"He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to carry out justice, to love faithfulness, and to live obediently before your God." (Micah 6:8 NET)
We have all heard the expression “the elephant in the room.” In a physical sense, this would be very unlikely. However, there may be other “elephants” present in the offices and hallways of your company. And those are the unspoken thoughts of people thinking things but not discussing them. Conversations should be taking place, but they are not. This can lead to distress, gossip, uncomfortable feelings, disengagement, decreased workplace satisfaction, and potentially resignation.
An “elephant in the room” can be described as a “major problem or controversial issue that is obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion because it is more comfortable to do so.” Or it seems so. However, these issues do not usually go away, as we all know. When they are not discussed, there is usually an underlying tension or sense of unease in the workplace. Groups may form which are “for or against” the issue. Not everyone has to agree all the time on a decision, but everyone needs to be provided an opportunity to express their concern and to have a respectful conversation which includes good listening, good explanations, and good interaction.
Due to our clinic currently being short-staffed, I decided to invite another health care professional to our team, a member of a discipline we have not worked with before. Although this fits with our Mission Statement, it was clear that one staff member was not in favor. We had a discussion in a staff meeting, but I knew there would still be an uncomfortable feeling. I also knew I needed to address it. I spoke to the person with the opening statement that I knew they were not comfortable. We had an open discussion where we both provided our input. I believe that if I had waited too long, this would have “festered” to affect both the clinic atmosphere and the staff member’s comfort level. I work extremely hard to have a trusting and open environment, so my staff does not have to be unduly stressed. Although the decision is the same, we have discussed the concerns, the person understands why we decided to do this, it is not “carved in stone,” and we are trying this due to the circumstances we are in.
What are some of your reasons for avoiding discussing the elephant in the room? It could be fear, feeling uncomfortable, or not having a communication strategy to professionally and kindly address your concern.
Here are my eight steps to follow to confidently have a conversation about the "elephant" in your workplace:
Do pray: Sometimes, we may rush to fix something because we do not feel good about it. However, running to have a conversation before praying and asking for peace and wisdom can fuel the fire. Do pray and do not have a conversation if you are not in control of your feelings.
Don’t wait: Although you do not want to rush into a conversation unprepared, do address the issue as possible, so it does not permeate a negative attitude in the Workplace. Although a person may agree and have the right to verbalize this, they cannot say you did not care about their opinion.
Do be professional: Calmly ask them if they have time to speak with you. Don’t have a quick conversation in the hallway. Show respect by asking them when a suitable time to speak with them would be. Pray about it first.
Don’t be emotional: Don’t be personal about the issue. It is not a discussion of how you feel or an assumption of how they feel. Instead, it is a discussion about the facts of the situation. State that you realize they have concerns and stick to the facts to avoid an emotional exchange.
Do be open to innovative ideas: When you understand the underlying concern about a staff member’s issue, you can more closely target a solution that addresses the matter. Although the decision may be the same, there may be things that you can offer your staff that would make it more comfortable for them.
Do keep the dialogue open: If the situation is new, let them know that everyone is working through this together, and there will be ongoing discussions. Let them know their input is welcomed as everyone works through the best way of establishing a new policy or process.
Do be appreciative: Show appreciation for their concern and input by saying so. Share that this is new for you, and you are also working through the details. Let them know you do not feel you have all the perfect answers, but you do realize this is the correct option right now. Let them know you would appreciate ongoing constructive ideas which address the concern.
Do understand you have taken the correct first step: When you have explained your decision, invited input, listened to concerns, made modifications if needed, and clearly communicated with care and professionalism, you have done the right thing. Do not stress anymore about it. Instead, continue to analyze the new initiative, make modifications as needed, and have discussions as required.