Addressing the Elephant in the Room

Years ago I was serving on a team where there was a consistent idea killer. Whenever anyone on the team presented an idea, regardless of the idea’s merit, this person would shoot it down. It was annoying, but was allowed to continue by leadership. Everyone talked about it outside of the meetings, no one respected the idea killer, and even the leader admitted it was a problem for the team, but he insisted he had counseled with this person privately, and it never seemed to improve.

It led me to the conclusion:

Sometimes as a leader you have to address the “elephant in the room”…in the room.

Everyone knows it’s there.

You can’t miss an elephant.

It keeps being repeated.

You’ve handled it individually.

Nothing has changed.

It may even be getting worse.

At some point, the leaders may have to address the elephant in the room.

You can’t ignore the elephant.

While everyone is in the room, address the elephant.

You may have to call out the person causing the disruption in the presence of everyone else in the room. It’s hard, uncomfortable, and you don’t want to do it often, but it may be necessary.

If you don’t:

  • Everyone will assume poor performance is tolerated.
  • The negative activity will be copied by others.
  • Team dynamics will never be healthy.

Address the elephant!

Everyone already knows it’s there. You can’t hide the elephant.

Do I need to repeat that again?

It’s time. Do it now.

Have you ever served on a team where the elephant wasn’t addressed and it negatively impacted the team? 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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19 thoughts on “Addressing the Elephant in the Room

  1. Ron-

    nice post – thanks so much for the topic…

    I would suggest that often, especially in a situation such as you describe, the elephant in the room (that someone shares constant criticisms) may actually be a personality profile whose strengths are being misuesed. We need people who can point out possible obstcles and be specific with possible problems… we just do not need them in the room when brainstorming or idea sessions are important!

  2. Indeed great article, by the way I wish to share this. I love to go to church but sometimes it is not possible for me to visit church but our church has software by which I can be in touch with them anywhere, anytime. It is really wonderful to get in touch with church & other member. I think our church use Congregation Builder’s church management software .

  3. I have a question this time rathher than a response. How do you deal with the situation if it is a family member and you are not the leader? Similar thing going on in my family, stumped!
    Twitter: bryankr

    • You pray, seek the right timing, gather some support in the family, and make the hard call. It might even be an intervention. Unfortunately, I've had to do this, but it's worth it every time. Even more important when you love the people involved. Things don't get healthy sometimes until they get messy.

  4. Yes and this is such good wisdom that I learned the hard way! Thank you! My experience with this was life changing. A staff person was hired ie.. “elephant”. I was the administrative secretary that served under the old staff person. I had all the relationships with the team. It became evident right away that the “spiritual mask of overestimated ability” of the “elephant” would not stand up to the reality of the task they were hired for. The elephant’s God-walk did not line up with the elephant’s talk-the life style did not match Godly living. Therefore the ministry team came to me individually bothered by what they were seeing and experiencing and I did my best to soothe them, knowing that things were not right. I took it to my core director, he said, his executive director was the one who hired the “elephant” and I needed to “grow with” that decision and trust it and not talk negative about the “elephant” to him again and if I could not do that, I needed to go. His perspective was my loyalty to the old staff person, impaired my judgment to the new one. So in every staff meeting I sat with the reality that I knew something was spiritually wrong with the “elephant” and never confronted the “elephant” or what we were experiencing in the life of our ministry team for fear of losing my job. I never confronted what I knew was dangerous behavior; I never took it to our core staff group. All hell broke loose and that “elephant” ended up crashing and burning… hurting the reputation of the ministry and the church and costing thousands of dollars. I felt responsible for not taking that next step after I took it to my core director, who was unwilling to see that the executive director had misjudged this “elephant”! I did not have the courage to confront the “elephant” in the core staff meeting, where there was safety set up in a multitude of counselors.
    Twitter: kmac4him

  5. Ron, I can see this principle applying in other areas and not just leadership meetings.

    To be honest, I wish this has come out yesterday. It's something we could have used during our youth group last night.

    We had a couple of "elephants" in the room causing distractions and frustrations. They need to be dealt with properly and in a way that gets the problem solved.

    This is going to be forwarded to the other youth leaders!

  6. Very timely for our church. Thanks for these thoughts; as difficult as it may be, some things just must be addressed.

    • It's probably more delicate in a church setting isn't it?

      I find Ron's post on leadership very interesting, particularly since it is a pastor speaking about these unique situations. I don't think folks see ministers as anything other than someone who stands up on Sundays and speaks…so kudos Ron, you've made the church 'real'…problems, elephants and solutions are everywhere!