It’s there. You feel it. You see it. It sees you.
You gaze carefully and discreetly around the room. The discomfort is apparent. People speak in hushed voices but refuse to acknowledge the enormous looming presence that has overtaken the room.
So, you take a deep breath. You tell yourself to remain quiet. If you ignore it maybe – just maybe – it will just go away.
But, it doesn’t. It never goes away.
It’s the elephant in the room.
Your Workplace Problems: The Elephant Everyone Knows About
Sometimes at work, there is a glaring truth that is often ignored or even purposefully avoided. It is that controversial situation or topic that everyone knows about, yet it remains unaddressed. The issue is dismissed perhaps out of fear for potential penalties or because there is a misguided notion that if it is ignored it will disappear on its own.
Overlooking work issues isn’t the answer. If you have an elephant in the room, you have two choices: Feed the elephant or free the elephant.
Feed the Elephant
If you feed the elephant, you give it nourishment and it continues to develop. Nourishment is the sustenance it needs to survive and thrive. As it grows, it takes up energy and time.
It is agonizing for your organization to live with an elephant. The elephant takes away the critical space and breathing room that your employees need to flourish and prosper. You also end up imprisoning them because you have a large obstacle that blocks their pathway to success.
No leader wants to appear weak and ineffective, but if you do not address elephant issues, that is how you will be seen.
Employees look for courageous leaders who will address divisive topics and who will take a stand. When topics fester, the organizational culture is drained of all that is positive, and employees feel demotivated and frustrated.
Free the Elephant
Great leaders free elephants.
If you want the elephant to leave, face it directly. Acknowledgement is a powerful force that helps you move beyond the restrictions imposed by living with a growing elephant. You’ll create a positive precedent and a communication foundation that allows for a platform of speaking openly about other possible or future elephants.
How do you free an elephant?
Carefully. It’s an elephant. It’s powerful.
Understand the Risks of Not Addressing the Issue – Understand what will be at stake if it is not addressed. Is it the business, your reputation, customer or employee relationships? Any of those factors creates a risk that many companies are unable to endure. The risk of not addressing it can sometimes be the greatest risk to an organization. Constantly sweeping issues under the rug creates a growing bump that trips you up as you try to move forward.
Know Exactly What the Elephant in the Room is About – What’s really going on? You can’t tackle a problem unless you understand the root cause. If you don’t, it will pop up again. Dig deep so that you can understand the core issue. Attacking the issue at the foundational level is the only true way to remove it.
Acknowledge the Presence – When you acknowledge the elephant and admit it is there, you gain control and the upper hand. As soon as you identify the root cause, you can implement a plan to free the elephant. Then and only then will it stop becoming problematic, intimidating and controlling. When issues are out in the open, people can willingly discuss it and it becomes easier to solve.
Be Clear About the Positive Result of Removing the Elephant – Sometimes elephants have been around so long that they have their own badge and employee ID number. They have become permanent fixtures and you have forgotten how toxic it has become. Help people remember what it was like before the elephant entered the room. Help them remember how clear the air was and how much room they had to function.
Don’t Play the Blame Game – Some elephants have a long lifespan. They can stick around for a while. When you’re in charge, you own it. Accusing others of producing the elephant won’t help. It’s there and it’s your elephant to deal with so take charge and remove it.
Elephants are meant to roam free and not be confined in tight spaces. The most import strategy is to be brave enough to address issues early. If not, you’re creating baby elephants and you’ll soon have an entire herd. The sooner you resolve an issue, you can move your attention to the priorities that matter. Work should not be like a three-ring circus.