It’s OKAY to Call them Problems

(A message for corporate professionals who love corporate speak.)

It’s a thing. For a long time now, in the corporate world and in the personal development space we like to avoid the word problem and replace it with the more gentle and optimistic term “opportunity”. Nice try, but it’s killing your resilience as a team and an organization.

No judgment here – I get it – I was doing the same thing for a long time. I love words and challenge myself to choose better words to describe my day-to-day life because I find it makes for a much better life. For example, I’m not “busy”, I’m “perfectly occupied.” The trend for happier words has its merit, it’s just that when it comes to problems, replacing the word problem is backfiring. 

For far longer than I’d like to admit, I’ve struggled with how to communicate what I teach at Resiliency Ninja. I followed the trend and removed the word “problem” from my marketing vocabulary. I replaced it with nicer terms like stress, obstacles and adversity. But, do you know what those are? They’re problems. And as much as I want to make it sound fancy and all kumbaya, the truth is, I help people solve problems better and faster. The client chooses the problem, the Resiliency Ninja formula is universally applied to deal with it.

Completely confident in my newfound acceptance that I’m knee deep in the problem-solving space, I shared my value proposition (I help teams solve problems better and faster by mastering everyday resilience) with a corporate prospect and she cringed. “Oh, we stopped using the word problem in our (large) company. We replaced it with the word opportunity. Problems are not allowed.”

Calling problems something different doesn’t make them disappear. It’s an attempt to disguise them and tiptoe around the fact that we need to get focused on finding solutions – because that’s what we do when we have a problem, we solve it. We don’t “solve” opportunities. We celebrate and work towards opportunities.

 While it sounds nice, let’s be honest. As soon as you’re in a business meeting and someone says “it’s an opportunity” the little voice in your head is calling bullshit. You’re saying, well, actually it’s a really big f*#king problem.

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It’s like opening an overdue notice from the tax man and saying, “Gee look, it’s an opportunity to pay the government some money if ever I decide to.” No, actually it’s a problem and you need to pay it asap.

Calling something by another name doesn’t make it different, it just takes longer to deal with it. When you look at the synonyms for problem, they include words like conundrum, enigma, dilemma, dispute, trouble, quandary, heck, even bugaboo makes the list. You know what’s not on the list of problem’s synonyms? The word opportunity, which makes sense because they are not the same thing. 

The truth is, we, as humans, as co-workers, as business professionals, we have problems. BIG problems. Little problems. Personal problems. Work problems. Personal problems that get in the way of doing our work effectively problems. Problems that cause more problems. And problems that don’t even need to be problems.

The answer is not switching words, the answer is teaching people how to effectively deal with problems by being resilient. When we get comfortable with the uncomfortable and tackle a problem head on; with no smoke and mirrors, no sugar coating, no flipping to optimism, then we can be real and deal.

 Many people run away from important, difficult conversations. Issues that could be solved faster with open and honest, no scaredy-cat communication are replaced by a corporate culture that says, “No problems here folks, only opportunities.”

As a team member, what are you supposed to do when you have a real problem that you’re not allowed to call a problem? The last thing you are going to do is take it to your leader or share the reality in a team meeting. Why would you subject yourself to the judgmental cringe as you showcase your blatant disregard for the adopted corporate culture of disguising problems as opportunities? Oh, but then when things go wrong, the leader will complain they were blind-sided or that proper steps weren’t taken to mitigate risk. You can’t have it both ways.

The point is we need to solve problems more effectively, not pretend they don’t exist by spinning them using fancy terms and creating a culture of professionals who flinch when the word is said. It’s OKAY. We can admit problems exist – and the sooner we do, the sooner we can start solving problems better and faster. 

You’re turn: What other well-intended corporate speak phrases backfire or, dare I ask, that you think are a problem and need to be stopped?

#corporateculture #leadership #personaldevelopment