Have you ever received a message from your co-parent that infuriated you? That was disrespectful and uncalled for?
In those moments have you replied by text or email out of anger? A response that also was disrespectful and uncalled for?
Be honest, have you ever hit “send” and later regretted it?
Of course you have! We all have at one time or another.
Co-Parenting Email can be Destructive
I recently mediated with two divorced parents who were furious with one another. I knew going in to the mediation they were fuming. I had been cc’ed on an email exchange the previous day full of colorful language and lots of finger-pointing. These well-intended loving parents were armed and ready to defend their positions and disprove the other parent’s arguments. Very quickly it became apparent that the conflict had almost nothing to do with the topic they were supposedly disputing. They were reacting to the nasty, inflammatory, and vitriolic written communication.
Here, take a look at an excerpt:
Mother: I clearly see that you are trying to cause problems and not let me see our son ( simple question to a simple answer.) Like you didn’t tell me about the doctor’s appointment.. again You told the school not to let me pick him up… are you having someone else pick him up with out my knowledge outside of your family???? are you drinking ?? are you drunk? I don’t know where this line of questions come from..
Father: You’re an idiot. Of course I didn’t tell the school you couldn’t pick him up. Why do you always have to lie lie lie? you accuse me of things when you won’t even let me talk on the phone with our son without you eves-dropping!
Four Steps to Improve Co-Parenting Communication after Divorce
Bill Eddy, co-founder of the High Conflict Institute in California, developed the BIFF style of communication. I have introduced this approach to many families who have found it to help reduce conflict and increase co-parenting collaboration.
The idea is to approach all written communication, no matter the depth of conflict and ill-will, as a businesslike communication. For co-parents, consider yourself in the business of raising your children. As such, treat your co-parent as you would your boss, your professional business partner, a colleague, or your biggest client.
BIFF Can Transform Co-Parenting Communication
BIFF stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm communication.
- Brief: Keep it short and sweet.
- Informative: Keep it factual and specific.
- Friendly: Be cordial, just as you would a colleague (think, please and thank you).
- Firm: Be clear and specific about the information and what you are asking for.
BIFF eliminates finger-pointing, name-calling, insinuations, assumptions, blame, and a whole host of other destructive elements to written co-parenting communication.
So how would the previous email exchange look from my co-parenting mediation using BIFF?
Mother: Fred, I had trouble picking Joey up from school today. The school told me they had received instructions from you that someone else will be picking him up. Can you let me know what happened? At some point soon I would like us to discuss some guidelines we can set to make sure the miscommunication that happened today does not happen in the future. When would you have time to discuss this? Thank you, Fred.
Father: Evelyn, yes, it seems there was a miscommunication. I mentioned to you last week that my mother was going to pick him up today to celebrate her birthday with him. I wonder if you forgot? Either way, it does make sense for us to figure out how to prevent miscommunication in the future. Are you available to talk at 8 PM tonight to try to figure this out?
Your co-parent is your business partner. Pause before you hit send. Re-read and ask your self, is this email brief, informative, friendly, and firm?
If not, edit it. Then hit send.