Are there conversations that no one wants to discuss or obvious truths that are going unaddressed?
Well, maybe there is an elephant in the room.
Do people seem uncomfortable and everyone knows the discomfort is there and no one wants to bring up. Instead, everyone tiptoes around it, united in the unlikely hope that s it will somehow go away by itself.
You can rest assured there is an elephant in the room. How you respond to the elephant is a huge test of leadership.
Here are some strategies for dealing with it effectively.
1. Verify that it's real. Perceptions aren't necessarily reality. First, make sure the elephant's actually there and not something you've imagined. Before you bring up a potentially unsettling topic to a larger group, do a quick reality check with one or two people you trust and find out if their perceptions mesh with your own. This important step protects everyone from the damage of misunderstanding. If you're in agreement that it needs to be dealt with, you'll have a core team who can work together and support each other in the effort.
2. Acknowledge its presence. Assuming the elephant does exist, give it a name. You have to identify the nature of the problem before you can acknowledge it and deal with it. Don't allow for foot-dragging or delays; remember that elephants grow quickly.
3. Consider the timing. Especially if you're addressing an issue that's been simmering for a while, think about the best moment to tackle the situation. Shoot for a time when those involved are likely to be less emotional and less stressed, when distraction will be at a minimum and no one outside the situation is likely to be around. Good timing will increase the odds that those involved will be cooperative and amenable to solutions.
4. Make a plan. Rehearse what you'll say to open the conversation, and think about possible directions it's likely to go. If your core group will be with you, work together on ways you can reinforce each other. Ask yourself what outcome you'd like to see. Be brave, be creative and be organized about your goals and objectives so you can keep the dialogue open and communication clear and concise.
5. Get to the heart of the matter. Be direct, honest and detailed. It is essential to be straightforward, even if the facts are unpleasant. Tiptoeing around even small aspects of the issue will only perpetuate the tension. Being direct builds respect and trust. By naming what everyone is avoiding, you will transform the elephant into an obstacle that people can tackle together.
6. Be mindful of emotions. Some people may be sensitive or hurt in the course of the discussion; some are likely to be expressive, while others may become quiet and withdrawn. Make sure to be mindful of emotions by acknowledging and appreciating what people are feeling.
7. Make room for communication. Keep things open for discussion. Encourage people to speak, allow them to communicate and make room for feedback. The elephant has probably caused some degree of unrest, so give people voice to express their thoughts. Maintain an atmosphere where they feel comfortable being open with each other and sharing their perspectives.
The most import principle is to address the issue as early as possible--ideally, before it even becomes an elephant. The sooner it's resolved, the sooner you can focus on other priorities. If there's an elephant anywhere in your relationships, business or leadership, don't delay--take care of it before it becomes a full-fledged circus.