Look! Big…Elephant…in…the…Room. You’re sure you don’t see it?

How many times have you been in a meeting where you can cut the tension with a knife? What is not being said is more important than what is? And the whole meeting goes by with everyone thinking, staring and in disbelief that no one is going to bring up the elephant in the room?!!

So the meeting ends, and everyone goes back to their desks. You can hear the chatter as folks walk back to their offices mumbling, “Can you believe no one said it?” Another colleague says, “Yeah, such a waste of time and no one has the guts to talk about the one thing that would fix it. Is the leadership team completely blind?”

Hopefully the leadership team isn’t blind, but may be turning the other way to avoid facing the real truth of a matter. Rather than point the finger at the leader who didn’t step up and face the elephant, why can’t you bring it to their attention?

Sounds crazy, I know. It’s hard to speak up. It may not be your project or accountability, but it is your responsibility to bring up issues and work to create solutions as part of a cohesive and high functioning team.

Fierce Conversations and how to have them

The ability to face truths is a Leadership Game Rule not meant to be broken. Here’s why.

By sitting in the room, staring at the elephant, you’re not helping any more than the other colleagues ignoring it. What do you gain by sitting quietly? You and probably everyone around are losing motivation, perhaps trust in the decision makers, wasting mental energy when the team still needs to face this issue.

A “fierce” conversation is one that confronts the truth and challenges thinking. It’s not a bad thing at all. It brings the focus of the group to the present moment and disrupts the hype, fear and distraction of letting the elephant grow even bigger.

To confront the truth, you do have to be cautious how you raise the issue.

  • Bring up the issue diplomatically without laying individual blame.
  • Be sensitive to others’ emotions and level of engagement around the issue. This could be someone’s project and emotions can run hotter if you personally offend anyone.
  • Don’t wait, and be proactive. Whether the elephant is a risk that inevitably will kerplat the project or an issue currently happening that is not being managed, it needs to be faced.
  • Set an example of speaking up and demonstrating your upward leadership to those in charge. This shows you’re sensitive to not wasting others’ time and just going through the motions of attending another meeting while the problem may be getting bigger.

After the elephant is out in the open, it shrinks and disrupts people into the present to work together to solve the problem. It’s kind of like the short story, “Eat the Frog” which teaches to start your day doing the one thing you dread the most. Maybe this one should be called “Shrink the Elephant” by whenever you see an elephant growing in the meeting room, you work to deflate him?

If you do, anything you encounter afterwards, eating a frog or deflating an elephant, will seem small in comparison.

Related Reading

For more articles within my Rules of Effective Leadership series, read my previous article Game Rules for Effective Leadership.

Need more help with this topic?

If you found value in this article, you might consider signing up for the Mindspaces Newsletter for more tips, secrets and strategies to support your personal development. You’ll receive a bi-monthly email. Get free instant access including content you may have missed. Jessica provides executive and career coaching at Managing Mindspaces.



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