Walking into a room where the energy is off or individuals seem to hoard silent conflicts will immediately raise red flags for many people. Commonly referred to as “the elephant in the room”, this negative energy is often a sign that there are lingering issues that are intentionally being ignored or simply not addressed. At some point, difficult conversations will need to occur in order to end the awkwardness of gathering for meetings or simply to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Much of this behavioral response is tolerated because of a dismissive “that’s just the way it is around here” type of attitude, but it indicates that there is a greater issue at risk: organizational culture. Every time a leader forfeits the opportunity to amend a behavior, it silently creates a less than desirable culture that breeds toxicity. Throughout the employee’s experience, a culture of negativity and criticism will continue to develop and complaining will become the norm until the leader identifies the root cause and starts the difficult conversations.

Unfortunately, there is never an easy way to approach quiet feuds or other sensitive matters such as poor performance or conduct that streamlines contentious behaviors within an organization. However, it is the responsibility of the leader to confront these issues before they become a permanent mark in the fabric of the organization.

A Harvard Business Review article reported that managers are uncomfortable having crucial conversations with employees. While that may be the case, a recent Gallup study suggests that important conversations that could potentially impact organizational culture or employee engagement should be conducted immediately.

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Many leaders avoid having difficult conversations for a multitude of reasons, but often the fear is that unmanaged emotions may arise that potentially pose as a greater threat to the problem. To avoid muddy outcomes, it is always ideal to approach a difficult conversation using criterions to help navigate through challenging dialogue.

Below are three criterions to consider before planning conversations around sensitive information:


Make certain that the leader is credible in the eyes of the employee. It would be difficult to have difficult conversations with leaders that don’t conversate frequently with their employees.


The leader should be seen as someone their employee can trust and not timid about sharing information. Ideally, the leader would be someone that the employee has some type of work relationship with and committed to the employee’s success.


Critical observations should be provided immediately and appropriately. The timing of the conversation will help the employee to be quickly accountable for their actions and to rewire back to goals and objectives.

Recognizing that there is an elephant in the room and taking actionable steps to swiftly address the issue will help improve organizational effectiveness and model behaviors that strengthen the core of the culture. It is impossible to feast on every issue that comes down the pipeline, but you can eat away at it one piece at a time.