George Takei Shows Us How to Resolve Online and Public Conflict

Litigation & Dispute Resolution

It's not uncommon for an internet meme to trigger a tirade against the poster, which is exactly what happened on actor and activist George Takei’s social media accounts.

How George Takei chose to respond was both eloquent and insightful.

Writing on his Facebook page Takei said:

“I’ve just come back from an extended trip to England, and I came home to a large number of fan emails concerning a meme I shared more than a week ago. In that meme, a woman in a wheelchair was standing up to reach for a bottle of liquor in the store, and the caption said something about a miracle in the alcohol aisle. To this I added a quip about her being touched by the holy spirits…

After I’d posted the meme, I noted in the comments an inordinate amount of very uncivil behavior on the part of many fans, including both those who demanded I take it down and those who said I should leave it up. I also received a good deal of email IN CAPITAL LETTERS asking me if I would feel the same way if someone called me FAG or a JAP. Now, I took down the meme from my timeline shortly after it went up, but I admit I was decidedly irked by the tenor of some of those criticizing me. In that moment, I posted a follow up telling fans that perhaps they should “take it down—a notch” which, in retrospect, was not the most sensitive response.”

Takei initially went into defense mode, telling his fans to “take it down a notch”, in other words, devaluing and dismissing their concerns. Unlike Black Milk, Takei then reflected upon the feedback form his fans, and on his own reaction, and decided to take a different, more constructive approach – he apologised.


He BIFF’ed that meme!

US author, attorney and mediator Bill Eddy developed the BIFF response formulae, which can be applied to any mode of communication. BIFF stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm, and is the subject of Eddy’s book BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns (available from Unhooked Books)

The aim of a BIFF response is to diffuse the conflict, end a ‘high-conflict discussion’ and perhaps even sole the underlying problem. A BIFF response can also give you a great sense of relief.

Whether or not it was his intention, Takei’s open apology is a BIFF response.


At 511 words, Takei’s apology is long for a social media response, and is certainly longer than the 2 – 5 sentence Eddy suggests; however it needed to be that long to convey all that Takei wanted to say, and is no longer than necessary.


The post includes a lot of useful information on the subjects being discussed, delivered in plain English and without frills. Providing useful information shifts the discussion away from subjective opinions and focusses it on objective matters. 


Takei manages to blend informal and formal language in a way that makes the reader feel as though Takei is speaking to her/him directly.

This is a rare skill, and may be one reason why his online following is so high. As Eddy notes in his book, adopting a friendly tone is often the hardest part of the BIFF response, because truthfully, we often want to lash out and ‘take down’ the person to whom we are responding.

By adopting a friendly tone, you reduce the risk that the other party will take (further) offence, and avoid giving them (more) fuel for their anger/hurt/upset. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that the conflict will fizzle out without the need for further interaction.


“The goal of many BIFF responses is to end the conversation – to disengage from a potentially high-conflict situation. You want to let the other person know that this is really all you are going to say on the subject.” (Eddy).

Takei achieves this, delivering firm messages to both those who criticised him for sharing the meme and those who ‘took his side’ against the critics”

“So to those who were hurt by my posts on this issue, I ask you please to accept this apology. To those who think I shouldn’t have to apologize, I want to remind you that I get to decide what I apologize for, so there’s no need to come to my defense.”

You can BIFF too

Using a BIFF response requires the ability to step back from the situation, analyse what is really going on, and formulate a cool, calm response.

Share your BIFF

Have you used a BIFF response? Did it work? Share your BIFF stories below. 


Image credit: GLBT News 

Rebecca Carroll-Bell


Rebecca Carroll-Bell is The Everyday Mediator – passionate about managing, resolving and preventing conflict in everyday life Rebecca Carroll-Bell is an experienced conflict manger, conflict resolution expert and mediator. In addition to helping you manage, resolve and prevent conflict in your everyday life, Rebecca provides coaching, mentoring and support to other mediators and lawyers wishing to market and promote their practice on a shoe-string budget.

Comments (1)
Phil Joel

Phil Joel, Director at SavvySME

Thank you for sharing Rebecca. Really sage advice on how to diffuse a difficult situation.