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WALKING ON EGGSHELLS defines, “walking on eggshells” as “an idiom that generally describes a situation in which people must tread lightly around a sensitive topic, or make every effort not to offend a volatile or hypersensitive person.

Literally walking on eggshells would require exceptional caution and self-control, similar to the feeling of avoiding conflict with an easily disturbed friend, relative or employer.”

How many of you have been around a volatile or hypersensitive person? It is not easy. Someone that is easily disturbed, negative, or easily offended is literally like trying to walk on eggs or thin ice and hope and pray that you do not break through…and it is nearly impossible.

Usually what happens is these people gradually lose their friends and even family members pull away as the tension and difficulty of being around them is too much to bear for very long.

These people wonder why people don’t call, why they aren’t invited over, why they didn’t get the promotion and it is simply because most human beings can only tip toe for so long.

One Can Choose to Not Be Offended

Bednar (2006) observed, “When we believe or say we have been offended, we usually mean we feel insulted, mistreated, snubbed, or disrespected. And certainly clumsy, embarrassing, unprincipled, and mean-spirited things do occur in our interactions with other people that would allow us to take offense.

However, it ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me.

Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.”

Human beings have been provided with agency, and therefore are voices with the power to act; not just be acted upon.

“To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon” (Bednar, 2006).

We have the ability to act and to choose how we will react to an offensive, inappropriate, or spiteful situation.

Each day, we are in a test center preparing for an inevitable reality. “In some way and at some time, someone will do or say something that could be considered offensive. Such an event will surely happen to each and every one of us—and it certainly will occur more than once.

Though people may not intend to injure or offend us, they nonetheless can be inconsiderate and tactless” (Bednar, 2006).

We cannot control the intentions or behavior of other people. However, we do determine how we will act. One of the greatest indicators of our character is revealed in how we respond to the weaknesses, the inexperience, and the potentially offensive actions of others.

A thing, an event, or an expression may be offensive, but we can choose not to be offended, (Bednar, 2006).

Taking Offense When No Offense Was Intended

The story that follows is a real-life example of how individuals sometimes perceive that they are being offended when they really are not:

Recently, Cody Goodnight walked into a Family Dollar store in east Fort Worth to buy a couple of sodas for his five-year-old son and himself. The clerk, Ricky Young, had some difficulty with the scanner and attempted to make small talk while handling the register. Cody did not respond.

Once the sodas rang up, Cody paid in cash. Ricky felt insulted for being ignored, so he threw the change at Cody, scattering it on the floor. The 31-year-old father bent down to pick it up and at that point, Ricky later told police, muttered a racial slur and threatened him. So Ricky picked up a crowbar from behind the register and clubbed the man behind the ear.

Cody left the store without a word, went home and reported the incident to his mother. She and her husband contacted the police. When officers arrived at the discount store, Ricky was still working. They checked the surveillance video, but it had mysteriously been erased. They took Ricky’s statement claiming racism and self-defense and then informed him of one significant fact.

Cody Goodnight is deaf. When Cody was a toddler, high fever robbed him of his ability to hear. He can make guttural noises, but tries to maintain silence because people have made fun of him. He communicates via sign language.

"When you're deaf, you don't make a point of starting conversations with people," Cody’s mother said. Yet at least one person took offense at this deaf man’s behavior, misconstruing it for disrespect,

(above story from a devotional from Life Today called "Taking Offense" by Randy Robison found at


At times we are offended -- even when what’s occurred was not meant to offend. I ran into a saying several years ago and have used it since. I have Googled it, but have not found the author.

The second part of the quote is:

“When someone does something that offends you (and suppose they did mean to offend you) if you are offended…you are a greater fool.”

So why are you a greater fool? Because when someone purposely says or does offensive things it is to inflict pain, manipulate, gain power, hold one hostage, and so forth.

When we take offense, we have given them power over us.

Clearly, we should stand up for our beliefs and defend the assaults on our character. Be careful, however, to never look for reasons to take offense.

“To the contrary, we must proactively forgive those who offend us, whether that offense is real or merely perceived.

Otherwise, we play the part of the angry, bitter, reactionary victim. In that state of mind, we cannot respond with patience and love. Instead, we respond in a manner that genuinely gives offense”



This is true in society, work, and family. Taking offense leads to conflict, strife and separation.

How To Respond To Offense

“If a person says or does something that we consider offensive, our first obligation is to refuse to take offense and then communicate privately, honestly, and directly with that individual.”

Such an approach permits misperceptions to be clarified and true intent to be understood, (Bednar, 2006).

In Plato’s famous account of the trial and death of Socrates, he notes: “...either I do not corrupt them, or I corrupt them unintentionally, so that on either view of the case you lie.

If my offense is unintentional, the law has no cognizance of unintentional offenses; you ought to have taken me privately, and warned and admonished me; for if I had been better advised, I should have left off doing what I only did unintentionally--no doubt I should; whereas you hated to converse with me or teach me, but you indicted me in this court, which is the place not of instruction, but of punishment, (Apology, 26a Apology).

In Conclusion

It is a failing to give offense. But it is also a wrongdoing to be “touchy,” to take offense when none is given.

Most importantly, be careful of being an offense-taker yourself. Try to become aware of your own biases, prejudices, or stereotypes of which you may be blind to.

