Make the Elephant in the room disappear

May 31st, 2016 by Patricia Jehle Leave a reply »

Making Visible, making that Elephant in-VISIBLE


A week ago I attended a workshop that allowed speakers, moderators and coaches make their work more visual. The organization that does the training is called “Sichtbar” (, or visible in German. Not only did I come away with some tools, which I must practice, but I gained a powerful metaphor for what happened this weekend.


The experience was a compelling way of addressing that elephant in the room, of making it visible, and then in-VISIBLE.


We observed it, those of us there last weekend: the elephant in a room was made visible, and then, you know what? Like magic that elephant disappeared. POOF! In-VISIBLE!


We who saw this disappearance were at a (beautiful, fun, great) wedding this past weekend. At the ceremony there was an elephant in the room. So, in BOTH Swiss German, and in English, the pastor addressed the fact that, “some people are really at home in a church and practically live there, while others are not so at home, or are even strangers and are uncomfortable in a church.” He made the statement lightly and then said that we who were there were all welcome, made a joke or two, and we were all on our way to seeing that elephant disappear. He made the obvious, open and then it could go away. POOF!


By the reception, people were wandering around and talking to complete strangers who had become new friends. For hours this went on. That elephant never dared to show up again.


Yesterday my husband then took this communication model to heart and in his class he addressed an elephant in that classroom, after which he and his students spent 45 minutes talking about the issue, themselves, and some ways to learn better. Success! Thanks to that pastor, Mike Gray, some pretty good conversation went on that hour in school yesterday, too.


Naming the elephant doesn’t always work, though. The people have to want to change, to want to talk about it, that elephant. At the wedding in the beautiful mountains of Switzerland on that picture-perfect day last Saturday, we guests all came to support the couple and to have fun with them. We wanted to have fun with the couple, and to help make the ceremony and party a success, a happy time. It was easy for us to see and acknowledge that elephant and once she was made visible, she could go home. We didn’t want to keep her in the room.


We let her go.


The students were also willing at look at the situation and to discuss how to change, and ultimately, to make a change.


I have, once, seen a brave person address a room of listeners where people did not want to change. She specifically named “that elephant in the room” and used just that phrase. But for many people, it was to no avail. They didn’t want to let the elephant leave because it was too uncertain, too many unknowns. The speaker was not heard because the people were not willing to be open and to change, to admit their faults, their humanity, and perhaps even to laugh at themselves. It was sad, but she had no control over it in the end.


Maybe that was another key to the wedding, too. The guests laughed a lot, especially at themselves. Nobody took themselves too seriously. It wasn’t allowed.


So, name that elephant and be open to change, yourself, and let the elephant go home.


And don’t take yourself too seriously and enjoy the party!


What elephant in the room do you need to make visible so it can disappear?


Patricia Jehle


ps, I wrote about our upcoming summer yesterday, a kind of Swiss summer lament, and I will post it later this week. It’s more personal, less reflected. Stay tuned, if you wish!




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