Why you should address the Elephant in the room

We live in an era marked by rapid economic, technological and social change. Pressure to perform in this very competitive environment routinely takes its tolls on workers and professionals. Stress is a given. In addition to this stress, there can be an Elephant In The Room which when not dealt with only magnifies stress and can hamper the effectiveness of an organization. The Elephant In The Room is often the inability to communicate clearly with empathy and respect to a coworker, partner, associate, secretary, etc. Effective communication is essential for high-performing teams.

Is that an Elephant in the Room?

Raising an un-discussable issue in the team has to be the final challenge in the league of tough conversations. One of the most problematic undiscussable matters in a team is another person’s behavior, style or capability and more often than not it’s the leader’s behaviors or style that is often undiscussable. Like most other difficult conversations, the risk of NOT raising this issue can be detrimental to a team’s performance and in some cases a far-reaching consequences – as this next story illustrates.

Undiscussables – necessary for making decision

Undiscussable issues are often the topic of conversation throughout most water coolers. Rumor perpetuates team dysfunction, It also builds cultural artifacts in the organization; ‘this is how we do things here.’ In a period when there’s no margin for the error when it comes to deciding business critical judgments, having the relevant knowledge in hand is important- and that also includes information which you would not like.

When there’s an elephant in the room, you can’t pretend it isn’t there and just discuss the ants

Ellen Wittlinger

How to change an Undiscussable into the Discussable

If you are in charge of the team there are three main things you can do to get the elephants into the room:

1. Start creating an environment which promotes the disclosure – ask the team what would be needed in creating such required environment. Limits to disclosure usually include the reprisals fear; ‘if I raise it, it will be a career limiting move’ or powerlessness; ‘what’s the point of building this nothing will get done.’ You will have to break down all the barriers, and your team will require reassurance which you will take action.

2. Model transparency together with full openness – start to talk about your aspirations for the team and the concerns that you have about the whole welfare the team performance if there are certain issues which members cannot discuss. Acknowledge that each team has certain issues which are undiscussable, it’s ordinary and natural to have the expectation but also explain to them that highly efficient teams have the capacity of talking about the things which matter most.

3. Work consistently with the purposes and principles you espouse – acting unpredictably will only reduce the levels of trust in your team and bring more barriers to discuss the elephant. In case you say one thing then do not do the other, you will definitely lose credibility and trust of the team reducing the chances they’ll be open with you.
High performing teams operate in transparent and open environments where concerns about behavior, performance, and style can be raised – even the behavior of the leader.

Conversation on a first date is a fickle thing. If the two of you hit things off, it’s effortless, witty and delightful. If you have little in common with the other person, it can be forced, awkward and perhaps punctuated by uncomfortable silences.

When there’s an Elephant in the Room introduce Him

Randy Pausch

The Consequences of not discussing the underlying problems

Many smart professionals are too busy with tasks, deadlines, the job at hand to deal with the issue of fostering effective communication because as an uncomfortable issue it can be set aside to the priority of a report, meeting, surgery, court appearance, deadline, etc. But what is the cost of not trying to improve communication and relationships? Too often the avoidance of communication issues results in the very thing that no business wants. Low morale, high attrition, detrimental effects on clients, customers, vendors, and ultimately loss of business and revenue.

Here is how poor communication can wreak havoc and lead to a downward spiral. When workers receive information that is poorly communicated, the result can be confusion or misunderstandings which can often lead to mistakes on the job. Mistakes can then affect the perception of competency which then affects self-esteem, and can cause blame, projection, and conflict.

In an atmosphere of low morale, there can be a hesitancy to get clarification or ask questions needed due to the apprehension or a concern of how one will be perceived. Written communications, e-mails, etc. can also exacerbate discord or tension when personal relationships are not strong, and words can be perceived as judgmental or attacking. In this kind of environment, it is easier for personality differences to be highlighted and blamed as people may be quick to point the finger when things go wrong.

The above scenarios do exist, and again the costs of not dealing with them are high. The good news is that there are strategies and techniques that when put into place can turn things around. Here are Seven Strategies For Effective Communication that can make a difference in your firm or organization:

1. There should be A Very Clear Articulation of the Core Values of the organization to all employees, partners, members, etc. so that all know this vision. It has been said that without a vision, the people perish. Vague goals make people feel that they are working in a vacuum without a compass, and can foster a hunkered-down mentality that is more about survival than thriving. On the other side, there is nothing like clearly defined goals, vision, and values to inspire, motivate and unite people in common purpose.

2. A Commitment to Mutual Support and Respect for all members of an organization. That may start with an acknowledgment that what another person brings to the table and their value to the organization is important and a priority. Individuality is also respected. The commitment to respect, civility, support is shown in the way people are treated. It is important to see people as people and not impersonally. Simple acknowledgment in conversation, e-mail, etc. and taking the extra time to make that acknowledgment can go a long way in showing caring and regard for another. This makes people more vested in the places that they work.

3. Asking Questions is encouraged so there is barrier-less communication. Answering questions are not viewed as a time waster but serve as a way to clarify a task or job so that time is ultimately saved, and productivity heightened.

4. Don’t Make Assumptions that another person should think the way you do. Tune into them, Make the effort to get to know them, and then you will know what they need to perform at their best.

5. Don’t Make Assumptions that a person with a different title is a certain way, and very different from you because of their title. Stereotypes about others are dangerous and can cause separation and the reluctance to want to work closely with another.

