Workplace issues: Are you walking on eggshells at work?

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Walking on eggshells at work is an issue for content and marketing teams – especially when they are after content performance. And who isn’t after creating content that performs? But, the impact of walking on eggshells is not positive. Employees are unhappy and disengaged, and that can lead to underperformance.

And certainly, mean bosses can be the issue, a topic Michel Brenner discussed in his book. But what about the need of people in general to avoid any conflict? Sam Horn discusses that in her book “Talking on Eggshells: Soft Skills for Hard Communications.”

She’s joining me on this episode of “The Business Storytelling Show” to discuss the topic.

We discuss:

  • Why Sam wrote the book
  • How to deal with stressful situations at work
  • Accountability in the real world
  • What are the soft skills needed to build trust

Here are some more thoughts from me on the subject…

Signs that you might be walking on eggshells at work

When you don’t feel like you can speak your mind or openly participate in discussions – either in a group or 1-on-1 setting – that’s usually a warning sign. Now, why you are walking on eggshells is a different discussion. It could be:

  • a toxic culture
  • bad bosses
  • people that dominate the discussion
  • your internal need for no conflict
  • or any mix of the above
  • other

Understand the impact of walking on eggshells at work

Being in an environment where it feels like you are walking on eggshells can impact everything. If you can’t participate freely in collaborations, good ideas might never be spoken because “the time never felt right.” Or people are just entirely disengaged, which can lead to less-than-stellar performance, unhappiness, and turnover.

Read next: Can walking meetings be productive?

Tips for managing conflicts and challenging situations at work

Sam shares many tips on learning the soft skills to have hard conversations. And there certainly are situations where it’s all external to ourselves. Yet, it’s important to understand how conflict-adverse we might be ourselves and how we manage and regulate our emotions.

That can include learning how to control your breath and be calm. The iBreathe app can help internalize that.

breathing app on Apple

Also, it’s good to remember that not all comments are negative or even personal. So try to give people the benefit of the doubt as much as possible, and use it to build on being creative together. 

Read next: The steps to effortless marketing

Strategies for creating a healthy work environment

Of course, everyone can have an impact on a healthy work environment. That includes managers understanding that new employees are trying to find their place in a new team. Create a safe environment where ideas and thoughts are welcome.

Employees can play their part by participating and trusting – trust that cannot be broken. Conversely, it’s good for new teammates to remember that they must prove themselves too. In a perfect world, they can collaborate and perform to their full potential without feeling like they are walking on eggshells.

AI-generator transcript:

Christoph Trappe 0:02
Very interesting the play on words, but and so then based on that conversation, you decided to write the book or did it keep coming up? And I mean, I certainly when I read the book, I see this issue come up all the time and I know you have some personal examples in there, but especially at work right in, maybe not my work but in professional environments. We see that all the time, right? People are not. They’re not engaging in those conversations.

Sam Horn 0:29
You know, see if McKenzie came out with a report and said rudeness is on the rise and incivility is getting worse. And we’ve all experienced that whether we’re customer facing employee, whether a leader or a project manager is that people are complaining, they’re blaming their shaming, they’re accusing us of things that aren’t true. They’re and we’re not taught how to handle this in school. We’re taught counselors work out with fewer people complain. So I wrote a book that can help us know what to say, when we don’t know what to say.

Christoph Trappe 1:04
What’s interesting to me about that topic, too, is I mean, I kind of I don’t know what you how you felt about my opinion there at the beginning, but some of these conversations shouldn’t be too hard in theory, like when you were just talking about complaining and rudeness is on the rise. And I I agree with that to an extent but sometimes I also wonder if people just take stuff out of context. So like when I see things on social media and somebody says, the sky is blue or whatever, or the sky today is blue, it turns into a political argument about global warming or something like that. Do you know what I mean? So like, yeah, go ahead.

Sam Horn 1:45
You’re right, is it unfortunately, snark has become the norm. And you and I both know that keyboard behavior is repeated. And so if somebody says something outrageous online, our reaction is to say, well, that’s not true. What about this and then we just play along. So Mother Teresa said the world is full of good people. If you can’t find one, be one. And that’s one of the reasons I wrote the book is like people think I agree with that. In theory, I just don’t know how to do it in practice. So each chapter is a character building situation we face every day and situation, how can we be a pattern interrupt and be enforced for good instead of just piling on with all the snarky reactions?

