I’m working on a presentation “Conflict Resolution in Our Digital Age” and thinking a lot about our electronic communications. I’m on email and text most every day, yet working with people in conflict seems to work best when we meet face-to-face. That’s why most of my meetings are in-person. This is also supported by research that explains how spoken language makes up only a small portion of what is communicated. The non verbal and other than conscious communication makes up a majority of what we see, feel and hear. The question is how do we manage this in our digital age?
I’m convinced that the emoji is one answer. Emojis are so popular because we want more than “just” the written word. We want to capture the non-verbal stuff whether it be tone, cadence, or a full range of emotions. Emojis and now “tagging” help us fill in the otherwise lack of information we receive via email and/or text. It’s also why instagram is so popular – a picture is worth a thousand words.
However, if you find yourself needing to use words, here are some suggestions from Bill Eddy, founder of the High Conflict Institute on how to deal with “hostile” emails. This is based on Eddy’s idea that “high conflict” people require specific strategies to address and, hopefully, deescalte the conflict producing behaviors. Eddy has numerous books and training videos that may be of interest if you live or work with a “high conflict” personality!
Here’s Eddy’s strategy for dealing with hostile emails and he calls it the
BIFF response – Brief Informative Friendly Firm
According to Eddy:
Brief: A brief response reduces the chances of an angry back and forth. Brief signals you don’t take the other person’s statements seriously and keeps you out of sending anything resembling a personal attack. Focus only on the facts and make no comments about character or personality.
Informative: Remember the point of your response is to correct inaccurate statements. Focus on the accurate statements you want to make and offer facts only.
Friendly: A hostile response will elicit a hostile response back. A friendly response is focused on de-escalation, and other email recipients will notice that your response is clearly very different than the other person’s hostile email. Try as hard as you can to sound as relaxed and empathetic as possible.
Firm: Avoid comments that invite more discussion. You might even try, “This is all I will say on this issue,” or, “This conversation is over.”
So, keep sending those emojis and tags and next time you get that email that sends you to your keyboard with strokes fast and furious, remember BIFF and take a break before even thinking about a response. Take a walk, clear your head, determine whether you even need to respond. Then try a BIFF!