in Management, Organizational Development, Project Management, Self-Help

Issues Vs. Problems

Distinction Between Issues and Problems and How to Deal With Them

A most common barrier in problem-solving is to confuse problems with issues. Most people use both of these terms interchangeably which leads to confusion.

An issue is essentially a point of the question, an item of controversy. When it comes to issues, we are seeking a response which consists of comfort or reassurance but not a solution.

When we ask controversial questions, we are raising issues.  Answering those questions would provide necessary comfort or reassurance.  Some examples of issues are as below:

  • Should there be a Security Testing Mechanism implemented in the workplace?
  • Do we need an explicit Rewards and Reorganization Policy at our company?
  • Are you coming with me to see that photography exhibition?

Given that we’re not expecting any solution here, answers to the above questions would result in Yes or No. It is possible that either “Yes” or “No” can be responded after discussing the question to a great extent.

Here is the structure of Issue and response:

Issue: A point in question or item of controversy.
Response: Yes or No. An answer that gives comfort or reassurance (or vice versa)

Thus, Issues are points of controversy and best articulated with question words like ‘should’, ‘do’ or ‘are’.

Now let’s understand the problems. There are many types of problems. (For e.g. individual, personal, collective, social etc.) It can involve associations, teaching, investments, infrastructure, politics or management – just about anything.  Here are some examples of problems.

Present Situation: We have $1500 to develop and promote a company website using the best of the SEO Marketing tactics.
Needed Solution: How can we accomplish this project on such a little budget?

Present Situation: I am requested to attend the office this weekend just because the work was not completed which was original responsibility of my colleague who seems to be absconding.
Needed Solution: How can I communicate to my boss that I have pre-planned date with my girlfriend this weekend and I could deal with this problem on Monday instead?

Here is the structure of the problem and solution.

Problem: An unwelcomed situation which is difficult to change.
Solution: The method or mechanism to change.

The problems are best articulated in two-part problem statements that describe the current situation and ask how a specific, the desired result can be achieved. The solution is an instrument employed to change the current situation into welcomed situations.

Thus, Problems are distinct from the issues.

So from now on, listen to how people talk about problems, what attitude towards problem-solving do they convey? Are they confusing problems with issues?

The problem about the problem is, we just can’t get rid of them no matter who we are or what we do. We all have to face them but what we can control is how to handle them and the distinction between issues and problems will help us in handling them aptly.