“The elephant in the room.” That’s the expression we use when there is something that everyone knows but nobody is talking about. Which is a bad thing.
Pachyderms of all varieties, of course, are fascinating creatures. But the saying itself is a good reminder that it’s not as if this enormous animal is hiding behind a curtain. Everybody can see it. Everybody is thinking about it. Everybody knows that eventually, we’re going to have to do something about it. And of course, it’s not being discussed.
Giant, rumbling allegorical wildlife with the capacity to trample us don’t start out that way. These unstated (but not unseen) dangers begin as minor annoyances, distant predictions, or questionable secrets. In any case, somebody sees what’s coming. And soon, more people recognize it. Eventually, there it is: 7 tons of legs and tusks and a forthcoming stampede.
It’s not easy to gather your courage and be the one to speak up. And while you can try an anonymous note, there’s no guarantee that will work (or that it won’t backfire.) So here are some reasons why you need to be the one to state the obvious thing that nobody is stating.
You’ve Already Wasted a Ton of Energy
How many times have you laid awake at night wondering if this was going to fall apart? How often have you questioned exactly who knows already, and who is thinking about it? How many times have you had to cover it up, work around it, or just avoid the discussion?
You are waist-deep in this problem already. Get out now.
It’s Only Going to Get Worse
Yes, get out now, because it’s not going to get any better. It’s only going to grow worse and worse, until it explodes. And if it somehow solves itself, then perhaps something worse will happen: everybody will be accustomed to keeping secrets. Hopefully, your insurance covers ulcers.
You’re About to Be The Hero to Some
If you’re the one who brings it up, somebody else is going to thank you later. Unless of course, somebody else resents you later and lets you know, in which case you’ve learned who is conflict-avoidant. If nothing else, people will likely appreciate you. And that normalizes talking about problems. And that gets problems solved faster.
Negative Consequences for Positive Actions Speak Volumes
If you truly mean to help your organization by naming whatever it is, then anything that happens to you tells you a great deal about the culture and about your leadership. Yes, you might get fired for calling out a problem. Sometimes people cannot handle the truth. But if you suffer from being honest, then being honest is not the highest value among the people you work with. And that may be the most valuable information of all.
You Cannot Solve Problems Without Identifying Them
Yes, this one is pretty obvious. But it’s likely that you’ve spent a considerable amount of your working life questioning whether or not anybody else really knows some of the problems are that you (and therefore your company) are facing.
Before those issues escalate to becoming insurmountable, bring them up. Which leads to our final point:
Sooner is Better than Later
The best time to fix something which is broken is before it broke. That’s doing good maintenance. If you can get in the habit of talking about what’s going wrong early on, then everything will be out in the open.
Elephants belong in the wild, not in the room. If everyone’s pretending they aren’t there, be the one who steps up and tells the truth.