Note: "The elephant in the living room" is a common metaphor for situations in which people refuse to confront or even acknowledge a major issue even though everyone knows about it and it is causing serious problems.

In the Feature article "Is the Political Correctness 'Elephant' in Your Workplace?," we suggest that individuals who are faced with difficult issues frequently choose to ignore them entirely or discuss them only indirectly. The failure to honestly and directly confront poor performance or unwise courses of action, for example, becomes the proverbial elephant in the living room - or in this case, the workplace.

How can you avoid or minimize the toxic results of the elephant's presence? More importantly, how can you create a healthy environment in which managers and employees regularly engage in productive, realistic, and candid conversations? Here are four suggestions to get you started:

  1. Teach people the skills that enable them to have honest, direct conversations. For example, teach them to:
    • Engage in constructive confrontation. This is not an oxymoron! Handled effectively, confrontation can be a healthy, positive experience that results in stronger, better thought-out decisions. My favorite definition of confrontation, which comes from a program I offer my clients called Influencing Optionsģ, is "a respectful request for a new behavior or a change in behavior.
    • Focus on behaviors. This prevents people from addressing personalities or characteristics, which have nothing to do with performance.
    • Be specific. When we are vague, we essentially give others permission to fill in the blanks about what they think we mean.
    • Provide constructive feedback. Offer actionable information.
    • Receive constructive feedback. Few things kill candid conversations as quickly as people who are unable or unwilling to listen to others and act on their legitimate concerns and expertise.
  2. Reward candid behavior. Recognize people who take the risk of raising an opposing concern or argument, regardless of whether they ultimately are right or wrong. Establish a culture in which legitimate questioning behavior is supported and actively encouraged.
  3. Hold managers and employees accountable. People's actions generally are aligned with their self-interest. When there are consequences for being less than candid, people will change their behaviors.
  4. Let people know the consequences of indirect, non-candid communications. Follow through as necessary.

What actions will you take today to begin to herd the political correctness "elephant" out of your workplace?

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.


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