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Practice 6: Seek to Discuss the Undiscussable

6 October, 2015 - 11:41

In every organization, there are undiscussable issues. An undiscussable issue is a taboo subject, something people in an open forum don’t talk about in order to avoid an emotionally charged discussion. These issues are undiscussable because people are fearful of releasing “negative” emotions that could jeopardize working relationships. (What some people express colorfully as “naming the elephant in the room.”) Common undiscussables are challenging an existing reality, questioning those in power, sharing concerns about an idea that is being sold as “perfect,” or simply agreeing to disagree when perspectives clash. 1

In addition to emotionally charged undiscussables, there are also logical inconsistencies that need to be addressed by the communication system. Organizational change is complicated and there are often inconsistencies when moving from one organizational state to another. If the communication system does not address these inconsistencies, then the credibility of the entire change initiative is called into question. 2 Furthermore, it is much more honest and productive to discuss undiscussables. 3

There are a wide variety of ways to successfully discuss the undiscussables, but it all starts with having an attitude of seeing everyone as being in partnership around the success of the overall system. 4Therefore, blaming leaders or employees is usually not constructive, but structuring in debate and conflicting viewpoints is. Being defensive is rarely helpful, but being curious is. Avoiding discussions of delicate issues will hold back progress, but playful and humorous treatments of tricky issues can help. Emphasizing individual responsibility to the exclusion of collective responsibility clearly leads to an imbalance. Sometimes enabling anonymous discussion of undiscussables using Web-based technologies can shine a light on “the elephant in the room.”  5