The elephant in the room usually refers to the thing that’s not being said. Typically the thing that is not being said should be obvious, but it is not.
Things that don’t get said have a tendency to create a bit of stress! Consider what happens if what needs to get said doesn’t get said.
- It becomes avoided
- No one brings it up
- You think someone else should bring it up
- By not talking about it, it gets ignored
- Ignoring it makes it worse
- Ignoring it makes it so that others continue to do and say things that create problems or are hurtful
Generally the cost of bringing the elephant into the room is one in which people have to contend with something big.
If the big thing is in the room, this might generate anxiety or even anger. The participants in the room would have to tolerate a conversation in which stuff was out in the open, even if it meant dealing with things that are hard to talk about. However, if the elephant could be invited in to the room and managed, it might just be the case that elephants would eventually become easier to handle.
One quick tip for bringing the elephant into the room is to describe in an accurate, matter-of-fact way what you have observed. This helps lower defensiveness and doesn’t come across as an attack. Keep your tone of voice neutral and curious, and be ready to hear the other person out- even if what they are saying is hard to hear. Consider that the other party may find it just as difficult to talk about, and it may take more than one try to bring the elephant into a place where it can be seen for what it is.
Consider: What is it costing you to keep the elephant out of the room?