Talking on Eggshells?
By Susie and Otto
Coaches and simply observers of all
kinds of relationships--if there's one
thing we've noticed, people do a lot of
"talking on eggshells."
We'll explain what
we mean with a story...
Samantha and her
sister Karen had their differences when
they were growing up but those
differences have never been so apparent
as when they had to deal with their
father's serious illness.
Each sister seemed
to say and do things that would cause
the other to feel defensive and to
either lash out or withdraw.
Each sister was
afraid to say what was really on her
mind because of what she feared would
happen to their relationship if she did.
They were both
stuck in not understanding one another
and reacting in ways that were not
healthy for their relationship.
When they talked,
it was as if they were "talking on
eggshells"--talking carefully around
hot-button issues and fearing that one
of them would say something to destroy
their relationship forever.
We're pretty sure
that you have either had this type of
communication challenge in a
relationship or you have seen it in
It's pretty painful
to be in the middle of this type of
situation and also painful for loved
ones to watch it happen.
When the two of us
first came together, Otto felt like he
was "talking on eggshells" with Susie's
During that time,
he didn't want to say or do the "wrong"
thing to make Susie's daughter mad
because he knew how Susie valued her
relationship with her daughter.
Otto found himself
"talking on eggshells" when he was with
Susie's daughter and was fearful that he
was going to lose something special if
he didn't say the "right" things to her.
and communication changed for the better
when they both chose to change their
attitudes toward one another.
Here are some ideas
that Otto and Susie's
daughter used to
change how they communicate and also a
few suggestions if you are in a similar
situation as in our example of Samantha
1. Look at your
situation realistically, without making
up stories about what the other person
is thinking or meaning when the two of
You truly don't know
what if anything is underneath what the
other person is saying or doing.
Discover what is accurate from the most
objective viewpoint that you are able to
emotionally aware of what's inside you.
What feelings come up when you are
triggered by what this person says?
Identify those feelings and just "sit"
Are they feelings that have
come up for you in a previous
relationship? Look beneath anger for
what is there for you. It could be
feelings of unworthiness or a number of
It could be the
feeling that you can never have what you want.
3. Become aware of
what you say when you are triggered in
this situation. Do you retaliate against
the "real" or imagined threat by lashing
out at the other person or withdrawing?
Do you get resentful and "punish" the
other person with snide comments or
4. Have the courage
to look at your situation in a
completely different, new way. Stand
back and look with new eyes on this
relationship--and begin opening your
heart to this other person.
5. Have the courage
(and it does take courage) to say what
is true for you--in a way that can be
heard. Be sure when you are speaking
that you are telling the other person
how you feel and not what they have done
The other person may not be aware
of how their words and actions affect
you. Tell the other person how you would
like communication to be between the two
6. Listen to how
the other person feels and what he/she
wants in this situation. Listen with an
open heart and from a place of wanting
to understand rather than defending.
7. Commit to
changing and healing this communication
challenge. Changing any habit takes time
and takes a moment-by-moment commitment
to do it differently.
What we've found is
that "talking on eggshells" is a habit
that can be changed.
If this describes a
challenge in your life, begin now to
create a happier, healthier relationship and
life experience by taking a few steps