Be Direct and Talk About the Elephants in the Room

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One of my favorite business cartoons shows a man presenting a chart on which the line graphing his project’s progress starts in the middle, climbs a bit, and then falls dramatically.  The caption is a question from one of the men being presented to:  “Would you please elaborate on ‘then something bad happened’?”

Change agents much always ask, “What am I not seeing?

Don’t feel uncomfortable—it’s your job to cause tension and to ask and answer the hardest questions to solve the problems now and prevent them in the future.

Find the biggest sticking points, and lay bare the biggest holes and important topics so nothing is missed or left unsaid and unaddressed.  Don’t cover up!  Tell your team to raise their hands and say something.  Tell them to be forceful and direct.  Be honest.  Tell them it is a risk and they might get trampled initially, but they are not trying to win popularity contests.

In the end they will come out unscathed.  It’s better than an “I told you so” and a bunch of finger-pointing and blame down the road.



  1. Paul Edwards  December 21, 2011

    Never, ever, ever feed the elephant in the room. Instead, eat it one bite at a time

  2. Jourdan Urbach  December 23, 2011

    This is solid advice, Jeff. I advocate this in all of my meetings and brainstorming sessions. Nobody wins when the whole team hides behind politeness instead of trying to poke holes in the strategy and see if it still holds water. Feelings may be hurt in the short run, but you avoid getting blindsided by those holes later down the road.


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