Have you ever been in a meeting where the invitation for feedback is given and it’s met with silence? Then the person making the invitation takes silence as an agreement to move forward. Meanwhile, you have been a part of multiple side conversations and meetings where people are complaining to you about the direction the organization or project is going. They and you have opinions and data from experiences and research on what and who should be included or excluded in these decisions and plans. Queue the “elephants in the room.”
Oftentimes, these moments of opportunity to share and engage are met with silence. It is in these moments that we have the choice to break the silence and share the “unpopular” or “alternate” information and request clarity before action. We can say what we see and let that be a different invitation, a spark, to those who have something to add but aren’t. It can be scary, but this action can be the catalyst for making the eventual outcome better and more comprehensive. Factoring in other perspectives and bringing unknown conflicts into awareness increases support and gains momentum for the initiative.
Engaging in difficult conversations takes courage, even in the most receptive environments. We often spend more energy complaining behind the scenes or dancing around the critical factors requiring consideration and waiting for someone else to break the stagnant spin cycle. It’s possible we may not be clear on who has the authority to make a change or a decision. Bringing that fact to light alone is a starting point. We may fear exposure or the response following speaking up that likely is founded on previous experiences or observations. Yet, it’s our responsibility to courageously share the truth and support open dialogue regarding the “elephants in the room” for the benefit of the team, organization, and alignment to our own values. There is no magical “reveal” of the full truth, the whole picture. Rather, there are bits and pieces of truth, like puzzle pieces, from multiple perspectives and experiences. Once these truths are shared and brought together to discuss, we begin to holistically shape a complete picture to inform the best course of action.
So how do we break the silence and give the elephants in the room a seat at the table? The ideas, perspectives, issues, and truths to be shared are what they are, but how they are framed and presented makes all the difference in what happens next. Approaching with compassion, curiosity, and a focus on the facts before you is a great starting point. That could look like stating a truth like “I’m surprised to see there isn’t any feedback or additional ideas.” or asking questions like:
“Are we willing to confirm that our approach solves what we set out to solve?”
“How might we ensure we have considered the impact of this approach?”
“Are we willing to walk through this approach to see if we are missing any gaps or opportunities?”
“What are we hearing that we might want to consider?”
There are countless ways to generate a spark to create an inviting space to productively discuss a conflict, challenge, or concern. Inviting the discussion doesn’t mean that we are responsible for providing the solution or leading with our opinions or perspectives. By breaking the silence, we have the opportunity to ignite the conversation and create space for the elephants in the room to have a seat at the table.