Do you want an elephant in the room… or a horse?
We’ve all been in the situation where we’ve had an elephant in the room. In a work environment, it is often because no one has the confidence or motivation to stand up and address a problem. This loss of open communication often results in tension in the workplace, strained team dynamics and poor leadership. So, how can we encourage what I call the ‘horse in the room’ – honesty and awareness?
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
We’ve probably all dealt with this phenomenon in our working lives; where there is a lot to say, but no one has the confidence or motivation to stand up and deal with the problem. This can lead to a lot of tension in the workplace.
The other day, we saw this first-hand when we had a corporate team visit us for team builiding and leadership trainingwith our horses. Almost as soon as the day started, it became clear there was a lot of friction amongst the colleagues. This tension manifested itself in an uncomfortable silence where many things were going unsaid.
When the team were paired with one of our horses, Legs, they ignored him just like they ignored each other. Except, he made it known through his unsettled shuffling and moving that he did not want to be a part of that team. To work with him, they had to face what was not working within their team – he was simply highlighting what was already apparent in the team dynamic. It was only then, when they had to deal with a half-tonne animal who clearly wanted to move away from the group, that unresolved issues emerged. In particular, it became clear that no-one on the team felt they were being listened to. Opening these lines of communication made for a completely different team dynamic and a happier functioning team.
So, the elephant in the room was finally gone – and in its place was a horse.
Why you need a horse in the room
I always tell people horses ‘make the invisible visible’. Horses are the ultimate teacher and with the right guidance can make us aware of our unconscious behaviours and biases, providing immediate and unbiased feedback on our energy, intention, actions and body language.
In other words, the horse is almost the opposite of the elephant in the room; you can’t help but be honest when you are around them.
There probably isn’t a literal horse in your workplace (I’m in the minority by having not just one but many horses in mine!), but there’s a lot we can learn from bringing that element of truth to our professional environment. Think of it as having a virtual horse in the room.
How we can encourage a horse in the room
So, as leaders, how do we foster an environment where we have horse-like honestly rather than elephant-like tension?
Here are a few ideas…
- Work on self-awareness and be mindful of your impact on others. This is essential for any leader. If you’re not aware of your behaviour and how it makes others feel, then it’s likely there will be an elephant in the room – and it will likely stem from you.
- Be compassionate. Being sympathetic to people’s needs and individual circumstances will naturally build an environment in which they will open up and be honest to each other.
- Encourage direct communication (which includes active listening!). There’s no quicker route to hidden friction than a workplace where people don’t feel comfortable telling others the truth. Or, if they try to tell the truth and feel they are not being heard.
- Be clear on your purpose. Having a team which understands and aligns behind a purpose and goals is a great way to ensure everyone feels motivated and hidden unease doesn’t build up below the surface.