6. Have a mechanism to deal with disagreements. Too often disagreements can lead to apathy, hostility or a breakdown in civility in a working environment. It is important to address these disagreements directly before they fester and cause damage such as in lowering morale or at worst leading to lawsuits down the road. Disagreements are part of life and work, and the worst thing to do is ignore them when feelings are hurt, or negative perceptions are formed. It is important to initiate conversations to clarify these issues and do it in a planned and calm way where there can be a focus on the issues. One of the main ways to overcome a potentially negative situation with another is for each person to express perspectives and concerns where they know they will be listened to, respected and not interrupted. Often people in a disagreement do not listen to one another but instead talk over each other trying to make their points. A great technique in listening is to repeat or mirror back to the other person what they just said and to ask questions to get further clarity. That kind of validation will go a long way in establishing good will which can motivate people to look at the bigger picture of how to work together. Also if an expectation was not met, or there was a disappointment or misunderstanding, it can be talked about, even diffused or a new solution can arise when an atmosphere of validation and respect is present.

7. Invest in Leadership Skills Training and Conflict Resolution when there is a loss of how to address communication issues proactively within the organization. A trained coach, facilitator, the mediator can make a huge difference by offering an outside perspective that addresses problems directly and empowers members of an organization with the clarity and the skills to re-establish common ground to work effectively with one another.

It may come as no surprise that firms and organizations where communication is strong are more resilient and adapt better to changing and demanding times.

How to address the Elephant in the room

There you are, just sitting in the conference room minding your own business and waiting for the meeting to start. Then in it, comes-a grey 10,000-pound trunk-swinging monstrosity. To your dismay, it plants itself firmly in the centre of the room. The meeting begins as expected, but everyone’s attention is drawn to the unwelcome centrepiece

Make Sure IT IS an Elephant. Consider carefully before you speak out its importance if you wish to handle an elephant. Before you bring the problem to the group, you will need to be sure it is an elephant for everybody. Mentioning an unsettling issue that had not been on everyone’s heads may create a fresh elephant. Try seeing another person in the group to check that others also start to see the elephant. This critical test of your cultural consciousness skills will make certain you are all on a single page that will enable you to commence planning a proper approach to this issue. If you as well as your ally acknowledge the elephant in the room is accessible, consider the effects of clearing the air, like the reactions it’s likely you’ll see from various users of the group. Brainstorming with an ally can not only put together you for speaking with the bigger group but will also increase your confidence in responding to this necessary concern.

Make an idea and Stay with it.

Bringing up a distressing or controversial matter often produces an overflow of thoughts in yourself and the ones around you. Creating a concrete plan ready beforehand will permit you to keep up the clear mind you need to control the discussion. A highly effective plan includes two basic elements: what you will say so when you will say it. First, determine what must be said, jotting down these important things. Organise these tips conceptually to keep carefully the conversation planned and on the subject. Next, carefully measure the ideal timing for every single of your details. Good timing will make sure your audience is as receptive as you possibly can to talking about the elephant.

When enough time finally arrives to have the discussion, be sure you adhere to your plan, so an emotional hijacking won’t lead you astray from naming, talking about, and continue from the elephant in the area.

Be Direct, Honest, and Thorough.

An awkward situation becomes the elephant in the room when it’s disregarded, despite everyone being conscious of it. By naming what many people are steering clear, you will convert the elephant into an obstacle that the group can handle. Most probably with the group and present the facts to the best of your knowledge. Immediately spell out the facts in what the elephant is, in its entirety. It is vital to be uncomplicated about every one you give information, even if it’s upsetting. Tiptoeing around even small areas of the issue is only going to perpetuate the strain encompassing the elephant. Being immediate allows you to control others’ perceptions preventing the elephant from becoming distorted by gossips. Being direct, genuine, and complete shows value for your audience and develops their rely upon you as an innovator.

START the Discussion.

Once you’ve had the possibility to clear the air, it’s time to open the ground to others. As if you, your audience has many concerns about the elephant in the room and must point out them. Use your public awareness to look for the best-suited timing to provide others with an opportunity to respond. Before doing this, make certain that you present everything you had planned. Presenting an intensive information of the elephant will ensure that the treatment continues to go forward somewhat than learning to be a rehashing of wrong information. Requesting the group to talk about their insight and concerns about the issue displays factor for their point of view, as well as creates unity in handling the situation. This open community forum strategy allows the group to go over a once “forbidden” subject matter and models the firmness for carrying on to discuss the issue to avoid it from reverting to ‘elephant’ position.


Memories of a meeting are molded as soon as when the sentiment peaks and by how things come close regardless of how many bumps strike on the way. Before the assembly concludes, ensure you have discussed all areas of the elephant which everyone understands the problem accessible. Make an idea together for the way such situation will be tackled in the years ahead. When people leave sense comfortable about the dialogue because lingering questions were dealt with and other steps are obvious, the elephant is unlikely to keep as entertainment. Even if the conversation of the elephant in the area was a rocky one, ensuring closure is a sure-fire way to provide everyone self-confidence that brighter times lie ahead.

Clearing the uncomfortable but necessary topic releases tension within the work environment. By clarifying each individuals opinions & thoughts will bring a team a step closer to achieving internal cohesion. The ‘elephant in the room’ is only one of the many communication exercises that can be used within a team strengthen bonds, reduce stress and raise engagement levels. In the end, these skills & exercises are the drivers of cultivating a trust-driven company culture.

Supporting a transparent culture through creating an open space for every individual’s voice to be heard and ideas discussed and expanded, opportunities for innovation rise whilst the limitations of bureaucracy and fear cease to exist.

When trust is installed in an organization, individuals support one another towards the growth of the entire organization as each has a clear and transparent understanding of the direction and vision of the company.

“Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued”

Brene Brown

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