How many times have you been in a conversation with others and wanted to bring up some obvious topic, but failed to do so? How many times have you sat in meetings, heard proposals, watched presentations, discussed important matters, or been embarrassed on behalf of someone else, all the while dying to say what is really on your mind, but never mustering the courage to say it? Why do we hold back and so often fail to acknowledge the elephant in the room?
In the case of meetings at work, perhaps you can’t bring yourself to openly disagree with someone higher up the org chart. Maybe you are the kind of person who avoids conflict at all cost, both in personal and professional settings. Maybe you fear the known or unknown consequences of being that person to bring up what you and probably many others wish someone would address.
If you don’t acknowledge obvious issues, it is very possible that the consequences of failing to address them will be worse than doing so. For example, if you have relationship issues with someone, but try to keep the peace instead of putting matters on the table, aren’t the potential emotional and physical consequences of holding it all inside worse than the temporary awkwardness and unpleasantness of the dreaded conversation? If you are being pitched a plan of action by a manager or someone higher up than you in an organization, and you know that the suggested path has major flaws, aren’t you complicit in failed and potentially harmful business decisions if you do not raise the concerns you have? If others are trying to get you to go down some path that could be dangerous or have serious negative consequences personally and/or professionally, don’t you have the responsibility to listen to your intuition and interject a cautionary word into the conversation? If someone’s dress, hygiene, personal habits or behavior are the subject of much discussion behind his/her back, isn’t the decent thing to do to have that needed and difficult private conversation in order to help the other person?
When it comes to acknowledging elephants in the room, few seem willing to be the one to step up and do so. Oh, how we need more people willing to take that step! Doing this doesn’t mean you have to do so in an unkind, harsh, abrasive, offensive way. Besides, you won’t likely succeed in promoting positive change with that approach, anyway. Instead, with a genuine heart of compassion, caring, and concern for what is wrong or what might fail, you have an incredible opportunity to change the path of a person, group, or entire company from darkness to light, from failure to success. Those on the hearing end are usually able to sense genuine concern; they will most likely be able to see the intentions of your heart and hear your message, even if it is one that is difficult for them to hear.
Nobody benefits from having a bunch of “yes” men around. While I’ll never be in a position of corporate power by virtue of the position held, if I ever was, I would hope to be fortunate enough to surround myself with men and women who always speak the truth, even when it is hard for them to deliver the message and perhaps harder for me to hear. If it is my thoughts, plans, attitude, behavior or anything else that is ever the elephant in the room, then I desperately need and want someone to tell me that. Do it gently and kindly and (if possible) privately, but by all means, do it! I’m a big boy. I can handle it.
I have no idea what life situations you are in where you feel you need to bring up something “obvious” that nobody else is saying, but I suspect you can think of one or two such situations at this time. I strongly encourage you, in the interest of doing what is most helpful and kind and beneficial in the long run, acknowledge with whomever else needs to hear that there is an elephant in the room. The benefit gained from the honest conversation will far outweigh the temporary fear of negative consequences that has held you back so far.