How big is your elephant?

For most of us, having a problem is not pleasant. It would seem to me that the word’s very definitions make it clear why: a solution is doubtful, it’s difficult and it can cause unpleasantness and worry.


Late Middle English (originally denoting a riddle or a question for academic discussion): from Old French probleme, via Latin from Greek problēma.


1. A matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome

2. A thing that is difficult to achieve or accomplish

3. A source of perplexity, distress, or vexation

No one wants to have a problem, and we avoid it at all costs, but when we can’t avoid it, we don’t actually recognize that we have one. We postpone the necessary conversations, the meeting with the logistics team is delayed, the email we need to send to ask for a change in response times never leaves the inbox…or we do have the conversation but don’t actually say what needs to be said. Who knows what the logistics team understood? The email that CC’d the whole office wasn’t clear and now, to make matters worse, there are complaints. Sound familiar?

Having a problem requires an ability to recognize that something is not working – with my team or me. It requires clarity in my communication with others so that my position/request/solution is clear. I must be able to listen to another person (and really listen, not just wait for my turn to rebut) so that we can reach an agreement and a solution together.

Most of us have these skills to some degree, but business and team leaders frequently evade problems as often (and as professionally) as possible.

We tend to be non-confrontational because there is an absence of trust in our own environment – we don’t trust that the other person will listen, we don’t trust that they won’t seek revenge, we don’t trust them to be sincere, we don’t trust that we won’t be sidelined or scapegoated, we don’t trust that we won’t be seen as negative, the pessimist, the one with the bad news. This lack of trust costs businesses millions of pesos, hours or rework, jobs, resignations, new hires and a long list of etcetera’s. How much do you trust your team?

Not trusting in another person impedes confrontation, limits exposure of conflict and blocks the search for a solution. It creates false harmony, harbors gossip. We know that there is an elephant in the room, we can all smell it, see it, the elephant mistreats us all and, though no one wants to admit it, we all feed it. We give it food, water and care for it. How big is the elephant in your office?



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