Walking On Eggshells?

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What People Are Saying About


Humans. At. Work. Whether you are in an office environment or navigating conflict at home, Marli provides a clear and concise method to remedy conflict that easily transitions from one context to another. Full of helpful guidance, a worksheet, and checklists, Walking on Eggshells? is a forward-moving process. Trust the process. The process will always lead the way. Dr. Raeleen Manjak, DM/OL, ΔΔ, CPHR (She/Her), Director, Human Resources, City of Vernon, BC If you are looking for a practical guide to resolving conflict in its early stages that is easy to follow and will reap the rewards – this book is for you. I highly recommend Walking on Eggshells. Your relationships, whether business or personal, will benefit as they build in trust and confidence. Kimberly J. Jakeman, Q.C., Partner, Harper Grey LLP Walking on Eggshells? lays out Marli’s practical approach to resolving conflict. She provides easily understood tools, for work and at home, to empower you to take action and wish that you hadn’t avoided so many situations in the past. Her guidance on identifying and describing your own triggers recommends a level of self-reflection that is often missed when trying to address dysfunction – we seem so eager to lay blame. Marli truly has provided the guide for making difficult conversations less difficult! Nadine Dillabaugh, MA, CPHR, Human Resources and

Organizational Development Professional Marli offers insightful and practical advice for resolving conflict both in and outside of the workplace. I found this book helpful and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a strategy to effectively navigate challenging conversations. Owen Court, Chief Operating Officer, Scarlet Security Group The definition of conflict has an inherently negative connotation. Yet conflict, when dealt with effectively, can push us to new heights of achievement and accountability. Walking On Eggshells? offers a practical, constructive, and insightful approach to challenge ourselves on how we choose to show up through the inevitability of conflict – bravely, truthfully, and respectfully. A must-read for anyone with a desire to function at your very best, even in the tough times. Lou Varela, RPP, MCIP, Chief Administrative Officer, Town of Qualicum Beach Marli zooms up close into the realities we all skim around hoping miracles will happen when the opposite is true. She brings the characters in their human faces and behaviours up close in such vivid imagery in non-frictional ways. She intentionally crops the behaviours, the triggers, and our emotional reflex response to allow the readers to nail down the motives almost with permission to boldly smash through the eggshell. This is a must-read for all People Managers. Francis Garwe, Chief Executive Officer, Carea Community Health

Centre, Durham Region, Ontario

OTHER TITLES BY MARLI RUSEN The MIRROR Method How to Build Productive Teams by Ending Workplace Dysfunction

The MIRROR Method Workbook The Workplace Leader’s Guide to Ending Dysfunction

AVAILABLE ON amazon.ca OR VIA MARLI’S WEBSITE: www.themirrormethod.ca


Practical Guide to Resolving Stressful Conflict at Work and Home

© 2022, Marli Rusen All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author. This work has been carefully researched and verified for accuracy; however, due to the complexity of the subject matter and the continual changes occurring in the subject matter, the author cannot be held responsible for errors or omissions, or consequences of any actions resulting from information in this book. Examples discussed are intended as general guidelines only. Fictional names and characters bearing any resemblance to real persons or events are purely coincidental. ISBN (paperback): 978-1-989141-04-5 ISBN (e-book): 978-1-989141-05-2 First Printing Publishing Consultant: Brilliant Idea Books Editor: Catherine Leek of Green Onion Publishing Cover and interior design, electronic page composition: Kim Monteforte Book Design and Self-Publishing Services


Why Can’t We Just Get Along? There’s No Avoiding Con


The Earlier the Better All About the How It’s Not About Being Right How This Guide Works A Case Study Case Study: Here’s What Happened in Our Last Episode of

DollarBills Inc.

Taking It Home One Final Comment Chapter 1:

The Importance of Self-Reflection

Why We Avoid Conflict Conversations Pushing the Pause Button Is It Really About Them? Taking Time to Prepare Unpacking the Trigger What Triggered You? What Would You Have Preferred Instead? How Serious Is This? Are Other Factors at Play?

