Atalanta Beaumont

Handy Hints for Humans

Don't Let the Elephant in the Room Go Rogue

How to tackle it and tame it

Posted Dec 06, 2015

The “elephant in the room” is a euphemism for a subject that is glaringly obvious to all but is not mentioned.  If you do not address the “elephant in the room” it will trumpet and blunder around causing all sorts of trouble.  Fundamentally this is about addressing the most pressing, difficult, subject that you would much rather avoid.  However, it is this avoidance which causes all our subsequent interaction to be distorted as we carefully avoid mentioning what both or all of us are thinking.  For instance, if you go to visit your friend who has terminal cancer and you never talk about the fact that he/she is dying and has terminal cancer, then that is the elephant in the room.  This avoidance will cause you to pussy foot around subjects and to be “careful” when with your friend.  You will cease to be the friend that you were and you will become instead the friend avoiding the most obvious, pressing, difficult topic.

Addressing difficult topics is, by their very nature, hard.  It needs to be done, though, unless you wish to appear cowardly or patronising.  It is also near impossible to have an authentic, meaningful dialogue where some large, tricky topic lies between you.  In the case of terminal cancer, your friend knows they are dying.  It is OK for you to talk about this; they can let you know if the subject is not a good one or your timing is not good.  Obviously timing is important and sometimes you need to let the elephant go on its way if the timing is not right or maybe you missed your “time slot”.  Be sensitive and use your common sense.  Please bear in mind it is not a good idea to tackle “elephants” with unbalanced or erratic people or someone who may have power over you and enjoy wielding it.

Humour and honesty are good characteristics when addressing difficult or sticky issues.  If you run into someone you have behaved appallingly to in the past, then address the situation - be honest, apologise, do whatever you need to do to get back on stable ground.  Similarly if you run across someone you believe owes you an apology then let them know what you expect and then move on.  Clearing the air in this way leaves you both on an even keel and makes way for Adult to Adult conversation and room for honest interaction and even intimacy if that is what you want.  Try not to leave huge elephants blundering around your life, they have a horrible way of treading on things that matter and breaking things you value; address them and they will vanish into thin air.