How to Deal With An Elephant in the Room (2 Relatable Examples)
This is an article about elephants.
About big, floppy-eared, rough-skinned beasts.
But it's not about the animal.
No, it's about something just as big and, seemingly, unwieldy.
It's about the issues in your life that you feel can't be discussed.
And it's about how, once and for all, to start discussing them, in your family, in work, and in life in general.
These are the elephants in the room.
Not-So-Hypothetical (Elephant) Situations
I'm sure they've NEVER happened to you, but just in case they have...let's consider them here.
Hypothetical 1: The Family Dynamic
Let's start with families.
We all have them.
But no family is perfect. Families fight and make mistakes.
But sometimes the mistakes stay hidden, even though, truly and honestly, they are right there for all to see.
How can something so obvious not be discussed?
Why does this happen?
It happens because it's easier to dodge a tough issue in the short-term. When nerves are already fried, most people don't want to press the issue to risk frying them further.
Again, maybe this isn't the case in your family, but then again...all families bicker. It's only natural.
Perhaps there is one family member who gets more attention than others.
Or maybe there is a family member that is always let off the hook.
Or, maybe, just maybe, someone in the family is causing serious harm in their relationships with the family and with others--but it's still not addressed.
The family is the birthplace of relationship issues.
What you learn in the family you carry forward into the rest of your life.
So we need to address this.
What to Do About Family Elephants in the Room
Family issues, if allowed to fester, will spawn new and bigger issues.
One big elephant often leads to another.
So it starts with identification. It starts with getting increasing consensus about what's going on in the family unit.
And no, this does not mean everyone gang up on Jimmy and blame him for everything that has gone wrong.
It means real consensus.
Here are some ideas to bring out the elephant in the (family) room:
- Start small and see if you can pinpoint the problems yourself
- Reach out to others to see if your judgment is accurate
- Really try to hear all sides of the story. The goal here is not to pin blame and create a scapegoat
- Have a family meeting in neutral territory, not in a place that is already soaked with a long history of hurt feelings
- Assume that everyone is trying the best they can based on what they've learned and experienced in life
- Be open, honest and vulnerable when sharing your truth. This is the only way to inspire others to do the same
And if you think about this and re-read this list, you'll realize that these are not just family-specific tips.
These ideas can be applied to a lot of different relationships.
However, there is one other environment that needs special love and attention...
Hypothetical 2: The Workplace Woes
Work. Oh, work.
We all have to do it at some point in our lives.
And if you don't have to work because you a royal person who lives on a massive yacht, well, you're probably not reading this newsletter right now, so I don't care.
But for the rest of us, for you and I, we have to deal with drama in the workplace.
Every workplace I've ever been a part of has had drama. It's inescapable.
And I've learned this: when elephants in the room aren't discussed in the workplace, the elephants run roughshod over everything.
What To Do About Workplace Elephants in the Room
I separated family and work for a reason, even though work relationships often become oddly similar to family relationships.
For many people work is a second family.
And remember what I wrote about your early family life setting the tone for the later relationships in your life?
It happens, and you can probably think of work relationships right now that are similar to ones you experienced in your family of origin.
If you have the guts to tackle workplace elephants, here's what to think about:
- Each workplace has its own rules. Families do, too. But those rules aren't often written down and enforced. Workplaces are different, and so you must know the code of conduct in your workplace
- Once you're familiar with what's allowed and what should not be tolerated, you have some cover if you do decide to bring up an issue
- Workplaces also have unspoken rules, parts of the workplace culture that are simply accepted. I'm not talking about the posted core values and mission statement. I'm talking about the ways that people actually act!
- Be prepared for some serious pushback from the start. This is why most people don't address elephants--because it's hard work
- Back up your truth with specific examples. This is a good practice in all areas of life. Vague statements accusing others just fan the flames. You need the cooling breeze of concrete examples--times, dates, actions, everything
- Connect to higher aspirations. This can be hard to do. If your workplace has core values, refer back to the values. Talk about why the elephant in the room is crushing the core values that the organization, supposedly, holds so dear
Following these guidelines will give you a head start on your workplace peers.
It will give you wisdom that others aren't willing to work for yet.
My Elephant in the Room, Johnny
The unspoken issues that threaten our relationships are called elephants because they seem so scary.
They loom over us and terrify us with their towering size and the resounding noise of their fearsome, lumbering steps.
But elephants aren't actually that bad.
They're actually very smart, very caring creatures.
They need love, too.
And what you'll find if you speak truth to power more and more is that it's actually not that bad either.
You're not going to die, even though it feels like it at times.
What you're going to do is learn how to tame elephants.
And once you tame them, then you can befriend them.
Because the really strange thing about addressing elephants is that, once they are out in the open, you realize that they aren't that scary.
A huge beast loses its power once you see it for what it is.
It becomes a known thing.
And it, surprisingly, brings everyone together.
Because it becomes a curious animal to be cared for--not hated and shoved to the corner of the room.