Problems, like the poor, are with us always. The trick is what to do about them. I recently told my boss about a previous job where someone had resigned and during the exit interview, they cited a particular problem as the reason for leaving. Had I known about the problem, I would have happily addressed it but I didn’t know about it until the person was leaving the company. The lesson is:
People can only solve the problems they know about.
So when you have a problem, whether it is a work, personal, career, product or service situation, you need to speak up and let people know about it. Don’t suffer in silence. In my experience, it is important to use the phrase “this is a problem”. That signals the need for action (e.g. addressing the problem).
Once you’ve communicated the problem, you can either press for a specific solution or be open to multiple solutions. Specific solutions are good for simple problems, e.g. “I ordered a hot dog not octopus” but most situations are best served by being open to multiple solutions.
If the problem has happened before, drill in and look for a root cause that needs to get addressed or re-frame the problem. One of my favorite aphorisms is “It is only a problem if it stays a problem“. Which is to say that there is a difference between an instance and a pattern and they require different solutions (e.g. you are not on track to meet the schedule).
Identifying a problem does not mean it will be addressed to your satisfaction. What it does mean is that you’ve given the other person the opportunity to address it to your satisfaction. If they choose not to do that, you have a new piece of data that you can factor into your decision making. If things don’t go your way, you’ll want to use an aphorism my dad taught me, “You need to distinguish between the things you can put up with from the things you can live with“.
As with so many things, identifying problems follows a salt curve: a little is good, the right amount is great and too much is intolerable. So do it but don’t overdo it.
If you are on the receiving side of people identifying problems, you might find one of my other favorite aphorisms useful, “They pay us to solve problems … business is brisk“.