Christoph Trappe 2:29
The one thing I find interesting too, of course, this is a little bit different in I mentioned social media, but on social media you have people need to have reasons why they do anything like you know you comment on somebody’s posts, like it spreads that post, right? And so my point is, if I’m commenting on somebody’s post, I have a reason to do it. Maybe I want to support them, or maybe, maybe I got something to share, or maybe I’m gonna reach out to them for a deal later, and I want to stay top of mind, but it’s not just for me to say, oh, that’s stupid or that even if even if I think it is, but what’s the point in that? Now, you know, you talk about you have a whole chapter on why do we even talk on eggshells? Let’s dive into that. Maybe a little bit here. Why does that even happen? Why is it a real issue?

Sam Horn 3:15
You know, Harvard said that 67% of people identify as conflict averse. And it goes a lot to our childhood is and I grew up with a cold war not that kind of Cold War. My my dad was emotionally distant and my mom was emotionally wounded. So they didn’t fight. They just didn’t talk to each other. So kind of my brother and sister and I grew up and it’s like, we saw conflict. We had it the other direction. And many people feel the same way. So one of the points of this book, once again is like the three normal ways in a conflict we avoid. It’s like, oh conflict, I’m out of here or we accommodate we go along to get along. When we get angry. Maybe we learn. Getting loud and intense is the way to get our way. And so that’s how we handle conflict. This book is full of assertive ways. How can we proactively How can we effectively how can we move things forward? Toward cooperation instead of conflict? One, an example. Go for it. Okay, one of my favorite examples is my Aunt Kay is 85 years old. She works in a hospital and she volunteers. She did this even during COVID. And I asked what it was like she said one word stressful. I said, well put me in a scene where you handle the stressful situation. She didn’t even have to think about that. She said a woman had run in holding up her phone saying my daughter was in an accident. She just texted me I need to get in to see her. Well, Kate called the ER there was somebody already with the daughter. She had to get that bad news to the woman. The woman lost and she’s screaming at my app. Now, Christophe, you know me, I believe in juxtaposing, so unless people are driving, I hope they get a fresh piece of paper and put a vertical line down the center. And on the left are words to lose that makes things worse or on the right are words to use actually make things better? So if you put over on the left when people are taking their anger out of you their frustration, put down the words how rude because it’s so easy to think how rude. I didn’t make the rules. Why are you blaming me? This isn’t my fault. We go down the rabbit hole more on the right and past yourself forwards. How would I feel? How would I feel if my daughter were in the ER and I couldn’t get into to turn there’s nothing I can do it to let me see if there’s something I can do. She called the ER nurse back she said, whose was the daughter? It was the Uber driver who had brought her in. He was able to explain the situation. Thank you. He left and the mother was able to get in with the daughter. Now think about at work. Something goes wrong. It’s so easy. How rude. That’s impatience. The words how would I feel? Well, this from impatience to empathy, from contempt, to compassion, nothing I can do to see if there’s something

Christoph Trappe 6:13
you know, it’s interesting to me too, is thinking about the other person. Certainly that’s something that people can work on. Right, have some empathy and then realize what what other people are going through. But the other thing I was wondering too, as I was listening to you, especially at work, I mean, I know the example he gave was personal, but like in a professional environment, who has the time who has the time to even be rude, or you know, all these other things you mentioned blaming, shaming, making mistakes, teasing. I don’t have the time, right like to even deal with that. Do people just do it? Because I mean, why do people do it? Is it just because they just don’t know any better? Or they don’t have self awareness? I mean, I’ve seen people where you say, hey, you know what, this is kind of rude or whatever. And they’ll say, I’m not rude at all right? And they don’t have any self awareness at all, and everybody else would agree that indeed they are being rude.

Sam Horn 7:09
You know, Christophe, it’s interesting because I have an opportunity to do a lot of training on talking in tongues. And what a lot of people say is why did they teach us in school and give another example is that they were in a meeting and something’s gone wrong, and the blaming has begun. Well, you want to drop the ball. I mean, I never saw that message back and forth. It’s like, over on the left foot towards find fault. When things go wrong. The finger pointing begins, I suggest would be a pattern interrupt. Now do you play sports by any chance Kristofer? Did you play sports growing up?

Speaker 1 7:44
Yeah, I didn’t play football. In fact, you can kind of still see let’s see if you can see it on here behind me there. My Iowa Hawkeyes helmet, it’s still sitting there. It’s been sitting for a couple decades by now. So yeah, definitely. They’re still paying the price with my body, but go ahead.

