How the Elephant Got In the Room

My daughter, Sara asked me if I could build her a certain piece of furniture.  I said, “Of course.”  In fact, I gave her a certificate for it for Christmas.

Two years ago.

The problem was that I didn’t know how I was going to build it.  I do well with plans, but not making things up.  This one didn’t have plans.

So I would think about how to do it, but couldn’t figure it out.  So I set it aside for a week or two, thinking it would percolate in the background and I’d know what to do.

A week or two later, nothing had changed.  I wasn’t any closer to a solution.  So I kept putting it off week after week, month after month – because I was stumped.

I’ve learned that when I don’t know how to do something, my default setting is to procrastinate instead of jumping in and tackling something.  (For writers, it’s called “writer’s block” – not feeling inspired, so we put it off for another day.)

Whenever Sara and I would talk, I carefully avoided the subject. For some reason, I didn’t want to let her down or appear incompetent.  Sometimes I would say, “I’m going to Home Depot tomorrow to buy wood.”  And I went and got the wood – but still didn’t know what to do with it.

Since we weren’t talking about it, she didn’t know what was happening.  I assumed she was either irritated or disappointed in me.  But I never asked, so I never knew for sure.  I didn’t want to know.

A few weeks ago, I realized that it had created an unspoken barrier between us.  Here is one of the people I enjoy talking to the most on the planet, and want a close, loving relationship with.  But my silence was building a wall – and had been for two years.

Once I figured out what was happening, I went to her and told her what I was feeling.  I apologized, wanting to do my part to remove the barrier I had created.

As we talked, she said, “Yeah, it was the elephant in the room.”

elephant-room11That’s a word picture we’ve all heard and experienced.  It happens when there’s something that’s obvious and nobody talks about, and we pretend it’s not there. 

I pictured the scenario.  I’m sitting on one side of the living room, and my daughter is on the other side.  We’re peering through the elephant’s legs, trying to make conversation.  It smells, and it fills the room.  It’s noisy.  It’s huge.  But we don’t talk about it.

Once we acknowledge it, we think, “How in the world did that huge elephant get in this room?  It doesn’t even fit through the door!”

That’s when I figured out the answer:

The elephant came in when it was little.

If we wanted to remove it when it first entered, we would simply guide it back through the door.  But by letting it stay, it grew and grew and grew.  Getting rid of it would be a much bigger issue because we waited.

My daughter said, “You know, if you had told me you couldn’t figure it out, we could have spent a day together working on it until we knew what to do.”  That would have been an awesome day with her.  One of our favorite dates is to get coffee at Starbucks and cruise around Home Depot.

I love my daughter.  And I love the fact that we got rid of the elephant. 

The furniture still isn’t done.  But I have the wood.  I figured out the plans.  I’ll be cutting the pieces in the next few days and putting them together.

Mostly, I’ll be letting Sara know how I’m doing.

We might need to go to Home Depot soon.

What’s the lesson in all this?

Watch carefully for baby elephants in the room.  If you let them stay, they’ll get really, really big.


Have you had to deal with the elephant in the room in your best relationships?  Comment here . . .


Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Speaker, Author of 5 books – including “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys,” “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions,” and “Dealing With the Elephant in the Room.” (See Book page)

  • Steve Tierney

    Love this post, is very insightful.

  • Michael Cook

    This is such a timely topic. I think I don’t only have one elephant in the room…I have a whole herd of ’em! Wow! That is good Mike! Very Good and very God!

    • Might be easier to just move to another house . . . !

  • Ximena Melendez

    Thank you for your post. Is very important to evaluate frecuently if we have elephants (of any size) in our relationships with others, especially with the ones we love. I think that one of the main causes that elephants appear in our relationships is when we can´t tell others about our weaknesses, because we think we have to be perfect.
    But when it happens, we have to remember Jesus´ words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”(2 Cor 12:9). Then, we have to be sure that our weaknesses are an opportunity to see the power of God in our lives and is good to share it with others, because most of the times this attitude improve our relationships with them. Finally, I encourge you Mr. Bechtle to finish Saras´ furniture, I am sure you will do a great job!

    • There’s real value in vulnerability. Thanks for your comments. And yes, my daughter is equally interested in having the furniture done!

  • Jenni Key

    Wow. You are SO RIGHT! None of us would be idiotic to allow a full-grown elephant in (and how would it fit??) but this is so insidious, and does come in softly, quietly, and in a miniature size. I’m taking this to heart and will be intentionally alert as an elephant spotter and remover. 🙂 Pray for me.

    • Hi Jenni. Love your wording: “elephant spotter and remover.” I’ll join you.

      • You guys could make up T-shirts with that slogan . . .

    • Sounds like a side career for you . . . !

  • I just shared this on Facebook. It is such a wisdom and insightful-filled post. So true! Such a little thing and yet so destructive. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!