There was a time when a problem was a problem in the world of business. This is no longer necessarily the case. Today many managers and helpdesks will identify a problem as an issue. Why?
Because it’s bad for business to say you’ve got a problem. This Orwellian newspeak is all about avoiding the negative connotations that the word conjures up.
I was running one of my corporate writing courses at an international company in Europe when I found that one of my attendants was a helpdesk manager. I asked him why helpdesks studiously refer to a problem as an issue when a customer calls.
“We’re not allowed to call it a problem,” he explained. “That’s impossible. Issue sounds better.”
This change apparently began in management speak in the 1980s and “issue”, which really means a point in question or an important subject of debate, has since spread in its newspeak context with the rise of the Internet.
I can’t remember how many times I have shot back at a helpdesk person: “No, I don’t have an issue with my laptop. I have a problem!”
This playing with words in the corporate world has taken on a farcical twist because the word “issue” has seeped into general parlance, beyond helpdesks and meeting rooms. I read about people who are having “personal issues” when they in reality mean that they’re suffering from personal problems.
I think “issue” should remain the preserve of politicians. U.S. President Barack Obama has got an issue with his embattled health reform and other world leaders also struggle to prevail on issues ranging from climate change to democratic reform.
For some managers, however, the word “issue” is not enough to overcome the stigma of having a “problem”, They prefer to call it a “challenge”.
I welcome your comments.