Case Study: Joe Pushes Pause to Re

Chapter 2:

ect on What Happened

The Most Common Causes of Dysfunction

When Conflict Turns Dysfunctional Figure 1: The Most Common Causes of Dysfunction Is the Conflict About Work or Communication/Conduct? The Work: Understanding Task-Based Conflict Humans at Work: Understanding Relational Conflict Disrespectful Communication and Conduct Disrespectful Communication Not Communicating Is Disrespectful Disrespectful Messaging Disrespectful Listening Disrespectful Conduct Disruptive Communication and Conduct Aggressive Andy Moody Morgan Perfectionist Pat Negative Nic Terry the Triangulator How to Use Personas in Conflict Resolution A Word of Caution Case Study: How Might Joe and Mike Be Contributing to the

DollarBills’ Dysfunction?

Chapter 3:

The Varying Degrees of Dysfunction

A Bad Day Does Not a Bully Make The Dysfunction Spectrum Figure 2: Scale of Dysfunctional Conduct Bad Day Middle of the Spectrum Bad Life Final Points to Ponder Case Study: Where Might Mike Fall on the Spectrum?

Chapter 4:

Set Up for a Successful Conversation

Reflect on the Trigger Reflect on What You Would Have Preferred Instead Where, When and Who Setting the Ground Rules Responding (Not Reacting) to Critical Feedback Case Study: Lessons Learned: How Joe Might Engage Mike in a

Mirror Conversation

Chapter 5:

The Mirror Conversation

The Role of the First Speaker Figure 3: The Foundation to Respect at Work and Home The Role of the First Listener Switching Roles: When the Listener Becomes the Speaker Case Study: Joe Speaks, Mike Listens; And Then They Switch

Chapter 6:

The Stickier Parts of Mirror Conversations

Understanding Your Reaction to Critical Feedback

Figure 4: Scale of Offensive Behavior Different Views Do Not Signify Disrespect Compromise Does Not Have to Mean Agreement The Reasonable Person Standard The “Smoking” Example How Does This Apply to Mirror Conversations? Case Study: Joe, Mike and the Reasonable Person

Other Responses to Consider 1. I Didn’t Do It 2. I Did It – But Didn’t Mean To 3. I Did It, But Here’s Why Figure 5: The Why Does Not Justify the How When “Why” May Be Relevant When “Why” May Be Deflection 4. I Did It Because I Can 5. I Did It, But I Don’t Think I Was Wrong (or Offensive or Unsafe or Acting Against the Rules) Case Study: Are Mike’s Excuses Excusable?

Chapter 7:

The Final Stage: Moving from Past to Future

Let the Brainstorming Begin When Things Go Sideways: Mirroring in the Moment Mirror or a Mat? Case Study: What If Things Between Joe and Mike Heat Up?

Seeking Help Outside the Room Respect Never Ends

Overcoming Roadblocks – The Need for Respectful Escalation Reflecting on the Conversation Remember: Respect Is a Two-Way Street Non-Negotiables for All Case Study: A Roadmap to Resolution for Mike and Joe

Building Trust, One Conversation at a Time

Appendix 1:

The Mirror Conversation: A Worksheet and Guide

Appendix 2:

Putting It All Together: The Mirror Conversation


Why Can’t We Just Get Along?

You check the schedule to see if you’re working with “them.” You accept less than optimal hours or work assignments just to get away from “them.” You lie awake at night worrying about what happened yesterday and fretting about what tomorrow might bring. In some situations, you get exhausted from “walking on eggshells” around them and leave the work you love because of the environment you don’t.

Who “they” are varies. For some, it’s a disrespectful boss who uses their authority to humiliate and intimidate those around them. For others, it’s an aggressive staff member, client or customer with whom they are forced to interact and manage. For many, it’s simply someone who, regardless of their position or role, constantly puts their interests and needs ahead of everyone else. Workplace dysfunction and conflict is on the rise – causing significant stress and anxiety in people’s lives and interfering with their ability to function effectively. In my current role as a labor mediator, arbitrator and workplace investigator, I have helped thousands of employees and leaders work through intense conflict and dysfunction. This work led to my first book, The MIRROR Method: How to Build Productive Teams by Ending Workplace Dysfunction, followed by an accompanying handbook, The MIRROR Method Workbook: The Workplace Leader’s Guide to Ending Dysfunction. Both resources outline the MIRROR Method, a six-step process I

developed to support workplace leaders tasked with resolving workplace disrespect and dysfunction on their teams.1 Although designed for leaders, I soon discovered that many frontline staff were reading The MIRROR Method and reaching out to me for help in resolving their workplace conflicts and unhealthy team dynamics. I saw a hunger – almost a desperation – among employees looking for practical ways to reduce the stress and fatigue associated with their unresolved conflict and dysfunction. I also observed – in my role as a workplace adjudicator – that many costly formal disputes could have been avoided had employees, supervisors and others been taught and supported to work through disagreements in an early, informal and direct manner.

