Therapist Blog

How to Respond to Personal Attacks, Hostile Emails & Social Media Meltdowns

Most of us have had the experience of being involved with, or meeting, people who are overly aggressive or hostile in their interactions with us and others. This might be in the workplace, social situations, or in our family. Instead of discussing issues they resort to personal attacks, hostile email, or social media meltdowns.

A recent book by Bill Eddy, LCSW, J.D., co-founder and president of the High Conflict Institute provides an easy to remember way of dealing with these people.

However, even though it might be easy to remember Eddy's suggested approach using it means learning specific skills and putting them into practice.

Responding to High Conflict People

In his book (BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, HCI Press, 2011) Bill Eddy gives examples of applying his model for responding to HCP (High Conflict People).

The first step in Eddy's model is deciding whether you should respond or not. Some attacks are best not responded to. But in situations where an on-going relationship has to be maintained, as in a family, Eddy suggests that responses be Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.

Responses should be short. For example one paragraph, 2 to 5 sentences in most cases.

Provide only objective information. Do not give your opinion or get defensive about the subject. Provide straight information in neutral terms even when you might be personally attacked (this can be very hard and requires "not taking the attack personally").

This can be the hardest part, especially if it's a personal attack, but it is very important. . . Bill Eddy gives some examples, say something like: "Thank you for telling me your opinion on this subject", or "Thanks for your email. Let me give you some information you may not have." Ending with a "Thanks" or a "Have a nice weekend" can also help.

The goal of the BIFF message is to disengage, to end the conversation. If you do need a response setting a firm reply date can be helpful, or if you are going to take action if the other person does not do something. For example: "If I don't receive the information I need by [date], then I will have to do [action]. I really hope that won't be necessary."

There are some flaws in the book as there are in all books, but the information and examples he provides are invaluable. I highly recommend getting and reading this book (several times).

You can order this book from my website

(This article was also posted on

Max August