It’s the one question that everyone should avoid. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any good resolution come out of any part of the conversation that included that phrase.
If someone’s annoyed about something, it’s rare that they’re not also annoyed about getting annoyed too. Everyone prefers to remain calm, for all variables to align for a pleasant existence along our lines of comfort and flow. Everyone seeks to zone out that which is unpalatable or inconvenient. Some are far better than others. But we’re all universal that, once we’ve been aggravated, we don’t need confirmation. We already know there’s a problem.
If the chances are that you, the interrogator, are somehow connected with said issue, the show of ignorance or lack of self awareness won’t ever be appreciated. Nor will the jibe if you’re already cognisant of the answer. If you’re not involved, you become involved by passing judgement on someone else’s reaction. Because ‘what’s your problem?’ IS a judgement call, no matter how you pretend to skin the cat.
The major problem is the word ‘your’. It already means that there is a dichotomy in play. He who cares (the person with the ‘problem’) and he who cares not (the one butting in). Because the implicit message is: ‘I’m fine and dandy, so you should be too’. It conveys a complete lack of empathy and sympathy in light of any possible circumstance. ‘Your’ means there’s already a disconnect over the fact that someone’s flow has been disrupted in some way. It isolates the recipient, right at the moment that connection is probably key to their sanity. And it throws responsibility squarely into their arena to wrestle with alone.
I’ve heard the question asked so many times, of myself, of friends and now today, on the train over the phone. That conversation didn’t appear to go so well either. I think the double whammy comes from its deception. It’s cloaked in the language of concern and recognition, appreciation that there is something that needs fixing. But the nuances of the English language attribute such different connotations to what should be an easy phrase. Try as I may, I struggle to see it as anything other than a war cry. So if you are indeed a pacifist, offer a genuine peace offering, not a cloak-and-dagger dig. Life is hard enough as it is without having to battle semantics too.