Walking on Eggshells? A Practical Guide to Resolving Stressful Conflict At Work and Home (which I will refer to throughout as the “Guide”) has been developed in response to what I have seen and heard. This Guide is for anyone who experiences stress, distraction, insomnia or anxiety from unresolved conflicts, including employees at all levels of an organization as well as volunteers and members of boards/councils. It offers readers tips and tools to apply to resolve their conflicts well before they become leadership issues that require formal implementation of the MIRROR Method. It truly is a primer for anyone and everyone who wants practical advice in understanding and addressing their day-to-day disagreements and concerns. It’s impossible for everyone to get along all the time, but it is possible to sort out most differences in an early and constructive manner. Like The MIRROR Method, this Guide uses the concept of reflection to help resolve conflicts. The importance of reflection

cannot be stressed enough. You might know you are “walking on eggshells” but it is important – through self-reflection – to figure out exactly why. Once you have done so, it is critical to reflect your concerns to others in a clear, measured and respectful manner. With this in mind, this Guide will show you how to: ■

Push the pause button as soon as you realize you have become triggered by someone else’s comment, conduct or behavior; Reflect on what is specifically bothering you (and why) before relaying your concerns to others; Respectfully reflect back (“mirror”) to others how you have experienced and interpreted their behavior, in a way that is noninflammatory and allows them to hear you without becoming reactive or defensive; Listen reflectively so that others feel safe sharing their honest concerns and perspectives with you (particularly when they differ from yours!) and lessens the likelihood of them shutting down, reacting disrespectfully or defensively or immediately escalating to a formal process; Reflect on feedback you have heard about yourself and consider ways in which you may have contributed to disagreements or dysfunction, even inadvertently, unknowingly and unintentionally; After exchanging perspectives, mutually reflect on ways to resolve the conflict consensually and then decide what to do if you cannot; and Finally, reflect on why certain conflict conversations may have gone sideways and what you can do to get them back on track.

These conflict conversations (which I will refer to as “Mirror Conversations”) are about reflecting on the past to plan and build a better future. Without these, you risk getting stuck in the past, missing out on the present and losing your future. No conflict is worth it. No one should have to walk on eggshells. 1

For a detailed explanation of the MIRROR Method, see my website:


There’s No Avoiding Con


Let’s be clear. There is no way to avoid conflict at work or home. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Any time people with different personalities, opinions, backgrounds, generations, genders, cultures, roles and responsibilities are asked to function together in a communal environment in order to get things done, there are bound to be disagreements. When individuals are working hard and under pressure to meet tight deadlines with limited time and resources, mistakes happen, people get impatient and abrupt and relationships get messy. If navigated properly – that is, in an early and effective way – these conflicts can teach individuals and teams how to become more inclusive and comfortable with difference and diversity, more open to others’ opinions and ideas and more empathetic, supportive and resilient as a team and community. However, if ignored and left unresolved, such conflicts and dysfunction fester, furthering the divide between individuals while causing disruption and disharmony among the broader group. Simply put, sweeping concerns, conflicts and differences under the carpet will not cause them to disappear or help those involved better relate to each other. They won’t go away; they simply will become worse. The Earlier the Better

Most conflict can be successfully resolved if it is addressed in an

early, transparent and constructive manner. The emotional, psychological and organizational damage associated with workplace conflict is often not caused by the conflict itself but from the fact that it has been allowed to worsen and fester over time. It’s conflict avoidance that has made conflict far worse than it ever needed to be.

