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Blog : Elephant in the room


Elephant in the room

By Trisha Proud, learnpurple associate

Few phrases evoke such perfect imagery as 'the elephant in the room'. In a logical sense it’s an idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes un-addressed. The expression also applies to a clear issue or risk no one wants to discuss. It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to avoid dealing with the looming big issue.

One of the most poignant stories I have of dealing with 'the elephant in the room' is not business related, but one that really demonstrates that if you cling onto your integrity, even in the face of the deepest adversity, then out of something negative will come something positive.

The story relates to a friend of mine who had just come through an exceptionally acrimonious divorce. Days after the final hearing, and after three years of intensive marketing of her home, she received an offer on her house. She was delighted not only because it would signal the end of a chapter in her life, but also because she simply could not afford to keep the house.

With renewed vigor she contacted her solicitor who promptly told her that as attractive as the buyer’s offer was, she would be unable to progress the sale of her home without the potential of a challenge from her ex-husband. He went on to explain that as the divorce settlement had been based on her remaining in the former marital home with her children, she would be obliged to stay as is for a minimum of six months to avert such a challenge. Needless to say she was beside herself with worry; the thought of losing her buyer after three years of trying to sell her house in a depressed and falling market. At this point my friend sought my guidance.

My advice to her was to deal with 'the elephant in the room'. She was more than likely to lose her buyer anyway, so why cover up the situation. I suggested that she contact the buyers and invite them over for tea and a chat with us. On behalf of my distraught friend, I explained the situation to the intrigued buyers, who, as I unravelled the story, started to smile in a sympathetic way.  As the conversation evolved, it transpired they were buying my friend’s house as their first home together. They too had been through divorces and said that they ‘understood the awful procedural processes’ and the limitations that individual settlements can place on divorcees.

Then, completely unexpectedly, dealing with 'the elephant in the room' resulted in honest pay-back!  The woman said that she really wanted the house. The man took a moment to digest all that had been said before announcing that they were renting at the present time and that he would be prepared to rent for a further six months if my friend agreed to take the house off the market, and sell it to them at the same price. His only concern was that his mortgage offer would run out, but that it would be worth dealing with in order to secure the house they both really wanted.

The story has a happy ending as contracts have since been exchanged and both parties are now living in their respective new homes. My friend, by her own admission, is not necessarily the best communicator and she readily acknowledges that she would have accepted her fate of losing her buyer. As I have said to her since there is a real and valuable lesson to be learnt from this, not only in terms of effective communication skills, but also in the power of being honest. Without being honest and equally as important, dealing with situation at hand, the chances of my friend having a successful outcome were very slim indeed. A real life’s lesson was learnt that day.

And so the morale of this story is that the more we encourage people to give honest opinions, and deal with 'the elephant', the more likely it is that accuracy and trust will increase and relationships; personal, business or otherwise, will deepen – all of which are great for a successful business and life.

Do you have any examples of the elephant being dealt with or not? What happened as a result?


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