Elephants in the room

cropped-image5.jpegWhen there are elephants in the room…..just introduce them’

Randy Pausch


What exactly does is it mean to have an elephant in the room? That statement is made frequently and it often comes across as being negative.

Is it a distraction say in a meeting, when there are other burning priorities perhaps? Or something else like a sensitive subject and controversy ?  Could be a repeated and revisited boulder of a problem that is difficult to get past? Quite possible it is unspoken animosity that generates and brews disdain from anger and fear.  Whatever it is, it is consuming, blocks the view, steps on toes, and as many would say, is annoying.  All this from the negative side of having ‘an elephant in the room’.  Something you feel but you can’t see, like stifling humidity.

Shift gears for a moment and focus on the iconic elephant.  True pachyderm societies are in reality, full of emotional and caring mammals. The character of elephants can be described as grand, loyal, protective, iconic, majestic, and potentially aggressive. Elephants are typically identifiable in the wild by their personalities. So when in our evolution of business to the 21st century, did elephants develop such a bad wrap? This simply suggests a  change in the way we view a given situation; one that causes us to react to an uncomfortable climate in a room.

Metaphorically we have labeled the elephant as a menace to our potentially productive environments. 

What if we went out on the limb and looked at this from a different angle? Inviting ‘elephants’ to pull up a chair and bring those hidden agendas to our tables?  It’s fair game for dialogue, those often times heavy boulders of granite like issues.  Risk?   Yes. Consider this however; is the pain of continuous agitation  greater than the difficult conversations on the road to resolution where you get to build a bridge with an elephant and save your toes in the process? Another step on the road to happier work.  Heavy topic, pun intended.

I say we can learn great things from the elephants.



3 thoughts on “Elephants in the room

  1. Bill says:

    What’s the elephant in your room? They often make themselves felt, while continuing to remain silent and invisible. Most people in attendance know they are there, but no one wants to bring them up. Maybe, as Amy suggests, it’s time to have them take a seat and enter into the discussion. Who knows what might come out of inviting the elephants to sit down. You might find less criticism, greater openness, greater honesty, better communication. All by having the elephant take a seat. Try it and see what happens in your next “elephant in the room” meeting. Thanks Amy.


  2. Bill says:

    And sometimes the elephants just continue their stampede.

    Just today I had to speak up in the middle of a discussion when I don’t think a single person had a chance to finish what they were saying before someone interrupted. That was the elephant.

    It was a rude, arrogant, self-centered, passionate, egotistical elephant. And while everyone agreed that no one was truly listening. No one was willing to listen to others finish their thoughts. No one wanted to miss the opportunity to get their ideas in. And probably no one will change.

    It’s one thing to identify the elephant, and another to try to tame it. Taming it takes action, understanding, willingness to tackle it to completion, and discipline. Something many of us lack when it comes to addressing difficult problems.

    So understand that you will see elephants. You may even introduce them. But unless someone is willing to lead the effort to train them, the stampede will continue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • workplace-renovation says:

      Bill…it’s never easy to be caught in an elephant trap; it’s the ropes and complicated knots of poor, unskilled communication that are the most painful and miserable pieces of the equation and all while being trampled on. The players in the arena must learn to take responsibility for the elephants movements and actions; by that I mean that collectively all who find themselves restricted by those knots and ropes must come together and allow for venting and conflict with respect. There is skill learning needed. We all have the right to have an opinion, but it’s how we share that with others that really counts. Set the stage for better future interactions by also and of equal importance, having compassion for our fellow humans.

      Listening to understand is the key to building the best relationships. Thanks for taking the time to write. Learning how to better communicate will mitigate the ugly situations when there are elephants and traps.




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