Many initial conflicts are rooted in misunderstandings, miscommunication or mistaken assumptions about others’ actions and intentions. Typically, someone has said or done something and we have told ourselves a “story” about why. The conflict worsens when we don’t talk to or ask them about their actions and fail to fact-check the stories in our head, that is, the way we have interpreted and the meaning that we have attached to their actions. Early, honest and respectful conversations frequently clear things up. When these discussions don’t happen, the conflicts (and our stories about them) accumulate, making us and those around us increasingly stressed, anxious and miserable. By the time prolonged and unresolved conflict is addressed, frequently months or years later – and usually in a formal setting of some sort – one person feels hurt from ongoing mistreatment while the other feels blindsided by being accused of such wrongdoing, often only hearing about it for the first time. All About the How

While resolving conflict through early conversations is important, it is not enough. We must learn how to do so in a respectful way, one that makes the situation better not worse. As part of this, we need to

consider each situation on its own to determine when and where to have the discussion, who should be there and how it should unfold.

The specifics of this undertaking will vary, depending on the history, nature and severity of the conflict and the roles and responsibilities of those involved. Working through conflict is not about relying on or using a onesize-fits-all script for every disagreement that arises. Instead, it is about considering your audience, understanding the context in which a particular issue has occurred and then customizing your conversations accordingly. While none of this is easy, all of it is so very necessary. How we talk through conflict is critical to its constructive resolution.

Walking on Eggshells? is your roadmap for how to do the “how.” Whether you feel angry, stressed or fearful about someone else’s actions or shocked and hurt by accusations that have been made against you, I will show you how to show up for and during the discussions that need to take place. It’s Not About Being Right

As a mediator, I commonly ask people, “Do you want to be happy or do you want to be right?” Many times you can’t be both. In my experience, most people are far better off – personally, professionally, financially and emotionally – in resolving conflict early instead of holding on to it and continuing the fight. “But it’s a matter of principle” results in many exhausted individuals and broken relationships.

This Guide shows you how to resolve conflict, address concerns and improve your relationships. It does not teach you how to win your case or write others off. If you are looking to prove that you are right and others are wrong, want to build a case against someone or wish to vindicate yourself of any and all wrongdoing, then this Guide is not for you. Such goals are achieved, if at all, through formal adjudication of your disputes. This Guide is for people who are tired of being tired because of the day-to-day conflict in their lives. They want to end the ongoing arguments, stress and tension by doing what they can to resolve their conflicts in an early, informed, practical and effective manner. Early conflict resolution – through reflective Mirror Conversations – is not about being right/wrong or blaming/shaming those with whom you disagree. It is about respectfully, openly and honestly exchanging perspectives regarding the past in order to find a constructive way to move forward. It’s about letting go of rigid views and assumptions around incidents and individuals and better understanding the “gray” that colors many human interactions. How This Guide Works

At the beginning of Walking on Eggshells?, I will walk you through the most common types of workplace dysfunction and conflict so that you become better at detecting and describing some of the dysfunctional dynamics you may have observed, experienced or perhaps participated in yourself. That is, I will help you identify – in a very general way – just what it is that is causing the most conflict

and stress in today’s workplaces.

I will then help you prepare for Mirror Conversations to help end ongoing disagreements and reduce your overall stress. The objective is not to necessarily become friends or enjoy working with each other. The goal is to learn how to interact and function more effectively regardless of your personal views or feelings. Using the principles and tips in this Guide, you will learn how to reflect on a rocky past to create a better future, one that allows everyone involved to work in a safe, stable and respectful environment. As stressful as it is to initiate these conversations, it is also challenging to be on the receiving end. Part of this anxiety undoubtedly comes from the fact that it is hard to hear that we have made a mistake, disappointed a client or offended a colleague by something we have said. While such criticism is difficult to receive and process, it is not the only or most common reason most conflict conversations go sideways. Often, this happens because of the way in which the feedback is delivered, where it is delivered and who happens to be there at the time. This Guide offers practical suggestions on how to set up Mirror Conversations for success by ensuring they happen in a respectful way. Another factor that makes criticism difficult to hear is the fear (often grounded in past experience) that we will be expected to agree with the other person or forced to accept their portrayal of us or past circumstances without being given an opportunity to disagree, question them or share our perspective. Rest assured that this is not allowed to happen in a proper Mirror Conversation.

