Yikes! How Do We Tame the Elephant in the Room?

You, too, can tame the elephant in the room

You know that feeling you get in your gut when a difficult subject needs to be addressed and you suddenly become the world’s master of procrastination. Is there an elephant in the room? What do you do if:

  • The customer service center was unable to handle the volume of inbound leads generated by your Facebook campaign
  • You hit “reply all” on a conversation which included sensitive subject matter intended only for “reply to sender”
  • An entire electronic file appears to be missing and the intern is still working on updating the documents
  • Cash is missing or you realize that someone chipped the heirloom figurine and neglected to tell you
  • Your toddler, who is in the middle of toilet training, decides to show off their new skills in the toilet remodeling department of Home Depot (Just saw this LOL scene on TV)

No matter how much training you have in mediation or facilitation, these sorts of situations are rarely viewed as light-conversation. Unaddressed, these issues foster confusion and make everyone distracted, preoccupied and sometimes fearful. All of these emotions waste valuable time and hamper productivity.stresses business

Wikipedia describes the elephant in the room phrase as “an obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed….. an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss”…..

Recognizing the elephant is an important first step, however the real finesse comes in acknowledging  the elephant in a manner that allows everyone to feel comfortable enough to participate in the discussion and then to move past it. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that we can tame the proverbial elephant in the room”

  1. Open up the discussion by expressing the issue and inviting input from others. To do this effectively necessitates that you share your views with little or no emotion. Why? Because emotions are contagious and at this point, you are looking to ask others to share.
  2. Asking others to share their viewpoint displays consideration for their perspective. Stop and listen – really listen to what they say. Acknowledge their input and demonstrate a sincere interest in their comments. Creating an environment where someone feels like they can share allows you to discuss a potentially “forbidden” subject and sets the tone for continued dialogue. As the dialogue continues, you collect more information that can be used for a reality check.
  3. Do a reality-check: Is this really an elephant or can we resolve this with less drama? Your attitude on this may set the tone for others and alleviate stress or awkwardness. Honesty expressed in a calm and thoughtful manner can help to disarm the elephant.
  4. Be honest, direct and convey confidence. A difficult issue becomes an elephant in the room when it is ignored, despite everyone being aware of it. By naming what others may be avoiding, you will transform the elephant into an obstacle—obstacles are far less overwhelming to the psyche to handle and move off of.
  5. Move forward: Thank everyone for their inputs. Summarize the next steps. Ask others to concur with your summary. Where possible, ask others to take on a responsibility that increases the likelihood of maintaining harmony

Deep breath. You can tame the elephant in the room and move forward.

A version of this posting was made on the MENG blog in Nov 2013.

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