Director, Arbinger Israel
How often do you hear someone say, “It’s their problem!”?
How often at work? At home? Elsewhere?
While it is true that everybody has their own problems, there is a crucial truth we tend to ignore.
The truth is this: If I recognize a problem or define a situation as such, I have a part in that problem.
Sometimes, I might have helped cause the problem. But sometimes my part may be unclear seem insignificant. It’s nonetheless important.
Let’s talk specifically about those times where I’ve identified a problem but haven’t played a clear part in causing it.
Suppose I notice my colleague is running late to a meeting with our boss. Running late is clearly their problem, and most likely it’s not because of me.
So, what’s my part?
Well, that depends on which mindset I’m holding – inward or outward.
From a self-focused inward mindset, I’d excuse myself from thinking about it or dealing with it, unless it could somehow serve my objectives or interests. (If, for example, I felt competitive toward this colleague, with an inward mindset I might point out their tardiness to anyone who’d listen.)
From an outward mindset, however, I’d be focused on our collective results. I’d therefore want to be helpful and would think about my part in the situation. Although I didn’t cause my colleague to run late, I see that our team is in trouble and that, for the team’s success, I need to help out. Not taking action would be a problem – my problem and the team’s.
So, how could I help? Depending on the situation, I might remind my colleague about the meeting, offer to let our boss know they’re running late, or ask if I can help prepare materials. Many other ideas might come to mind when I’m holding an outward mindset – many ways to see my part and be accountable for my impact on others.
Outward Mindset Helps Solve Problems
Our mindset determines how we interpret and respond to the problems we see around us.
If I’m inward, self-focused, and heedless of my part in an ongoing problem, I’ll likely continue to suffer whatever consequences have been bothering me.
If I’m outward, others-focused, and alive to my part, I’ll be able to help solve problems and achieve better results.
It’s Our Problem
When I see a problem, regardless of whether I helped cause it, I have a choice about how to respond.
My choice is this: I can think “It’s their problem,” or I can think, “It’s our problem.”
Some may say it’s foolish to think I have a part in others’ problems, as if I wish to suffer from what they’ve created.
But the truth is that I suffer from others’ problems by default, since I’m always affected by those around me. In thinking, “It’s our problem,” I do not take away their responsibility for the problem. I do, however, account for how I might help reach a solution.
So the next time I think, “It’s their problem,” I can choose to rethink, “It’s our problem” and act accordingly. What will happen to the problem then?