the mud with them, causing you anxiety and anger. Children sense their parents’ conflict and stress, which causes them angst and depression.

Maintaining your sanity and protecting your children’s emotional welfare is why it is so important to use a special method of communication with HCPs. Our natural instinct is to respond by pointing out the inaccuracies and the lies, and to try to get the writer to see the error of his/her ways. Believe me when I tell you, this does not work. An HCP will not suddenly see their personality defect because you point it out to them – especially because you point it out. Eddy reminds us that these techniques are not effective, and they actually make you look bad. Going around and around in communication with an HCP can actually make you look like an HCP to those outside of the situation, including the Family Court judge.

One of the most effective methods for responding to HCP’s is by using Eddy’s “B.I.F.F.” response; BRIEF, INFORMATIVE, FRIENDLY and FIRM.

Keep your response BRIEF. Keep it down to 1 paragraph; 2 to 5 sentences in most cases, regardless of the length of the senders email/text. The key (as in verbal communication) is to avoid triggering defensiveness in the other and focus them on problem-solving information. Otherwise, the communications just spirals out of control.

Instead of giving your opinion, be INFORMATIVE by giving 1 to 2 sentences of straight, useful, information in neutral terms.

Do your very best to be FRIENDLY. I tell my clients to respond as though you were responding to an email from a professional business partner. For example, no matter how annoyed I am by an opposing counsel, I always begin my letters with “thank you for your letter dated xxx.”

Lastly, provide a FIRM conclusion to the discussion. If you need a reply, give 2 clear choices for future action and provide a firm reply date. For example, “If I do not receive information by Monday about which day you would like to do the parent-teacher conference, I will schedule it for Thursday at 1 PM.”

The BIFF method is a learnable art that takes practice. It does not come easily at first but over time I trust you will see and feel a positive difference in the communication from the other parent. Eddy’s book contains many helpful examples, instructions and tips (like “avoid admonishments, advice and apologies.”) Eddy, William LCSW, Esq. BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns, Unhooked Books, 2014. See Book on Amazon

For more articles about thriving through your divorce or separation, visit FamilyLawRevolution.com and Like us on Facebook. Please Share this useful information with family and friends who find communicating with the other parent a struggle. Call to schedule a free 30 minute consultation to explore the best ways to deal with the legal aspects of the struggles.