How to Keep Elephants out of the Hall

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There’s a bull elephant in the hall. He first appeared as a nit but problems almost always grow. Everyone sees the problem but no one’s talking.

Successful leaders point out the obvious.

It’s likely you don’t like conflict. You adopt strategies that keep you out of confrontational conversations and stressful situations. Susan Shearouse says, “The goal of some managers is to make it from their office to the elevator without talking with anyone.”

A frequently ignored problem:

“On survey after survey the biggest complaint workers have is the perceived unwillingness of managers to take action against poor performers.” (From: Conflict 101)

Ignoring obvious performance issues is an elephant that drains vitality and demoralizes dedicated employees.

Picking nits:

Deal with elephants before they become elephants; become a nitpicker. Force yourself to dig in and start picking early. Silence is consent. Tolerating minor infractions eventually affirms bad habits. 

  1. Ask questions that expose the obvious before the obvious becomes oppressive. Keep asking.
  2. Don’t let anger fuel your courage.
  3. Gently explain that small infringements may have big impact on others.

Dealing with elephants:

  1. Plan your conversation. Identify the desired outcome and explain your intent up front. Determine the type of conversation you desire and stick with it.
  2. Explain the impact of behaviors on organizational mission. If you attack a person they will become defensive, offensive, or they will clam up.
  3. Create a framework of safety by dealing with fears, both yours and theirs. For example, don’t feel pressure to deal with an elephant if it’s brought up in a public meeting. Say, we can deal   with that later.Deal with an employee’s fears. For example, if your conversation isn’t an official reprimand, let them know.


Do you put off difficult conversations?

What conflict resolution techniques work best for you?


This post is based on an informative and insightful conversation I had with Susan Shearouse. Check out her book, “Conflict 101: A Managers Guide to Resolving Problems so Everyone Can Get Back to Work.”


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