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Family Law Attorney Jennifer Hargrave was recently featured in the Dallas Bar Headnotes. Headnotes is the Dallas Bar Association’s official monthly publication. Jennifer wrote about effective communication when dealing with high-conflict situations.

Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm – BIFF

Being able to communicate thoughts, emotions, and legal statues is what sets attorneys apart in the legal profession. Our clients rely on us to adeptly convey their interests, with the hope of steering them toward more favorable outcomes—whether that entails dealing with a co-parent, securing greater assets following a divorce, or orchestrating a business merger. In intricate legal matters characterized by substantial ramifications for our clients, the ability to communicate effectively becomes an indispensable imperative.

Communicating these thoughts is paramount but so is responding effectively. Although lawyers often excel in the art of language, we may not always possess the tools to adeptly navigate the emotional aspects inherent to high-stakes conversations. 

Frequently, emotions intertwined with communication can escalate conflicts, rendering effective dialogue increasingly challenging. 

This is where the BIFF communication approach is so effective. 

How can you adopt the BIFF communication approach?

In critical situations, Bill Eddy, JD, LCSW, an expert in high-conflict scenarios, suggests employing the “BIFF Response,” which stands for brief, informative, friendly, and firm communication. Developing the ability to convey messages concisely, in a cordial manner, while providing essential information and maintaining clear boundaries, can effectively defuse much of the communication associated with high-conflict situations. This skill is particularly valuable when instructing our clients and when engaging with individuals displaying high-conflict personalities on the opposing side.

Check out the entire conversation with Bill Eddy below. 

What tools can you learn to manage High-Conflict Communication?

Increase awareness to heightened emotions:

Successful communication in high-pressure scenarios commences with our recognition of the intensified emotions, both our own and those of the person we intend to engage with. Typically, people, including lawyers, struggle to convey their thoughts effectively when they are in the grip of heightened emotional reactions. Instead of engaging in communication when emotions are running high, it is advisable to take a step back and allow some time for emotions to settle.

Establish safety:

When individuals experience a sense of insecurity, whether emotionally or physically, effective communication deteriorates. In the book “Crucial Conversations” by Grenny, Patterson, McMillan, Switzler, and Gregory, the authors underscore the significance of establishing a feeling of security during high-stakes discussions. This sense of security can be established by identifying common purposes or mutual respect. The moment people detect disrespect in a conversation, the focus shifts to defending one’s dignity, diverting attention from the initial topic of discussion.

What’s the objective behind your communication? 

Before hitting the “send” button on that email, clarify the purpose of your message. If your intention is to convince someone that your proposal is reasonable, adopting a confrontational or critical tone is unlikely to yield a constructive outcome. If you aim to share information or seek common ground, it’s advisable to steer clear of argumentative, admonishing, or advisory language, as it tends to provoke a defensive response.

Learn more about Co-Parenting and High-Conflict Situations:

To read Jennifer’s piece on Headnotes click the September 2023 edition here