As a leader, will you know the quickest way to spot the elephant at your office this week?
By: Lynda McNutt Foster
The proverbial “elephant” in the room. You’ve experienced it, I know you have. The topic that everyone was talking about before the meeting for days and sometimes weeks isn’t being brought up in the meeting. It’s the only thing that really matters to anyone, and yet, no one says anything about it. You dare not be the one to bring it up. Maybe you’ve been the one to bring it up before. You finally call out the elephant in the room and everyone else looks at you with disillusionment. People look away or they look down. Silence. Complete silence. You are alone to hear your voice echo throughout the space. It’s as if you just revealed that you had a terminal illness that is contagious and everyone wants to flee the building as quickly as possible and be sure they are not associated with you or whatever the hell you have.
Yes, the quickest way to spot the elephant in the room, if you are a team member, is to notice what is NOT being talked about in meetings, but IS being discussed whenever people feel safe when they are in one-on-ones or small groups together, outside your earshot.
As a leader, it’s tougher. How do you get your team members to talk about the elephant in the room when YOU are in the room?
Here are 3 ways to reveal the elephants that are impacting productivity and that really matter to the grow and prosperity of your organization and your team members.
- Ask more complex questions that you don’t have answers to. In addition to appreciating and recognizing what went right recently, ask, “What could we have done differently?” Be the one to lead the conversation with what you could have done differently to be more effective in a process. Appreciate when someone demonstrates the courage to speak up, in a professional way, about what they see from a different perspective as everyone else. It’s highly possible that a lone wolf is the only person calling out an elephant in the room and many others are thinking about it, regardless of their reaction when it is brought up. We have all been in meetings where the elephant is brought up and after the silence, the leader might say something like, “Does anyone else feel this way?” and the crickets.
Try, at that moment of impact, saying, “Thank you for being brave enough to bring that up, Stan. I want to understand your point of view. Let’s do a round (asking each person to take about 20-30 seconds to give their input) to discover others points of view.”
- Be brave. Ask for feedback regularly in meetings and one-on-ones with Conversational Intelligence© questions like:
- What issues concern you the most?
- What can we do to build trust in this situation?
- What are you afraid might happen?
- What are other feared implications?
- How does that make you feel?
- How is what we are doing impact you and your situation?
- What feeling can you share that will help us understand your perspective?
Be an observer. Rushing from meeting to meeting, from task to task, leaders have a tendency to be focused on what’s next. Try stopping for a moment each day and just watching the flow and sounds in your workplace. Be mindful and completely present for a few minutes each day. What do you hear? What do you see? What patterns can you spot among team members interacting with each other? How often do people smile or laugh? Do your team members look healthy or unhealthy? Are people avoiding a particular person or subject as you listen to them interact? Sit someplace different to do your work for a day and see if the sounds and interactions change.
In our Leading a Winning Team coursework for leaders we train the skills necessary to identify the elephants in the office that are leading to lower productivity levels like drama and distrust and build the skills like Conversational Intelligence© to conquer them.