Confronting the elephant in the room is a common phrase used when those in a group know “something” is wrong but never speak up when together. The issue may not be easy to resolve, but no one wants to be the “bad guy or girl” for bringing it up.
Unfortunately, elephants in the room only become larger the more they are ignored. People’s behavior in a group can turn strange because they want to avoid the elephant. Discussions amidst members in the group become less truthful and revealing. Decisions become suboptimal. Only to be realized as such later when it’s too late.
While the easy answer would be to find the courage to speak, it is not the best reason to do so. Becoming aggressive to simply show others that you are not afraid of elephants can be self defeating. It makes you appear selfish and manipulative that you want your way. You see, confronting elephants can never be about you. It should always be about others. It’s about the importance of the group and helping it keep its integrity.
For a group to be effective and have high impact, there can be no elephants around. Radical honesty, without it becoming personal, is where the value of confronting elephants lies. To have a high performing group, you need to nurture the safety of diverse opinions to be heard. To have group discussion guide an issue and not be side tracked by elephants.
We as humans, pose many challenges to each other because of our diversity, range of experiences, ability to discern short from long-term thinking, and the degree of emotion that is brought to our thoughts. Staying focused on an issue or task, making sure honesty prevails in discourse, and building the respect of each member for the group makes things much easier in the long run. Not to mention more effective.
Whenever you feel uneasy while participating in a group you need to look for the elephant and expose it to others. When side issues become primary outside of a group meeting, you need to expose the elephant to others. Dysfunction and frustration are symptoms that something is wrong. Most likely it’s an elephant that others may feel but are not able to describe.
Where to speak? Always within the group setting. Focusing on the group and not yourself. While forgiving those that may have contributed to an elephant’s appearance. Teaching others the safety that they too can enjoy when expressing their thoughts through your example.
Clearing the way for more meaningful discussion. Elephants can bring us great opportunity when confronted. If only we would try to expose them much sooner.