Something big and hairy is standing in front of us. It is a roadblock to progress, one that is blatantly obvious and highly emotional.
We shoot knowing glances at colleagues to see if anyone will muster up the courage to take this roadblock on. But, no one moves.
This roadblock is… the elephant in the room.
Rather than tackling the oafish beast head on, we try to wiggle our way around it. We waste time, we prolong decisions, or, worse yet, we knowingly make bad decisions – all in fear that the big dumb thing will stomp our guts out. Yet, we fail to consider that there is something even more costly at stake. We unknowingly start to build a culture of (you guessed it) wasting time, prolonging decisions, and knowingly making bad decisions. It’s a culture of submission and stagnation, rather than one of empowerment and growth.
So unless you happen to work at P.T. Barnum, or perhaps a zoo, I think you would agree that smelly, oversized animals have no place in our organizations. So why are we so afraid?
Our fear is warranted because we typically don’t handle these conversations well. Why? Because we fail to realize that the elephant (the thing we are afraid of) is not a person or an issue. It is the anticipation of an overwhelming emotional reaction.
Here are 3 things to consider in preparation for your next elephant encounter:
- Break down the elephant. The elephant isn’t that big. It consists of 2 smaller parts: your point and your audience’s emotional reaction to your point.
- Manage the emotional reaction. Consider how you could change the nature of articulating your point so that problem solving and learning occur, rather than defensive positioning and argument winning.
- Practice! Don’t wing it. Know what you are going to say and how you are going to say it beforehand. Practice with someone who can help you temper your own emotion before you deliver your message.
Obviously these conversations are not easy, but they are part of a critical set of soft skills that build healthy organizations. Don’t neglect developing these skills in yourself and your people.
Need more information? A good place to start is the book Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High from the folks at Crucial Skills.