Leadership, Personal Development

Your Problem is “Not my Problem”

Skirting responsibility is the downfall of successful teams.

Woman looking away from her laptop

In a society where we prioritize individual strengths, weaknesses, and individual responsibilities, it’s easy to forget about the collective good. Saying that the issues of the world (or your friends/peers) is “not your problem” is par for the course. 

“Not my pig, not my farm” you’ve heard people say.

But is that really true?

Our childishness has taken over the workplace

When I was younger I would say, “ it’s not my problem” to my little sister. All the time. I believed that the things that she needed to take care of were her problems. And the things that I needed to take care of were my problem.

Her day to collect the garbage? Not my problem.

Her turn to clean the bathroom? Not my problem.

Not sure how to complete her math homework? Not my problem.

And often, I refused to help her. Unless (of course) the task fit under my responsibilities or I was forced to by our parents. 

I should mention that I also had to be feeling particularly generous.

But that’s just what kids do, right?!


Unfortunately, this doesn’t change automatically as we age. Many people hold onto this philosophy of only helping others when it fits “what it is that we think we should be doing”. A “not my problem” mindset can become a significant issue for teams that are not working well together.

Sometimes you’re right, it’s not your problem.

This mindset is not always the wrong answer though. There are situations where you cannot take on the responsibilities of everyone around you. Emotional trauma is a great example.

In high school, I had a great friend who was experiencing significant mental illness. She was committing self-harm and attempting suicide monthly. As a teenager, she relied on me to be there for her. I stopped sleeping, eating, and taking care of myself so that I could support her at any moment. I was pulled into a very stressful cycle that I didn’t know how to get out of. 

One time, I ditched school to drive her to an emergency centre. She tried to jump out of the car when we were driving 50 km/hr and I felt solely responsible for keeping her alive. It was one of the scariest moments of my life.

It is easy to be pulled into an emotional spiral. But you end up unable to help them because you are stuck right there with them.

Not accepting the emotional struggle of others as your own is a healthy boundary to instate.

It’s a scenario where “not my problem” can be helpful when served with a side of compassion and caring. You can still be a compassionate listener without taking on a problem as your own.

Let me repeat… you can still be a compassionate listener without taking on a problem as your own!

But workplaces depend on collaboration

But in a workplace — where the outcomes of the group can become your personal outcomes as well — it is valuable to treat each other with a sense of common good. It is unwise to think that “it is not your problem” when the results of the company will eventually be your problem.

The reality is that employees are fired, laid off, or otherwise ousted as a result of poor company-wide performance. Especially if that individual is resistant to helping the growth of the group.

So if negative outcomes impact you too, what motivates you to say “it’s not your problem”?

  • Selfishness? You pursue rugged individualism and believe others should too. You look out for yourself and only yourself. And you isolate yourself from the group and the group’s purpose as a result. So although you get s*** done, you lose your human compassion in the process.
  • Overwhelmed? You are trying to manage all the things that are on your plate and taking on the problems of someone else is only gonna make things worse. I have a bad habit of taking on other people’s problems even when I’m overwhelmed. I can have too much on my plate and decide to add more for myself anyway (seems smart right?). I want to help out rather than really acknowledging the state of my own wellbeing.
  • Too busy? You can’t foresee there being time to help with other people‘s concerns or issues. You may have so much on your plate from your normal day that adding anything extra is impossible. You feel that it’s not your problem because you feel underappreciated or taken advantage of by your peers? This is common if you often help others but don’t ask for help in return. It can be painful to be always giving and never receiving.
  • Blaming others? “It’s not your problem” because you did not cause it. Blame is a dangerous game. It loses a company’s time and money, and jeopardizes working relationships. Sometimes it’s the people who shift the blame to others that are responsible for the problem in the first place. Since they are unwilling to take responsibility and help to clean up the mess blaming might be a huge route to why you believe that “it’s not your problem”.

Overcoming individualistic tendencies is hard work!

Instead of brushing off the request of others as “not your problem” you can accept responsibility. This is one of the hardest things to do.

Society teaches children to embrace responsibility for their actions but forget that the message needs to be reinforced to adults 

When you receive a request it can become a responsibility, and that responsibility needs to be embraced, accepted and met. Some might even try to exceed it.

At work, this can look like your day-to-day tasks and typical job responsibilities. But your responsibilities will extend beyond your job responsibilities. As a team member, you are responsible for supporting your team, helping your management, and ensuring that the initiatives that you are working on is successful. To be a successful individual, you have to be part of a successful group. This is often forgotten.

Don’t get me wrong… I don’t think you can assist everyone that needs help every single time

Sometimes we fall into a habit of “rescuing” people (*cough cough* ladies *cough cough*).

If you rescue people consistently from work that they need to get done it can become a crutch for them. And you end up being the one doing the work most of the time. Not only does that not help you, but it also stops them from growing. It impacts their personal and professional development.

Assisting them is different from rescuing them. It’s showing up and supporting. Not doing. And is a principle of a go-giver philosophy that I wrote about (and also of the gracious professionalism). But it’s important to not always rescue and instead to assist.

Reinforce boundaries while still collaborating

Boundaries are a healthy thing. You cannot take the whole world onto your shoulders and expect to do everything well. 

My boundaries weaken. A LOT. I am on an ongoing journey with professional boundaries, and I expect you are too! Sometimes this looks like me checking my email or touching base with my team every day when I’m on vacation. 

Reinforcing boundaries while still collaborating and equipping your team to do the right thing is vital. But there is a difference between healthy boundaries and skirting responsibility.

Lashing out is the “lazy way out” of responsibilities

“It’s not my problem” is an aggressive statement. To the receiver, it feels like you are lashing out. It is heard as “it’s not my problem… and I’m unwilling to help you with it”.

This creates animosity between team members and creates hostile work environments. You’re showing unwillingness. It breeds contempt and reinforces the belief that you are not a team player and can’t be depended on. 


Is there a better way to say “it’s not my problem”?


Here are a few new ways to delegate responsibility while maintaining a strong relationship and building trust between people.

The trick is to acknowledge the need, state your ability to help, and ask a question.

  • “I would love to help, but have a lot on my plate at the moment. Can I help you with it for a few hours next Tuesday?”
  • “Thanks for asking! That’s an important project. I can’t help at the moment but am excited to see the results, I know you will do a great job.”
  • “Wow, this is certainly a big problem that will affect the whole team. Have you considered asking James and Diane’s perspective? At this point, there isn’t anything I can do to help the situation.”
  • “Hmm, I wish I could help out. Let me know a week or two before the next project is due and I can carve out some time for you!”

If you share your time with others, they will share their time with you

When it comes to your personal and professional responsibilities, not everything is only your problem. Remember that your personal responsibilities can be shared by those around you. You can assist others, and they can assist you. By collaborating, you can create positive working relationships that benefit the team. That being said overburdening yourself with the responsibilities of others can also have a negative effect. 

It’s a balancing act.

When you reduce the amount of time you pursue individualism and focus on collective improvement, you produce great work.

Thinking “not my problem” very quickly becomes a problem when it becomes a defensive and automatic response. Developing strong boundaries while collaborating is the solution. 

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