When You Must Speak to a Troll

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

We've all heard advice like "Don't feed the energy creature," regarding online forums. There are certain types of people who thrive on confrontation, and learning to recognize them and act accordingly is a good way to help keep a good discussion from getting derailed, not to mention saving time and emotional energy. Generally, the same goes for email.

But what if circumstances -- like an email chain at work -- dictate answering one of what therapist and attorney Bill Eddy calls "High Conflict People?"

That's when one crafts what he calls a BIFF response -- Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm. Eddy walks through why each element is necessary after helping the reader determine whether to reply at all. On that score, Eddy starts out with his reasoning:

Image via Pixabay.
Much of hostile e-communication does not need a response. Letters from (ex-) spouses, angry neighbors, irritating co-workers, or attorneys do not usually have legal significance. The letter itself has no power, unless you give it power. Often, it is emotional venting aimed at relieving the writer’s anxiety. If you respond with similar emotions and hostility, you will simply escalate things without satisfaction, and just get a new piece of hostile mail back. In most cases, you are better off not responding. However, some letters and emails develop power when copies are filed in a court or complaint process – or simply get sent to other people. In these cases, it may be important to respond to inaccurate statements with accurate statements of fact...
The rest of this how-to explains why each element of the response is important, and gives examples. The twin goals in such situations are (1) making sure any rational readers learn the facts or know how to get them, and (2) minimizing the amount of time dealing with the hostile sender.

-- CAV

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