Stop Walking on Eggshells – 4 Tips for Dealing with Temperamental People

Walking on EggshellsHunting for hidden eggs is one of the great traditions of celebrating Easter. The fun and excitement of finding eggs can be tempered by the prospect of accidentally stepping on and breaking those delicate treasures. As a result, you end up cautiously tip-toeing through the hunt, afraid to move too fast or take any chances. After a while it takes the fun out of the whole experience.

Walking on eggshells around temperamental people at work takes all the fun out of your job. We’ve all probably had the experience of knowing or working with someone who blows up without any warning or at the slightest provocation. It can be intimidating to work with someone like this, and if you aren’t careful, it’s easy to get trapped in relating to this person in unhealthy ways. You can find yourself constantly bowing to this person’s wishes, avoiding the person, or actually believing you’re at fault for this person’s reactions.

Here are four suggestions to help you deal with this kind of situation:

1. Realize it’s not you – Your behavior isn’t the problem. The problem is the emotional instability of the other person. You are not responsible for how another person reacts, even if they blame you for their behavior (e.g., “You make me so mad!”). The truth is that each of us has to take responsibility for our own behavior, not that of other people.

2. Don’t cater to their demands – There is a reason the U.S. government has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists and it should also be your policy with the office tyrant. Negotiating or catering to the demands of someone does nothing to change their behavior over the long-term and only works against you. They get what they want by having you modify your behavior to suit their needs and you get nothing…except walking on eggshells.

3. Set and maintain boundaries – Healthy boundaries are the key to relating to difficult people at work. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect, but that doesn’t mean you should be a doormat for them. It’s completely appropriate for you to set boundaries with difficult people, and most importantly, consistently maintain those boundaries. It will likely mean some uncomfortable, yet necessary conversations with the offending party.

4. Seek help if needed – Handling this kind of situation directly with the other person will often solve the issue, but sometimes you may need to call in reinforcements. Don’t hesitate to ask your manager to help address the problem. Reaching out for help doesn’t make you weak and sometimes the offending party won’t change his/her ways until the boss addresses the problem.

21 Comments on “Stop Walking on Eggshells – 4 Tips for Dealing with Temperamental People

  1. Another excellent post by Randy Conley.

    We all know people like he writes about, either in work or personal relationships. Maybe our default response is meeting aggression with aggression, passive-aggressiveness or ignoring the other party. Those “ways” unfortunately don’t serve us best, don’t stop the behavior and don’t lead to progress.

    Realizing what Randy is teaching and what an organization like the High Conflict Institute (look them up) specializes in will help us effectively respond to “temperamental people” who make interactions so challenging.

    Once we understand their dominant personality type, lack of desire to control their emotions and impulses and their self-imposed limitations, we can practice a smarter strategy like Randy’s and the HCI’s to feel less anxiousness and stress and navigate difficult people.

    • Thanks for your comments Michael. These types of individuals can be extremely difficult to deal with, and in extreme cases, it’s certainly best to get professional guidance, training, or support. HCI seems to have a good approach in this regard.

      Take care,


  2. Randy,

    Excellent points about a very important situation.

    I’d add a little bit as well about the value of keeping our own cool in such situations as well. Perhaps it’s a corollary to your first point – it’s not about you – but there’s something to be said for not responding in kind, keeping in mind that the other person is out of line and we don’t have to be that way ourselves. Sometimes behaving civilly in response to bad behavior can actually have the effect of shaming or calming down the other party. And in any case, it does us no harm to reinforce the “it’s not about me” idea by not letting the other party drag us down to their level.

    • Wise advice Charlie. It serves no purpose to let yourself be dragged down to the level of the difficult person. Losing our cool and acting unprofessionally only further erodes the quality of the relationship.

      Thanks for adding your insights.


  3. Thanks Randy. Excellent insights. Dealing with tempermental people can really influence how we’re able to focus on contributing in a positive way. Tempermental people can significantly deflect focus and deplete our energy levels.

    Another use for these insights is to reflect inward. It’s a ongoing exercise to better understand our own individual behaviours and always aspire not to be ‘That Guy’. No one is perfect, we all have bad days but some are better than others when it comes to keeping behavioural hypocricies in check, ensuring we are predicatable and are comfortable to be around. When dealing with tempermental individuals who display these types of unpredictable, uncomfortable types of behaviour on a regular basis, it’s always good to check-in with ourselves to ensure we ‘practice what we preach’. 🙂

    As always, I find your posts an enabler for critical thinking!

    • Hi Murray, it’s great to hear from you.

      “Physician, heal thyself” comes to mind from your wise advice. It’s always helpful to look inward to see if we are practicing what we preach.

      Take care,


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  5. Reblogged this on Lead Me On and commented:
    This seems really basic — deal with temperamental people by recognizing it’s not you, setting healthy boundaries, letting go of co-dependence and getting help! But basic is often profoundly important, and rather than quitting your job or killing your neighbor, taking these steps changes your position and ability to lead and live in a healthy way. Nicely argued, useful advice! Thank you so much.

    • Thank you Carol. I agree with you that these types are commonsense. However, that doesn’t always make them common practice. I know from my own experience that when you’re in the weeds dealing with this kind of situation, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and not remember these basic principles.

      Take care,


  6. Excellent reflection Randy, i love the analogy you used. This kind of behavior is really challenging and demand a lot of energy, patient and character. In those cases we can be in a way, if possible, helpful. Its useful to know the person and kind of circumstances that accelerate that behavior in order to try to reduce stress factors for them. But still its not easy to deal with it.
    Very good article Randy.Thank you.

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  9. It is very difficult when you are a Team PA to a number of people and if you don’t please those people on a regular and constant basis, they can end up regarding you as not performing and this has all sorts of implications. Is a PA meant to be a “people pleaser” or can we sometimes stand up for ourselves?

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  11. After thinking about it over the years… if a person is walking on eggshells that is their problem… not the person they claim to be protecting themselves against. If you walk on eggshells, you falsely believe that you have done no wrong in the relationship and have not caused pain. Eggshells is a form of gaslighting.

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  13. Don’t walk on eggshells with other people: just ignore them.

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