art work by John Ceprano
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THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

As you likely know, when we use the metaphor – an elephant in the room – we mean there’s an obvious problem about which everyone in the room is fully aware but no one mentions. It may be an important topic that is too uncomfortable, controversial, embarrassing, inflammatory, or dangerous for people to raise.

An elephant in the room might also represent the unspoken hurts or words. They are what is going on between disputing people that isn’t being said. They are the lingering doubts and the niggling feelings. They are the missing pieces of the puzzle. They are present without being identified.

At times, it may appear that we resolve matters without ever acknowledging elephants that remain hovering around. Without bringing them into the room though, conflict conversations are destined to have blinders on so that we don’t actually acknowledge the bigger issues underlying the tension. Inevitably though, it is commonly the case that the elephant will reappear in the next conflict, with this person or another.

When we are in conflict, we are responsible for acknowledging the elephants and identifying what they are telling us. To do so, you may find it helpful to consider how to acknowledge the elephants in your conflict conversations, with these types of self-reflective questions from this week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog.

  • Think of the last dispute you were engaged in when an elephant was there that wasn’t identified. What was the elephant?
  • What kept you from acknowledging its presence, do you think?
  • What do you suppose kept the other person(s) from identifying it?
  • What fear(s) might both of you have shared?
  • How would bringing the elephant into the conversation have changed things?
  • How would that change in the conversation have benefited you?
  • What part would have been detrimental for you? In what ways?
  • How may the other person have benefitted if the elephant was identified?
  • What part of that change would hurt the other person? In what ways?
  • Generally, under what circumstances may it be best to identify and not identify the elephant present in the room?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

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