How to Talk with Your Team About the Elephant in the Room
Ignoring conflict only leads to more
No one mentions the hostility and blatant conflict between two team members. A colleague softens the data to avoid delaying the launch date of a project. At the Monday team meeting, the leader doesn’t mention the fact that two team members were fired the week before.
These situations occur at many organizations, and they are hard to address because they are uncomfortable to raise and discuss. Since organizational theorist Chris Argyris coined the term "undiscussable" in 1980, numerous scholars have tackled the problem of issues that are too threatening, too uncomfortable, or too hidden to bring to the surface. These are the topics that can feel awkward or expose major issues, such as pay inequity, a team members' underperformance or competition between departments that threaten to derail a project.
As executive coaches and organizational leadership consultants, we tackle undiscussables with our clients daily. But it's usually not the undiscussable itself that is presented. Rather, our clients complain about its most common symptom: the feeling that things are "stuck."
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