How to Bring Up the Elephant in the Room Without Losing Your Courage (or Your Job)

A typical work day for most of us is filled with conversations. Managers and direct reports discuss what work needs to be accomplished, by when, and what success should look like. Colleagues talk about the impact that recent changes are having on their roles and their teams. Leaders articulate their vision for the company’s future, and how to execute on that. And everyone’s talking about the season finale of their favorite TV show, how the local sports team rallied (or failed to rally) in last night’s game, or the weather.

As Linda Lambert Ph.D., author of Liberating Leadership Capacity, put it, “One good conversation can shift the direction of change forever.”

But that only works with topics you’re willing to have a conversation about. Every organization has “elephants in the room,” or obvious problems and difficult situations that people avoid discussing. As Chris Argyris, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School explained, these topics become undiscussable to “avoid surprise, embarrassment, or threat.”

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