We are all familiar with the expression “the elephant in the room.” It is something that I have come to expect and even seek out when facilitating others. The reality, though, is that we each have our own personal pachyderms that dutifully follow us through life and haunt our work. The longer that we put off doing things, the more that we defer problems and the longer that we avoid pursuing our goals and ambitions, the larger and more omnipresent becomes the grey mammoth in our grey matter. You can learn to make the elephant go away. First, though, you need to recognize it for what it is, and what it represents.
There are untold levels of interpretation and perspective that shape our meaning, interactions and experiences. Making sense of these levels is the challenge. Understanding the dimensions that are at work, why they exist, and the nuances they bring to what is being said, how it is being said and what remains unsaid is fundamental. The good news is that there is structure at play that can help to uncover undercurrents, build meaning and provide perspective. The secret lies in knowing where to look.
It is not entirely clear how long it will be before people are comfortable inhabiting meeting rooms again, even for very short and focussed interactions. Which raises some fundamental questions about how we go about having strategically important conversations. Our current reality changes how we facilitate, how we interact and how groups explore, unpack and resolve complex and messy questions. In trying to figure out alternative strategies, there are some fundamental problems that need to be solved.
One of the most interesting things we do in organizations is render topics and truth undiscussable. Through an intersection of power and our own complicity, we allow for a rearranging of the facts to align with someone else’s preferences. That can have consequences for us, for our careers, and for our ability to simply have a coherent and objective conversation. As prevalent as the elephants in the room might be, though, there are some relatively straightforward strategies to both name them, and invite them to leave.
The space in-between where we have been and where we are going is where change and transformation occur. The challenge is that while navigating liminal spaces is challenging enough on an individual basis, it gets exponentially more difficult when we try to do this in groups. Whether planning navigating change or planning strategy, facilitating the creation of an in-between space that genuinely allows for creative exploration is a significant undertaking. Liminality provides some insight into how to make that happen.