Aha Solutions Unlimited
There is a pink elephant between you and another person. You know what I mean. There is something left unsaid. There is some issue hanging in the air. It is like there's a big pink elephant hanging in the space between you and the other person. Perhaps the other person criticized you unfairly. Perhaps you hurt the other person's feelings. Perhaps there is a misunderstanding that needs clearing up. Perhaps you need to tell the other person something important. Perhaps there is a disagreement that needs to be addressed. The pink elephant is in the way of your relationship and of moving forward.
You know you should confront the other person about it, speak about it, get it out of the way. But right now you are avoiding the encounter.
First let me assure you that avoidance is very common and very human. It seems scary, uncomfortable, possibly painful. However, when there is pink elephant in the room, it actually takes so much more energy to avoid the elephant than to acknowledge the presence of the animal, discuss it and make the elephant disappear.
Pink Elephant Principles
So how do you confront a person?
First of all, let me clarify what confrontation is not. It is not yelling and screaming matches or histrionics. It is meeting with someone face to face.
Tell the person that you want to speak to them privately.
Its best to confront a person in a private space where you will not be overheard by others in case someone may feel embarrassed. Close the door of the office or step into an empty conference room.
Once you are in the room, speak your truth honestly and directly. Have a conversation until you feel the elephant dissipate. Be open.
Special tips on people who are difficult to confront:
It can be hard to confront someone who has more power than you like a supervisor. You may feel you might jeopardize your standing with your boss. However the fear is bigger than the reality. Supervisors respect people who stand up for themselves. By naming the pink elephant, you will demonstrate a number of positive attributes:
Use good judgment.
In rare cases, you may be dealing with an unreasonable, vindictive or dangerous person. If that is the case, consider what the consequences might be for confronting. In the vast majority of situations, confronting and clearing the issue will be advantageous to you and will not be harmful.
Finally, sometimes in serious situations, take Enron for example, you are forced to confront because you either can't live with yourself or if you don't, you may be hauled off to jail for failing to blow the whistle. In this situation, it is riskier to stay quiet than to speak up.
Confronting a good friend or spouse
Sometimes confronting a peer or someone you are very close to feels more difficult than confronting someone who outranks you. Here you are afraid to hurt feelings or harm the relationship or have your own feelings hurt. It feels vulnerable. But here you have the greatest chance to establish greater intimacy after you bring up and deal with the topic or issue.
You will have demonstrated your ability to convey your feelings, to speak your truth and to be honest and open. You will clear away issues that are in your way and you will create a space for greater intimacy.
So to review, it pays to name and deal with the pink elephant and it pays to do it soon. If you need to confront someone, gather up your courage, approach the person, get them into a private room and discuss the ten ton pink elephant. I promise you, when you are done you will feel tons lighter!
Judy Tso, MAA is an anthropologist, trainer, consultant and speaker and the founder of Aha Solutions Unlimited, a firm devoted to Solutions for Growth and Change. As a multi-disciplinary thinker, Judy has sought to combine knowledge from the fields of anthropology, business, creative problem solving, acting and coaching in order to help human beings discover their full potential.
She holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Anthropology from the University of Maryland College Park and Bachelors degree in Economics from the Wharton School. She is trained in the Coaches Training Institute model of coaching and leadership and is walking the Shambhala path. www.ahasolutions.org