Let’s Talk about the Elephant in the Room

Have you ever been in a situation where there was an elephant in the room but nobody acknowledged it? The term “elephant in the room” is used to describe a situation or problem that exists and everyone knows about it but is unwilling to deal with it. But, what if people really missed the elephant in the room?

Many years ago, on a trip to Baltimore, I arrived at State Auto’s regional office and asked if there was a room I could use to sit down and get some work done. I was led to a conference room and started getting busy. Sometime later Gretchen, the sales manager, stopped by to see how I was doing. She asked, “What do you think about it?” I replied, “Think about what?” She said, “The elephant in the room.” “What are you talking about?” I asked. She pointed to the back of the room where a seven-foot cut out of an elephant was up against the wall.

I had literally missed the elephant in the room! You might be wondering how that could happen. Well, it happens to me quite a bit and I’m sure it happens to you on occasion too. Here’s one more story.

Over 20 years ago Jane and I were walking around a gallery hop. It wasn’t my cup of tea but I tried to act like I was engaged so I made a comment about a painting by the famous French painter Monet. As we looked at the painting I said to Jane, “We have a painting buy that guy.” Jane told me, “We have that painting!” “Really? How long have we had it?” I innocently asked. She said, “About three years. It sits at the top of the stairs.” Wow, not an elephant but I sure missed that one.

How is it we can miss the obvious? Quite often it’s nothing more than focus. When I went to Baltimore and got to the office I had one goal – get some work done before several days of training. I only “saw” whatever would help me accomplish that goal.

At other times we become so familiar with our surroundings that we stop noticing things. For married men reading this you understand this every time your wife asks, “Notice anything different?” That’s when the beads of sweat start to form on your forehead, your mind starts racing, and you choke like an athlete in the biggest moment on the biggest stage. You’re so familiar with your spouse, home or something else that you stopped noticing the details. Ask someone in love the color of their partner’s eyes and they are very likely to give you a correct answer. Ask couples that have been married a long time and there’s a good chance they don’t remember. Familiarity isn’t always a good thing.

So how can you overcome this? Two simple ideas: slow down and get out of your head.

  • There’s an old saying, “Stop and smell the roses.” In other words, consciously take time to slow down so you can pay attention to things you normally don’t mindfully consider.
  • Make the conscious choice to stop focusing on certain things. You can’t “not think about an elephant” but you can distract yourself from thoughts of an elephant by choosing to focus on something else. Take a break from your work, go for a walk, or engage with a coworker to get out of your head.

While my stories are funny there are downsides to this. Missing the obvious can lead to bad decisions and in a business setting it could cause others to think less of you. And when it comes to personal relationships, missing the obvious can hurt someone’s feelings. None of these are good so slow down and get out of your head every now and then so you don’t miss the elephant in the room.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed by more than 50,000 people! His latest course, Persuasive Coaching, just went live. Have you watched them yet? If not, click on either course name to see what you’ve been missing.

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Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer at Influence People, LLC
Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence People, LLC. A dynamic keynote speaker, trainer, coach, and consultant, he specializes in applying the science of influence and persuasion in business and personal situations. He is one of only 20 individuals in the world who currently holds the Cialdini Method Certified Trainer® (CMCT®) designation. This specialization in the psychology of persuasion was earned directly from Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. – the most cited living social psychologist in the world when it comes to the science of ethical persuasion. Brian’s passion is helping people achieve greater professional success and enjoy more personal happiness. He does this by teaching people how to ethically move others to action through the science of persuasion.
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