Dear Faculty Relations – I have a colleague who has been increasingly hostile to me. They have sent upsetting emails and have engaged in some aggressive personal interactions. I’ve tried to defuse the situation, but nothing is changing. I have to continue working with this individual, but the situation is getting increasingly worse. What can I do? - Feeling Overwhelmed 

Dear Feeling Overwhelmed Hostility in the workplace is one of the most challenging situations you can encounter. However, there are some strategies you can try that may help, one of which is the BIFF method – which stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm – developed by Bill Eddy. This method is helpful in situations where you have already communicated previously, and your colleague is reiterating the same hostile communication again.

Brief: If you want to persuade someone to change, less is more. In an email exchange, your response should be around two sentences. Having a colleague read your response before sending it may be helpful. If the interaction is in-person, use calming techniques such as taking deep breaths to stay collected. 

Informative: Everything you say should be objective and useful. Avoid language that can be interpreted in multiple ways or is based on your opinions. The more fact-based you can be, the less the other person can find to attack. 

Friendly: It may be challenging, but be kind. It avoids feeding hostility and can help calm a situation. Even small things like friendly social greetings can go a long way. 

Firm: End the conversation and disengage to avoid opening the door to further hostility. Ask yes or no questions, and request a specific deadline if a response is needed. 

Most importantly, take time to process. Go for a walk, debrief with a friend, or engage in whatever practice that will give you the space and time you need to recover your equilibrium. And if you need more help, Ombuds is available to support you. 

Written by Kirsi Aulin, LMFT, CO-OP ®, Director, Ombuds Office, April 2023