Let me have you ponder the difference between these two questions:
- “Why is this problem important?”
- “Why is that problem important?”
It’s a pretty subtle distinction, but potentially quite crucial. Perhaps I’m the boss and you work for me. When we talk about “this problem,” it’s quite close – something that is within our grasp. When we speak of “that problem,” it’s a little more distant, something which is perhaps out of reach. We both might have a little more ownership of “this problem”, but perhaps be more objective about “that problem” because it’s more distant.
Likewise, if I mention “your problem,” clearly I’m not taking any ownership of it. I may be no help at all, and indeed might be using this in a negative fashion to place blame and apply pressure.
If we call it “the problem,” now it’s become something that we’re both less engaged in. It’s just sitting there, waiting for us to observe and describe it.
The point of all this is to give you an easy way to shift your perspective. Problem-solving is a large part of what people do at work, especially together. The way you describe it – as here or over there, as something we own or don’t own, as something we’re emotionally engaged with or not – shifts the way you look for solutions.
This doesn’t just apply to problems, either. Let’s say I’m making a comment about something you’ve shown me:
- “This plan is ambitious.”
- “That plan is ambitious.”
- “Your plan is ambitious.”
- “The plan is ambitious.”
- “Our plan is ambitious.”
Notice how this is implying how I have a different attitude, and a different involvement with this “plan”? If you’re looking for my approval and support, which phrase I use will have a big impact on how you feel.
Little words matter.
by Carl Dierschow