Make Up Your Mind: Do You Want to Be Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution?


The guard opened the cell door and told Prisoner 46664 that he had a phone call. After 27 years of incarceration, Nelson Mandela was invited to tea by the outgoing South African President P.W. Botha. Through nearly 50 years of armed resistance, Mandela had committed himself to the overthrow of apartheid. The invitation, and his acceptance of it, led to his release and ultimately to the first multi-racial general election in South African history. White minority rule ended, and Mandela became the country’s first Black president.

After 5 decades of violent resistance and suppression, how did Mandela and Botha recognize the opportunity to completely reverse course and negotiate with their bitter enemy, even in the face of strong opposition from their respective constituencies?

We often find ourselves engaged in active opposition to people or to changes in our situation. Perhaps you have been on the receiving end of a corporate reorganization or have simply had a boss with whom you don’t see eye-to-eye. At the extreme, such opposition can lead to resentment, non-compliance, and active obstructiveness to organizational objectives and necessary change. We might even express our resistance by complaining.

Let’s face it, sometimes complaining feels good, and our views are validated when others agree with us. While speaking up and sharing our concerns with others can be a way to fight back and stand up for ourselves, complaining can also draw us into a vortex of negativity that can obscure any value in the person or situation we are resisting. Excessive complaining is not only unproductive, it can ultimately harm our reputations and prospects.

At some point, we may realize: “This isn’t helping. I need to stop complaining and work to improve the situation.” It was during one particularly difficult corporate transition that one of my colleagues made the game-changing comment, “You’re either part of the problem, or part of the solution. Which do you want to be?”

Once you decide to become part of the solution, here are a few methods to boost you out of the rut of complaining and negativity.

Use the power of reframing to change the way you see the problem.

  • Talk to a colleague or friend who will challenge your perspective.
  • Think about the big picture. Shift to the long view: What was your role? What could you have done better?
  • Reframe the issue to regain the locus of control: “I can do something about this negative experience.”

Complain in a constructive way to bring about a specific outcome. Mindful people are strategic about how they complain, and as a result, are happier for it.

Recognize the opportunity by viewing the problem as one that you must solve.

  • Give yourself a proverbial kick up the backside, and take responsibility for the change in attitude that is required. Moving forward positively is often well received by colleagues and those who evaluate your performance.
  • Acknowledge the bad habits that are holding you back. Observe the good habits of successful people, and build them into your approach to the problem.
  • Seek mutually beneficial “win-win” solutions. As Stephen Covey writes in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, valuing and respecting people by seeking a “win” for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution.

It is within your power to move from a negative outlook, which can be obstructive or even self-harming, to one that embraces existing challenges. We can all get locked up in the prison of our own negative thinking. Instead, let’s take a lesson from Mandela: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Epicoach works with clients to break the cycle of negative thinking to move you and your organization forward. Contact to learn more.