Talking on Eggshells – at Work

Sam Horn is a close personal friend and an absolutely amazing storyteller and writer. I am honored to have her share an excerpt from her new book, “Talking on Eggshells: Soft Skills for Hard Conversations” in today’s blog.
I recommend her book without hesitation. You will love her work. I definitely do. 

“Words set up ripple effects – for better or for worse.” – Sam Horn 

Would you like to know how to handle challenging situations in the moment – instead of thinking of the perfect response on the way home?
You can. 

I’ve created a communication approach called Tongue Fu!® that teaches what TO say – and NOT say – in the character-building situations we face every day. 

This can be particularly helpful if you run a business and deal with customers, employees, vendors, city officials, government agencies, etc. 

ONE Word

Here’s an example of how changing ONE word can help prevent things from going wrong and help them go right. 


I walked into a medical center several years after I had done some training for them. The receptionist saw me walk in, beckoned me over and pointed to the WORDS TO LOSE – WORDS TO USE reminder card taped to her desk. 

She said, “I never understood why people were so rude to me when I was so nice to them. Then I took your course and realized I used what you call ‘fighting phrases’ all the time. 

Like the word PROBLEM. I used that word without even thinking about it. Then you pointed out it gives people the impression something’s wrong even when there’s not.” 

How about you? When:
* employees ask if they can talk to you, do you say, “Sure, what’s the problem?”
* wrapping up meetings, do you say, “Any other problems we need to discuss?”
* a committee member asks for a greenlight, do you say, “I don’t have a problem with that.
* pointing out why an idea won’t work, do you say “The problem with that is …”
* a customer complains, do you say “I understand you have a problem…
* someone thanks you for something, do you say “No problem.” 

Do you know the word problem is defined as “a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be overcome.” 

It’s important to understand that as business owners, district managers, and chapter leaders, we set the tone for our organization. We are the lead domino of our BNI culture. 

If we habitually use words that make people feel unwelcome and imply there’s something wrong with them, they will feel unheard, unseen, disrespected and under-valued.
No one likes to feel like they’re a problem. 

Words Matter

Words matter, every one of them.
They either help or hurt, and the word problem causes… Problems.
Let’s agree to get rid of this “problematic” word. Next time:
* someone asks for a moment of your time, say: “Sure, what’s on your mind?”
* you end a meeting, ask, “Anything else to discuss before we wrap up?”
* people make a request, say: “Sure, you’re welcome to go ahead with that.”
* you think a plan won’t work, say “What other options can we explore?”
* someone complains, say, “I appreciate you bringing this to my attention.”
* someone thanks you, respond with “You’re welcome,” “Happy to,” or “Anytime.” 

A participant in a Zoom training raised his “hand” during the Q & A and said, “I wish I’d known this last night.”
“My son called from college. He said, ‘Dad, can I talk to you about something?’
Guess what I said? ‘Sure son, what’s the problem?’
As if the only reason he’d call home is because something bad happened. Is that the impression I want to give?! That the only time we talk is when something’s wrong?
Next time, I’m going to say, ‘Good to hear from you, son. What’s up?'” 

How about you? Has the word problem become a habit?
If so, do what I call CATCH and CORRECT. 

Catch yourself whenever you use words that give the “wrong” impression – and correct yourself by replacing them with words that focus on how to move this forward and make this right.

You’ll be glad you did – and so will everyone else. 

Sam Horn is the CEO of the Tongue Fu! Training Institute. Her 3 TEDx talks and 10 books have been featured in NY Times, Fast Company, Forbes, and presented to Intel, Oracle, Accenture.  You can find out more about Sam’s book TALKING ON EGGSHELLS and live/virtual training programs here  




Related Blog Post:

Sam Horn shares “Someday Is Not a Day in the Week”

Fellow Transformational Leadership Council member and friend…


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