Got an ‘Elephant in the Room’?

Is there an ‘elephant’ in the room? Perhaps something unsaid, you know the kind of thing – everyone is aware of it but no one dare speak of it? All eyes cast downwards; you wish you could leave the room…

It may or may not be your ‘elephant’, either way you are aware of the unconscious pressure to avoid speaking of it; perhaps you feel the invitation to collude by keeping quiet. Would you like some tips on how to come out and say it? A perfectly reasonable challenge (and one I’ve asked myself) is why do anything? Because, avoidant behaviour can contribute to the ‘elephant in the room’ phenomena, and that gets in the way of solving problems!

How would it feel to speak your truth; say it how it is? What is preventing you – might someone get angry or just pay lip service to your protestations and simply carry on as before – is that your expectation?

It happened to me when I had arrived on a foreign assignment to Houston and was unable to say, “I’m very unhappy and I’m struggling to keep going, I need help!” (just for the record, the problem wasn’t really Houston, it was the isolation and loss of identity – nice). Taking refuge in my journal and later my book, I wrote:

‘I was so cross I hardly dare show it. Part of me knew it would leak out eventually anyway and the broken things were somehow a metaphor for how I was feeling’.

No shortage of elephants there then!

When we fail to bring to the attention of others how we really feel, nothing changes and we can become stuck, although journaling my feelings certainly helped bring them into awareness.elephant in the room

Work place situations and long standing relationships usually harbour their share of ‘unspeakables’. The dynamics will vary, what I’ve noticed is that over time we may grudgingly accept behaviour than impacts us and yet we feel powerless to change. For example, the person who can be relied upon to be consistently late – we all know at least one person. Have you given up mentioning it and find yourself anticipating their late arrival, planning and working around their tardiness! When they arrive you’re a tad miffed but don’t say anything for fear of confrontation, you don’t want to cause offence and yet it is your feelings that are not taken into account. That’s what’s lingering in the atmosphere; the big, grey, nobody is talking about me, but I’m right here all the same, flappy eared, elephant.

So, perhaps its time to acknowledge and try what my friend Katie Hodgson calls,‘getting your moose on the table’!That would involve saying how you feel in a grown up kind of way (ie without an authoritarian voice that sounds like a dominant parent or even a simpering, wimpy kid!). After all, you want the person to hear you, not immediately feel defensive.

If that sounds like too much, try writing down what you would like to change or share, chose a completely secure place, and see if that helps shift things.

If you decide to go ahead and talk about your elephant or manage the moose, here are some tips. You may have some of your own.

Tips for Speaking About It

Tip 1: Ensure you have considered what you hope to achieve and the benefit to others; the pros and cons.

Tip 2: Prepare what you want to say in advance, choosing your words carefully.

Tip 3: Pick a good setting to have the conversation, one where you won’t be interrupted or over heard. This can be difficult to achieve if you live far away and can’t have a conversation face to face. It needs some thought; can it wait until you next meet or might it be possible to use technology to facilitate this? Do you at least need to schedule the conversation so the other person has plenty of time to listen and react?

Tip 4: Be clear and unambiguous. Resist the temptation to embroider or you may find yourself not saying what you set out to say.

Tip 5: If you are looking for someone else to change, try to focus on facts and behavior and impact on you/others. Avoid insults, apportioning blame or criticism; the recipient is more likely to be receptive to what you have to say.

Tip 6: If you are imparting seriously bad news remember that the other person probably won’t hear much of what you have to say after you’ve said it. You can always suggest a follow up discussion when the new information has had a chance to settle.

Tip 7: What is the positive? Look for solutions together if at all possible – share the task if appropriate.

Tip 8: Lastly, keep in mind the well tried technique of the ‘feedback sandwich’; beginning with something positive (a slice of bread) then the difficult news (the sandwich filling) and finishing on a positive (the other piece of bread).

Forgive and Forget

What does it mean to be a friend, relative or lover, when their negative behavior distances you? My next blog post will explore the nature of forgiveness and what it means to ‘forgive and forget’.

Like to learn more about ‘An Inconvenient Posting, an expat wife’s memoir of lost identity’ see Aisha Ashraf’s recent review at her blog Aisha is also a regular columnist at and contributor to Global Living Magazine.

Visit my author page at


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