Second, if an offense-taker questions you, gently and patiently explain why you believe and behave as you do. Speak to them privately as Plato noted.

Do not give into the pressure to conform to someone else’s personal dos and don’ts, especially if it is against your better judgment. Do not allow yourself to be manipulated, influenced, or controlled by taking offense.

Remember; A thing, an event, or an expression may be offensive, but we can choose not to be offended, (Bednar, 2006).  

David A. Bednar, And Nothing Shall Offend Them, October 2006 General Conference, Official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, © 2011 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Conflict and Cooperation

“A cooperative foundation for learning cannot be maintained unless conflicts are encouraged and managed constructively. Cooperation and conflict go hand in hand. The more the group members’ care about each other, the more likely they are to have conflicts with each other. How conflict is managed largely determines how successful cooperative efforts tend to be.” (Johnson, 1999, p.179)

Can you believe that conflict is encouraged? Usually, we do everything in our power to avoid conflict. We ignore situations, we pretend things don’t bother us, or the opposite happens. We insist that our way or opinion is the correct one and fight those that do not agree.

However, Johnson is correct that the best route is combining cooperation and conflict.

Active and cooperative thinking has been proven effective in fostering real learning, and accomplished trainers know that.

Active and cooperative thinking is an attitude, a value, it is about empowering people. It prepares them to be productive members of the organization by helping them learn to work cooperatively and to overcome incorrect or disrespectful judgments of others.

The Conflict Management Rule Sheet along with role playing and working together in cooperative groups helps personnel to be more reflective about their relationships with each other and the conflicts that come from such relationships.

The first precept of the Conflict Management Rule Sheet is to focus on the problem, not on personalities.

As people cannot choose with whom they will always work with and as members of groups rely on each other with respect to their conduct and interactions within other areas, it is of paramount importance that each member feels safe, wanted, and needed in the group or work setting.

Therefore, the highest respect should be afforded to each member, and the managers and employees need to tailor their style of leadership to find an assertive way to manage conflict. (Dobson, 1992)

The second precept of the conflict management worksheet: to build on areas of agreement, is easily settled; if the group has developed a powerful vision and has set goals to accomplish their objectives.

Then, when there are areas of conflict, it simply can be asked, “What are our objectives? This in itself will build on areas of consensus, as the member will realize that the conflict was opposing the long-term mission of the group. (Covey, 1997)

The third precept, attempt to achieve consensus, has its place among many systems, but is not always applicable to the work environment.

There are times a manager, leader, or parent will simply have to make a decision that those under him or her do not agree with.

It is the high cost of leadership, but is what distinguishes the good leaders from the bad. When the consensus is correct, it is used, but when it does not fulfill the objectives of the group, the leader must respond. (Dobson, 1992)

Avoid provoking further conflict is the fourth precept and is as the third precept, applicable to certain situations. Dana notes (2001, p.41) that “few people and fewer organizations have discovered the remarkable benefits of interest-based negotiation, which is a non-adversarial process.


Unfortunately, most people think that being non-adversarial is being weak. They imagine that it involves caving in, giving up, conceding to the opponent.

Far from it; participating in non-adversarial dialogue is in our own enlightened self-interest—it’s the best way to get our own needs met in ongoing interdependent relationships.”

The fifth precept of avoiding extreme behaviors is relevant to any situation, especially to the relationships among the cooperative groups or the relationship between a manager and an employee.

In any relationship where there is respect, honor, and trust, extreme statements (see my diversity training) diminish that trust. (Dobson, 1992)

Dana’s (2001) essential process of mediation includes this precept. No walk-a-ways, no power plays, no rights contests: dialogue that is directly between disputants and about the issue to be resolved. The dialogue is limited by the cardinal rules and must be sustained long enough to find a solution.

The sixth precept, consider compromise, is in line with the old saying that there is more than one way to skin a cat. There is usually more than one way to solve a problem, or resolve a dispute. The partners must work together to keep conflict at a manageable level so the system can progress toward its mission. (Covey, 1997)

Reflection: Many times the resolution can actually become a burden. This is one of the hardest concepts to realize and yet it is important that the organization understands that the first resolution applied and tried does not mean that the conflict will go away or that it is solved indefinitely.

Even when cooperative groups work hard, at times there will be doubts and debates, and often the solutions will have created more problems or new problems. Therefore, this process is cyclic and continues through the steps.

In training sessions, we discuss how a leader must be capable of original thought. Many times when there is conflict, a new or different resolution is the best answer.

I do exercises in brainstorming and creative thinking where the trainees have to come up with new or different ways to solve conflicts or problems.

In one training, I had the managers list in 10 minutes all the ways to resolve a situation. I then had them get into their cooperative groups and retry the same situation. They were amazed at how much better the group’s response was.

Active and cooperative thinking enforces the thought that all successful men rise to power through the aid of others.

Therefore, when conflicts arise, how they are handled presently will also affect the future. This concept is hard for many workers to see. They need to understand that one should not burn one’s bridges. In training, I constantly find those that are especially vengeful. I try to teach that justice and mercy must be balanced.


Covey, S. R. (1997). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families. New York: Golden Books.

Dana, D. (2001). Conflict Resolution. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Dobson, J. C. (1992). Dare to Discipline. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1999). Learning Together and Alone. (5 ed.) Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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