Nobody talks about the elephant in the room. It’s too uncomfortable. “It’s too embarrassing,” you think, “If I bring that subject up, then everyone will know about it.” But here’s the thing – people know about the elephant in the room, and ignoring it is causing more problems than it’s solving.
Some people are great at avoiding conflict in the workplace. All you need to do is keep your mouth shut or yield to the strongest voice in the room. If I am describing you, I want you to consider how damaging that behavior is for both you and your team. I also hope to give you some simple, practical suggestions for becoming a healthier fighter.
In 2010, Gino Wickman shared some of the great lessons and observations he had gleaned from implementing EOS® with hundreds of entrepreneurial leadership teams. In reflecting on my years as Gino’s business partner and Integrator of EOS Worldwide and my own experiences working with leadership teams, it felt appropriate and timely to confirm and restate those same great lessons.
My client was mad. I could read the body language in the room, and it was not good. It was plain to see she’d been hurt deeply by some unspoken slight from one of her team members. The two of them were sitting there with their arms crossed, facing away from each other. The rest of the team was fidgeting or wriggling in their chairs and not looking at anyone.
It was obvious there was an elephant in the room that all seven of them knew about, but were refusing to acknowledge. Knowing that a healthy team is critical for our success, I called out the issue.
What do you say when one of your team members asks you to keep something confidential? There’s a dangerous workplace situation that all leaders and managers find themselves drawn into from time to time. I call it the “confidential complaint” trap.
This happens to me when I’m working with leadership teams. Someone will stop me in the hall during a break and say, “May I talk to you for a minute, NOT in the room with the group?”
There’s a natural inclination to say yes to this kind of request. As leaders, we all want to be approachable. We may also want to find out what’s going on inside our organization. But promising blanket confidentiality for run-of-the-mill complaints can be a dangerous slope because it is diametrically opposed to creating a healthy workplace culture.