In a Mirror Conversation, those who initiate discussions and share concerns must do so respectfully, and those on the receiving end must take the time to genuinely listen. Then they switch roles. The listener gets a full opportunity to speak, while the speaker genuinely listens. The same rules around respect apply to speakers and listeners. No exceptions, no excuses. I will take you through this process step by step so that, by the end of Walking on Eggshells?, you will know how to have a proper Mirror Conversation regardless of the specific conflict you may face or your apparent role in it. I also will cover the tougher parts of Mirror Conversations – those that cause the greatest fear and apprehension – including: ■

What happens when the other person refuses to have a conversation with you (stonewalling); What happens if you listen to a person’s concerns about your actions, but they refuse to listen to your response, ending the conversation as soon as they’re done talking (another form of stonewalling); What to do if the other person has influence or organizational power over you or others on your team (such as an intimidating coworker, a senior colleague or a workplace leader); What happens when the conversation itself goes sideways because of emotion, aggression, defensiveness or deflection (I will outline a practice called “Mirroring in the Moment” to help you decide whether you’re being a Mirror or a Mat); What to do if you are unable to find a solution or compromise

despite both of you trying your best (that is, you reach an impasse because you see things differently); ■

What happens if, despite making promises during the conversation, the concerning behavior continues afterwards; or Even worse, what happens if the conversation makes the situation worse because the other person subsequently engages in malicious gossip, shunning or retaliation.


Often, we learn best by seeing how concepts are applied to real-life circumstances. Case studies are a great way to do this. Workplace leaders who have taken my training or have used The MIRROR Method Workbook know of the case study that involves Joe and Mike, coworkers engaged in a conflict that led to a formal complaint, which required intervention by senior leadership.

Here it is, in part. CASE STUDY

Here’s What Happened in Our Last Episode of DollarBills Inc. Joe is a 25-year-old employee who recently began work for DollarBills Inc. Joe excelled at college but has not had much practical work experience. Joe has joined a team that has worked together for a number of years. Many of them are much older than Joe and seem to spend a lot of time with each other at and outside work. Laurie, his supervisor, seems to be part of this group. Joe has concerns about how the team operates. From what he

learned in college, it seems that they don’t follow acceptable safety practices. Each person seems to do their own thing. When Joe asked about this, Mike, one of the senior guys, said “Listen, Junior, you’re not in college anymore. This is the real world. Just relax, watch and learn.” Joe later

les a formal complaint.

In this Guide, we will focus on this latest interaction between Joe and Mike and show how a Mirror Conversation between them might have helped resolve their disagreement and cleared things up. At the end of each chapter, and at other applicable points, there will be a box, separate from the general content, which applies the concepts that have been discussed to the circumstances between Joe and Mike. TAKING IT HOME

While workplace conflict is my area of expertise, conflict knows no bounds nor does the stress that it causes. At work or home, conflicts need to be resolved in an early, direct and respectful manner. Unresolved conflict at work creates conflicts at home, and unresolved conflict at home often contributes to conflicts at work.

This Guide is about us as humans first – and employees second. Its practical suggestions and tools may be applied and adapted – with ease – to conflicts that arise at home with your friends, children, partner, coach, neighbor, strata and others. To assist you with this, I’ll provide a “Taking It Home” feature that offers suggestions for handling conflict and having Mirror Conversations at home, or at least outside of the workplace. The

goal is to help you better understand and apply the tools to a more personal setting. Below is an example showing how it will appear. TAKING IT HOME In this box, you will be given various examples of personal con icts that exist and how they may be resolved through Mirror Conversations. For instance, where I describe how to set up a workplace conversation for success (having regard to its timing and location), I will insert – in this box – similar advice for you to follow at home.

One Final Comment

The easiest way to know whether you will experience stress from ongoing dysfunction and conflict is by allowing it to continue. As challenging as Mirror Conversations may be, they are vital to addressing issues and restoring a sense of stability to your personal and professional life.

If you commit to doing the work in this Guide, you will make difficult discussions far less difficult and your inner and external worlds far more enjoyable places in which to reside.

Thank you for reading the introduction to my new guide, "Walking on Eggshells? A Practical Guide to Resolving Stressful Conflict At Work and Home". To keep reading the guide, click the link below and use the promo code WOE10DISC for a 10% discount. Click Here to Order your copy of Walking On Eggshells?