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“We Have a Problem.”


Image by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

How often have you heard the phrase “We have a problem”? And when you do, does your heart sink? Do you think, “Oh no - I’m in trouble now!”?


And have you ever said it yourself? If so, what do you think the impact was on the person you were talking to?


There’s actually nothing wrong with the phrase “we have a problem:" After all, people have problems all the time. The issue is one of perspective.


All too often, when problems arise, people blame one another. “We have a problem” often means, “You screwed up,” or “I have a problem with you.” Whether the two people are manager and employee, colleague and colleague, parent and child, or partner and partner, the situation feels adversarial. The problem sits in between the two people, and it’s an obstacle to good relations.



Illustration by Ching Jet Heng

This approach creates blame, rancor, and conflict.


But there’s a better way to look at problems, and all it requires is a change of perspective. Rather than viewing the problem as one I have with you, or one that you have with me, we can view it as a problem that we share, and that we can resolve by working together.


Instead of seeing the problem that sits in between us, try seeing it as a problem that’s in front of us, with both of us on the same side.



Illustration by Ching Jet Heng

By shifting perspective, we radically change the dynamics of the situation. Rather than opposing one another, we see ourselves on the same side. From this angle, the problem isn’t yours or mine; it’s ours. We can work together to find a shared solution, rather than making it one person’s responsibility, with one party blaming and the other defending.


The dynamic is very different, and it’s far easier to find a solution because we’re approaching it together.


And with this shift in perspective, those ominous words “we have a problem” become the key to a solution. We do have a problem; we share responsibility; and together we’ll be able to solve it and move ahead.


© Peter Lewis Allen, 2023

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