Communicating with your coparent can be very frustrating and stressful as we struggle to remove the emotional hurt and pain of the breakup from our ongoing communications.
Everything they say or do can annoy you to the point that you anticipate there will be an argument every time you have to deal with them. This increases your anxiety as you know you are going to feel lousy before you see them at handover as you anticipate a fight and you know you are going to definitely feel lousy after you have seen them because you were right it did end up in a fight. Even receiving a text from them can make your stomach do a flip and your heart start to pound as your adrenalin kicks in to prepare you for a battle.
So how can you break this cycle of coparenting conflicted communication?
A BIFF Response® is not putting on boxing gloves and fighting it out! BIFF is a way of responding that helps avoid escalation into conflict when coparenting may be hostile. This can be used in various modes of communication, such as face to face at handover, emails, texts or speaking over the phone.
What does BIFF stand for? BIFF stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.
So how do you use it?
Your communication with your coparent needs to be void of emotion and straight to the point about what needs to be done. The BIFF technique helps you craft communication that keeps conflict at bay.
Brief – Ensure that you only outline a short summary, whether that is information about the child or an action that you have been doing that needs to be continued by the coparent during their parenting time.
Informative – provide information without emotion, opinion or argument. Just state the facts such as an event at school that the coparent needs to be aware of.
Action – outline what has been occurring for the child that requires continued action
Friendly – Treat your coparent courteously as though they are a client or business partner. Always use please and thank you just as you have taught your children to have manners, they still apply when dealing with your ex. to maintain respectful communication.
Firm – Outline the benefits for the child rather than demanding what should be done
Example 1 – You receive a text from your ex on Friday saying “I just picked Billy up from school and he is sick AGAIN on my parenting time. He is always sick; you don’t take care of him properly”
Your response needs to leverage the BIFF response to avoid escalation into an argument.
Brief – “Billy has had a cold for the past couple of days, he must have caught it at school”
Informative – “He has been having children’s Panadol every six hours to keep his temperature down. He has the children’s Panadol in his bag so he can continue to take it when he needs to”
Friendly – “Could you remind Billy to take his medicine please?”
Firm – You could say “Billy needs the medicine so he is better before going back to school on Monday as he has a test” instead of saying things like “You need to make sure he has his medicine” or “Don’t forget to give him his medicine” as this can be seen as a demand or you controlling their actions which could lead to the perception, they don’t have the initiative or capability to take care of the child when they are sick.
Avoid triggering conflict by launching into accusations of how they got the cold such as “You kept him out too late at night without a jacket and he came to me sick from you” or make derogatory comments such as “If you can drag yourself away from the TV for 5 mins can you remember to give Billy the medicine”. The key is to just stick to the information and action required that will not trigger an argument.
Example 2 – Emailing coparent that ballet class times have changed
You know your ex is not going to be happy that they will need to get Sally to ballet an hour earlier so it is important to use the BIFF Response to provide an unemotional structured communication.
Brief – “Sally’s ballet class has a new start time”
Informative – “The ballet class starts at 6:30pm now instead of 7:30pm. Are you available to take Sally to ballet at the earlier time?”
Friendly – “I am happy to drop her at ballet if ever you need me to”
Firm – You could say “Sally loves going to ballet, she is doing so well” instead of saying things like “You need to make sure she gets to ballet on time” or “Don’t be late getting sally to ballet” as this can be seen as a demand or you controlling their actions which could lead to the perception that you think they are incompetent.
Example 3 – Your ex tells you at handover that Johnny is starving and upset every time they get him for their parenting time.
Brief – “Johnny has already eaten at 11:30am”
Informative – “Johnny had some pasta and a piece of fruit”
Friendly – “He does seem to be having an increased appetite, he must be going through a growth spurt”
Firm – You could say “Johnny has started getting hungry just before lunchtime lately, so he now has some snacks in his backpack” instead of saying things like “Well you could bring snacks to handover” or “well at least I give him healthy food, not junk food like you do!” as this can be seen as provocative and accusatory which could lead to the perception their parenting capability is inadequate.
Using the BIFF response in your coparenting communication helps to structure communication so that it is just providing the information that is required in a respectful way so as to avoid escalating into conflict.
Author – Cheryl Duffy, Divorce & Conflict Coach, Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, NMAS Mediator & Parenting Coordinator.