Can We Talk About the Elephant in Your Office?
September 29, 2016

Can We Talk About the Elephant in Your Office?

by Brian de Haaff

You are not imagining things. There is indeed an elephant in your office. Everyone tries to tip-toe around the beast — yet it is becoming increasingly difficult. You see, he started off small, but now he is enormous.

Okay, so you may not have an actual pachyderm holding court in your workplace. But you do have a big problem that everyone knows about — one that no one dares mention. 

It is the real issue holding your business back, whether sales is taking a nosedive, you have a glaringly obvious turnover problem, or an upstart competitor is stealing your customers.

So what is stopping you and everyone else from telling that elephant to take a hike?

Complacency is not the problem. Fear is.

The elephant will not leave quietly on its own accord. But fear keeps us from doing the hard thing — getting into those uncomfortable places, addressing the problem, and asking tough questions.

The best way to conquer fear is to name it and then face it. Why is it that you are ignoring the elephant in your office? You may be afraid to:

Mention bad news Are you dragging your feet because you do not want to be punished for your role in the debacle? Or perhaps you simply do not want to be the bearer of bad news. Either way, your silence is only keeping you awake at night and doing the company no favors.

Call out a colleague It takes gumption to speak up when someone is struggling to get the job done, or worse, acting in their own self-interest. But you worry that you will appear disloyal or hypocritical if you point the finger at some other gentle creature, or that your own imperfections will be under the microscope.

Acknowledge poor decisions You may not want to admit that you made a bad decision, especially if you lobbied hard for it. Your colleagues might think less of you or even ridicule you for the path you chose. You know that owning up to your mouse-sized error in judgment will require an elephant’s portion of vulnerability and humility.

Admit wasted effort No one wants to concede that the team’s hard work may have been all for nothing. After all, everyone wants to believe that their work matters. But illogical thinking only exacerbates the problem and cheats your team out of an opportunity to learn, then correct course, and move on.

Undertake a massive fix That elephant may represent a potentially costly, time-consuming mess, and you are afraid to wrap your head around how much work or how many dollars it will take to fix it. But pretending it does not exist will only cost you more each day that you delay.

A leader’s job is to address what others will not discuss, no matter how unpleasant the conversation. It takes courageous leadership to step in and address mammoth problems that have become a massive blockade.

So whatever that problem is, boldly face up to it, and then make a plan to solve it. And then you and everyone else can breathe a sigh of relief when that elephant finally stomps away.

Is there an elephant in your office?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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