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Is There an Elephant in the Room?

By Ken and Lee Estridge

It's Crowded in Here

Elephants are everywhere, they come in all colors, shapes and sizes! They're found in the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room, and in your office. They particularly like conference rooms! When was the last time you or someone you know avoided having a difficult conversation about something really important because one of you didn't know how to have the conversation or were afraid of the possible outcome? Often fear of how someone will react leads us to say or do nothing. We hope the problem will just go away all by itself. Instead, the problem persists and grows larger. Instead of resolving conflict, we walk around thinking about what seems to be an unsolvable problem. This often causes stress and impairs the quality of our relationships. Sometimes the elephant is so big that it results in the breakdown of a relationship. At home, divorce might result, and at work, a breakdown of trust could impair team effectiveness.

Impossible to Overlook Yet Hard to See

Wikipedia describes "Elephant in the room" as an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss. It's based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to avoid dealing with the looming issue. We see elephants all the time in our coaching work. We see them when it comes to salary discussions or letting someone go, or with individuals who can't have truthful conversations with their spouse or children. Everyone knows there's a problem, but no one is comfortable talking about it.

Facing Your Elephants

Are there any Elephants in your home or office? What emotions come up for you when you think about dealing with them? When was the last time you were afraid of how the other person would react, so you said nothing? How do you think avoiding speaking your truth affects your relationship with that person and your personal health? Do you walk around with anger and resentment? Are you afraid of how someone will feel about you if you speak your truth? Are you afraid of losing the relationship?

Talk About Your Elephants

Avoiding Elephants is a lose-lose strategy because the problem doesn't get resolved. People who need to receive feedback don't get it and relationships break down. Sadly, nobody wins. In our role as coaches, we help people "see," understand, and deal with the Elephants in their lives.

- Lee and Ken