You don’t have “issues”…you have “problems”!


What better way to come back to regular writing than an awesome Grammar Nazi blog. Let’s get right to it. Let’s set the scene for any of the readers who don’t work, or have never worked in the ‘IT Services’ sector. A typical day, you’re sitting there, minding your own business while staring at lines of code that represent the configuration of a server somewhere in the world. Your overly enthusiastic colleague is doing something similar. It turns out that some ‘business biggie’ somewhere isn't receiving emails on his blackberry (oooh….aaah….for he’s a blackberry boy). The colleague isn’t able to figure out what’s wrong. They turn to you and say, “The customer has an issue. He’s unable to receive emails on his blackberry.”

You, being the smug Grammar Nazi turn to colleague with a bewildered expression and say,” What’s the fella got against emails or blackberry? Is it a religious thing? We’re not here to fan the fires of some person’s personal beliefs. Maybe he should talk to the local padre.” Colleague continues to stare at you as though you just spoke to them in German (Nazi…German….get it?) and says, “Dude, the customer has an issue. He is not receiving emails on his blackberry.” Sarcasm fails you the second time. That is when you realize that years and years of bad English education, which includes the very first Indian in the IT Services sector confusing the words ‘problem’ and ‘issue’, has resulted in a generation of people who don’t get my sarcasm. Tsk…tsk…. What am I to do?

Still don’t get it? Alright. Here goes. (Clears throat). According to the English language, the one and only English language (American English is NOT English….and ‘I am an Indian daaaa’ is also not an acceptable excuse for talking like an idiot if you do it with an American accent), the words ‘issue’ and ‘problem’ hold two very distinct meanings.

Let’s take some real world examples; ‘rash-driving’ on the streets is a problem. How can it be solved? By ensuring that people are of the appropriate age to drive, and once they reach that age, impose several punishments for rash driving. That is a problem. However, is 18 the right age to be allowed to drive, or is 21 the right age to be allowed to drive? Now that is an issue. There is no right or wrong. Some people feel that if someone is 18 years of age, they possess the adequate civil sense to drive responsibly, while others feel 21 would be a more apt age to hand someone a driving license. While both remain equally valid points of view, by consensus we choose 18 to be the legal age to drive a motor vehicle. But we all agree that anyone driving in a rash manner should be punished. We have a solution to the problem, although not a permanent one.

Hence, going by the example,

Problem – An unpleasant situation to which corrective action that can be taken hence is mitigating the unpleasant situation. The solution is not open to debate. There may be more than one way to solve a problem, some better than others, but it is still solvable.

Issue – An unpleasant situation to which there is no one solution and the topic at hand is open to debate. Issues normally arise from different points of view about something, with both views having their own pros and cons. There may be corrective measures to help solve the same, but those measures are generally temporary and are open to debate.

So if the darn customer can’t receive an email on his blackberry, that’s a problem. It is not open to debate. Some software or hardware is not working properly and needs to be fixed. And it can be fixed. That makes this a problem. We are not going to debate if that person should be allowed to read email on his blackberry or not? There is no issue. Should people read email in general? Should Blackberry be a proper device upon which to read email? These are topics we could discuss over a long coffee.

I remember the first time when we were told that we would be solving customer issues, I thought I’d spend hours of time on the phone consoling people like I were some sort of a Shrink. Then I figured they meant problems. On one such occasion, one of the fellow engineers told a customer in the UK to call him if he had any issues. The customer politely told him that his personal issues were his own and that the engineer should just ensure that IT infrastructure was up and running. The engineer thanked the customer and cut the call blissfully unaware of what just happened. Yours truly on the other hand was laughing his head off….. And no wonder they think I’m a little off my rocker.

What annoys me is that this is a ‘problem’ and it can be solved. The ‘issue’ lies in telling someone that 12 odd years of schooling was wrong and they’ve got to learn to say the right thing. The worst part of all this ‘issue-problem’ business is that even graduates from premier business schools joining the IT services sector make the same mistake. And these are chaps who aced the ‘English-knowledge’ section in their entrance exams.

My fellow engineers, we are here to solve problems like ‘Internet not working’, ‘email not accessible’. We are not here to help customers with questions like ‘Are gay-marriages alright?’, ‘should I hand my 12 year old his first bottle of scotch?’…the latter are issues. Our awesome degrees do not permit us to be judges on the same. So for heaven’s sake, please stop saying that ‘The customers have issues and we solve them’. We’re the ones who have issues with such deplorable English.

PS: The author of this blog is not sitting on a high horse nor has he had any personal relationship with either Wren or Martin. He’s just a concerned fellow Indian who feels that it is his place to help correct such basic problems. If you have an issue with him, please do not write to him for he shall blog about it.

PPS: I know some of you will now hunt for grammatical errors in my post and then ask me not to correct people's English when my English isn't that great.....to you I say "Whatevaaaaaaaaaaaaa"!

28...phew!

Like Arnold says...