Sam Horn 8:04
Well, Khrushchev, you know in sports, they blow the whistle and referee you stop it. Or sometimes you just make a tee. I believe if you’re in a meeting and people are there’s a commotion blaming shaming, the visual pattern interrupt because if you try and talk over them, the voice of reason will get drowned out in the commotion instead of saying, hey, timeout, and then say something like, we’re here to find solutions, not fault. Or over on the right, put these words. Let’s not do this. We could spend the rest of the afternoon arguing about who did this. Instead, let’s reach out to that client, or write down these three words. This won’t help. Eight calling each other names won’t help instead. And you see how by being a pattern interrupt that Elvis Presley said when things go wrong, don’t go with him. Don’t just start yelling at people who are yelling stop it. Let’s not do this, this won’t help and move to how we can prevent it from happening again, instead of what people should have done.

Christoph Trappe 9:08
You know, it’s addressing is like what you just described that I’m thinking that should never happen in a professional environment, but I have seen it happen and I also wonder if part of the reason it does happen. It’s just because of the culture. Right? So when you talk about trying to blame people, so if you have a real team, right, and the team works together at the end that I mean, if it’s really bad, certainly somebody needs to be held accountable. But if it’s just day to day stuff, Why does anybody need to be playing? Why can’t they just work together and move forward together? Is that a culture thing? I mean, is that something leaders can influence right? I’m just thinking as if everybody’s pointing the finger and maybe they do it because they know somebody will get in trouble from leadership over every little bitty thing. Is that why that happens? Or how can we change that in on a content team or a marketing team or whatnot?

Sam Horn 10:01
Once again, I love these questions because let’s get in the real world, what happens at work when things go wrong with people or companies. So let’s talk about complaint. So over on the left saying once again, when something’s gone wrong, and people are complaining over on the left, here’s what not to do. Don’t explain. Because if people come play, and we explain, we say this, because now they understand what went wrong. And no explanations come across excuses. They make people angry or because they feel we’re not being accountable. So when people complain, don’t explain over and right. Take the A train a for agree. A for apologize, a for Act, someone saying you know you are supposed to send this yesterday Oh, I know. But you know, it’s like they got held up and accounting and they didn’t even get back to me until this morning. All right. You’re I was yesterday, April politics and I’m sorry, you ended up waiting for a for AP and I’ve got that information. I can either walk it over if you would like or email you a train often expedite complaints. Explanations aggravate them.

Speaker 1 11:18
Very interesting. So basically, I mean, yeah, you’re right. You know, I did move our podcast interview eight times. I’m sorry to do that. Let’s do it today. Right. Let’s get on the horn and let’s review it. And thank you for for the grace when I did have to move things. Sometimes that happens. I don’t know it was eight times maybe not but a few times. Interesting. But at what point though, again, I’m thinking about the culture, right? So if the culture is not there, and it’s somebody at some point, somebody will be blamed by the bosses. Is that why people explain it because if all I say is all the time, and playing a little bit devil’s advocate here, I mean, I agree with the atrium, quite frankly. I’d say I agree. I’m sorry. I’ll do it. Now. At what point do people say they don’t know what they’re doing?

Sam Horn 12:13
So good point. So in a moment was talked about accountable. Let’s come back to the A train one more time, because I hope people are thinking, I’m not talking about someone who constantly makes excuses. You know, someone who does this every time. No, we’re not gonna say you’re right because we boarded behavior gets repeated. It’s just that Chuck Yeager who wrote the sound barrier said at the moment of truth, there are either reasons or results. And so often the knee jerk response when someone complains once again, is to explain, you know, that meeting was supposed to start at nine o’clock it didn’t start until 930. Oh, I know, but the PowerPoint would work and after people were there, once again, lalalalala we think we’re making it better and we’re making it worse. When we say you’re right, it was supposed to start at nine and from now on. Start, no matter what. People appreciate the accountability. So now let’s come back to a culture because you were talking about it. Let’s ask ourselves as business leaders, who is someone who persistently breaks the rules let’s because it’s a common one, let’s go with they’re coming in late and ask ourselves this question. Was this expectation outlined at the outset? Because you know what, a lot of times when people are hired in employee orientations, we ever lay down the law, we ever say, Oh, by the way, coming in on time, is part of your job. Responsibility. And if we say you started now, we don’t mean 905. We don’t mean all the property, getting a cup of coffee, we mean at your desk, ready to take calls or something. And then the second question is, even if it’s been discussed, has it been enforced consistently. Because guess what, sometimes people come in late, nothing happens. They think, well, let’s not be too bad. Nothing’s happening to them. Then people start feeling entitled. And if we start trying to hold them accountable for it, they say wind making such a big deal out of this charmy comes in late and never say anything to him. If that’s the case, is some policy at work culture has not been outlined or enforced. And Christoph guess what we do?

Christoph Trappe 14:33
I keep doing it. How we

Sam Horn 14:35
pull may culpa, mea culpa is Latin for my fault. We say we should have outlined in the beginning that this is a prerequisite of your employment with us. And and it was our responsibility to enforce it consistently. And then we say things are going to be different from now on. And then we have a start date starting as of such as that today. And Christoph, we actually, Christian, we don’t say today because they may have legitimate carpool problems or daycare drop off profits or something. So we say starting as of this day, this is the expectation and now do you know what we do not say? Do you understand? Because you go yeah, that is not an agreement. We say what is your understanding of our agreement, and they must say it, and if this is egregious behavior, and they must read it and find it. So we actually have a contract and one more thing that we do to all of that is we schedule a follow up, we say so we’re going to get back together on such and such a game review this to make sure that you’re doing it. Know that we’re not just saying this kind of go away, like because before we visit,

Speaker 1 15:49
you know, and I know we’re just kind of picking on example of being late or on time or whatever, which is interesting, because like my time on time starts when I roll out of bed, and I’ll just start working right and then you know, I just do what I got to do. And when I’m done, I’m done whenever that might be, and whatnot, but

Christoph Trappe 16:07
there’s also a line of stuff I think I don’t know, where’s that line of stuff that is should just be expected? By default. I mean, it’s like and I know we’re just picking on a very simple example. But people being on time for meeting that’s like a basic expectation. I mean, shouldn’t it be

Sam Horn 16:27
I’m so glad you brought this up. Because how many zoom calls have you made? Where you were there when instead of just going to start at one and then the whole step? Well, we you know, we’re missing some people. So we’re going to wait a few minutes now. What is that about? They are honoring the people who are analyzing the people who are on time. So I think as leaders we need to ask ourselves what example am I setting because our our Schweitzer says that influencing others example is not the main thing. It’s the only thing and Richard Branson says time is a new money and I believe that time is a new trust. So I know we’re spending a lot of time about the word time it’s just that leaders tell me this is one of their pet peeves, you know people not turning things in on time. They will not responding in time. People not showing up on time, etc. So I believe it is a policy that we state and we say, we want our customers to trust us. We want you to trust us. So if we say we’re going to be there at a certain time, we trust that we’re going to be there. If you say it’s going to take a half an hour, it’s gonna take a half an hour. And if for some reason it isn’t. We get in touch with people before it happens and say I want to give you a heads up. We said that we would ship this to you and you would have it by Friday. There’s a supply chain kind of issue. They just let us know it’s gonna be Monday. We just want to let you know so that you can make plans. That’s good business because due to anxiety can be defined into words, not knowing and we don’t know people are going to do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it. We don’t trust them. We’re in a constant state of anxiety. And I think as business leaders, it is something we model and something we teach and hold people accountable for. So we’re building a culture of trust.

Christoph Trappe 18:29
Can we have to have those soft skills before I asked you that the next question that we only have a couple minutes left but currently Sam’s book 8% off on Amazon, I’m just looking at the Amazon app here. So if you are scanning that code, we do have some clicks over on Amazon. Check it out. $18.35 That’s 8% off according to their math. So click on over, grab your copy. Now I assume that’s the print version. Yeah, but I’m not sure I’m not I didn’t click over to it. Now when you say soft skills, talk about that really quickly, maybe like in a minute. What is What are the exact soft skills that people have to learn?

Sam Horn 19:07
Soft Skills sometimes people say oh soft skills you know, it’s not important. No, no. Jeff Weiner from LinkedIn is the number one skill gap for communication skills, how to get along with people. So let’s be very pragmatic in my 40 seconds left on this answer. on a on a piece of paper, put a vertical line down the center on the left are words to lose, but I hear what you’re saying the word and I hear what you’re saying and with the word should, you know you shouldn’t talk with Bob. He was one one or two from now on, please talk with Bob. You know, you have to you have to you have to get in touch with so and so. You know, let them know that this has changed. There’s nothing I can do. Here’s something we can do. Soft Skills, specific words and create cooperation. Instead of words that actually create conflict. We can turn resentment into resistance and that change receptivity if we use soft skills.

Christoph Trappe 20:06
Very interesting and really appreciate you coming back on the show, Sam? A couple 100 episodes after your first appearance roughly I am. How in the last I don’t know. 30 seconds here. 25 seconds. Tell us how do people connect with you who should reach out to you and again really appreciate you coming on

Sam Horn 20:23
welcome. It’s really easy if you’re welcome to go to my website, Sam horn Sal HBr. In my three TEDx talks there my speaking services for organizations and associations, and my consulting skills if you preparing for a TEDx talk or for an important presentation, I will be happy to work with you on that too.

Speaker 3 20:48
Thanks for tuning in. Please rate and review the business storytelling show on your favorite podcast platform. And subscribe so you don’t miss the next

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