Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


Do You Have a Problem with ‘No Problem’?

Should I respond with “You’re welcome” or “No problem” when someone thanks me?

A number of participants in both my etiquette and my business writing seminars have asked this question, or a similar version.

I usually respond by explaining that although we do work in a relatively informal business environment, and although our language is constantly evolving, the responses “You’re welcome” and “No problem” are not interchangeable. They mean different things.

“You’re welcome” is the shortened form for “You are welcome to it” – meaning, you are welcome to my help, my gift, my advice and the like.

People want you to take their expressions of appreciation seriously. If someone says, “Thanks for the birthday gift,” or “Thank you for all your hard work; it really helped us out,” the appropriate response is “You’re welcome.” You are acknowledging the other person’s thanks in a polite way.

“No problem” is the shortened form for “That is not a problem for me,” and it can sound glib if offered as a response to “Thank you.”

If a colleague emails you that the location for your meeting has been changed, your response may be “No problem.” You are acknowledging that what someone said or did in a particular situation is not causing difficulty for you.

People do have strong opinions on this topic.

During the research for this blog, I came across an article by Bill Flanagan, a contributor to the television show Sunday Morning. He expressed his frustration that young people will say “No problem” in response to almost any situation. He used the example of his employee who, when repeatedly confronted about arriving late to work, would respond, “No problem.” Yet the young man continued to arrive late and was eventually let go.

So, is this all-purpose use of “No problem” a generational difference? Time will tell – remember what we said above about language constantly evolving. Some online sites, including a couple of informal dictionary sites, seem to disregard the differences in nuance and interpretation between the two responses. But in the business world, clarity and good manners should always override the use of imprecise slang expressions.

The bottom line is this: Whether you say “You’re welcome” or “No problem,” you have to say something. Not responding or saying “Uh-huh” when someone thanks you is not okay!

Additional information on word choices can be found in my new book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw Hill) Reserve your copy now at Amazon.

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  1. Barbara, thank you so much for this post. I have a HUGE problem with "no problem". I am trying to train my "no problem" teenage grandsons to say "my pleasure" in response to "thank you". Hopefully it will sink in eventually that responding with "no problem" is a sign of teenage immaturity.

  2. Anonymous8/29/2013

    From a reader:
    Barbara, I agree. "You are welcome". "It's my pleasure" or even a simple "That's quite all right" is preferable to "No problem".

  3. Anonymous8/29/2013

    From a reader:
    I'm not sure which I dislike more - No problem (or np when they put it in a text or instant message in our office system) or My bad. I cringe each time I see either one.

  4. Anonymous8/30/2013

    From a reader:
    I have a problem with "no problem". My young adult children say it. Although it is widely accepted, it isn't proper English. I prefer to say, "You're welcome".

  5. Anonymous8/30/2013

    From a reader:
    When speaking with a customer, I would eliminate "no problem" as it may cause the customer to consider that there COULD have been a problem. However if my friend says, "thank you", I see nothing wrong with an informal "no problem".

  6. Anonymous8/31/2013

    It bothers the hell out of me to tell you the truth.

    It's as if a problem was somehow assumed to begin with and the responder has generously agreed to come down to your level with their borderline, condescending response. AND you're made to feel fortunate for getting that much. In the case of monetary transactions, this is usually followed by a handful of crumpled, mis-matched bills that are thrust in your direction by some clueless cashier who has never been trained to properly count back change and at this point in our civilization, probably lacks the mathematical aptitude to learn. I know, because I've tried to teach them (nicely) only to be rewarded by blank stares and dirty looks.

    Obviously It's a symptom of a much larger problem and goes beyond mere etiquette, but it does not speak well of the direction that we're heading in as a culture. So I will end this rant by admitting that, yes, I am a victim of Grumpy Old Man Syndrome--AND, refer you to Jerry Seinfeld; who once declared to George Costanza: "George, we're TRYING to have a civilization here!!".

    Greg Osborne

  7. Anonymous9/03/2013

    From a reader:
    Perhaps the main issue is that so few people say "thank you" that when they do, it catches us by surprise and we do not know how to respond. The one that I dislike the most is: "You bet" or "you'betcha."

  8. I don't necessarily notice this in young people only. I picked up on it several years ago when a man I worked with would respond, "not a problem" to nearly everything I said. He was sincere and he delivered, but I found the verbal habit disconcerting. For me, as much as anything, I am troubled about starting a response to something that is likely intended to be a positive exchange with a negative word. FWIW.

  9. Anonymous9/05/2013

    Barbara, when I saw the title of this post, remembering the first time I was initiated to this comment...put a smile on my face. It was years ago. I was a new manager of a team of misfits. (Not my term, but those in management above me.) I was trying to bring this team together because I knew they all had potential beyond what they all thought and believed. We had an intern join our team. She was full of life and excited to be a part of the group. No matter what I asked her to do, her response was "No problem what so...ever!" There was a singing in her response that the rest of the team soon adopted as their own response back to me. This phrase spread such a positive feeling throughout e every department and where ever the members of the team were asked to do something. Appropriate or not? It pulled a group together that accomplished much more than increase productivity. No problem...had so much attitude attached to it and influence, I still find myself using that sing song tone in response and I can't help but think of the powerful effect these words had and still do.

  10. Anonymous10/17/2013

    As a customer service rep, I refuse to say "No problem" to any customer. My response is "My pleasure". I also use this for coworkers, if I feel the need to respond to a spoken thank you. Much better than "No problem" or "No worries/not to worry" -- which implies that the person was a bother, problem, or the situation was worrisome.

  11. Anonymous10/19/2013

    I work in customer service myself and hear both phrases used often by my employees. I have not seen the phrase "no problem" affect our gallop scores negatively at all. Quite the contrary. Our store has one of the highest scores in our division. I believe sincerity is crucial to anything you do for clients,they pick up on that. "My pleasure" however,makes me cringe as I find it hard to believe you feel actual pleasure in assisting me. That, to me, is insincere.

  12. Anonymous2/03/2014

    I have noticed customer service employees saying "Not a problem" in a sing-songy tone more often lately. Especially waiters in restaurants, but even nurses in hospitals. It typically comes after a request for something like "Can I have the onions on the side" or "I need the bedpan." It's been annoying me and I decided to search the internet to see if anyone else was also annoyed by this. Apparently I'm not alone. I find it obnoxious and condescending. A much more appropriate response would be a simple "Sure" or "Absolutely" or "Of course, I'll get that right now."

    "No problem" has its place as a more casual, informal response when you are not in a service-oriented relationship. For example, your co-worker asks you to grab him a soda when you are headed to the vending machine. He thanks you, and you let him know that it wasn't an inconvenience to you.

  13. Anonymous12/15/2014

    I'm 31 years old, and sit in the millennial camp--or possibly the Gen X camp--depending on who you ask. From my point of view and experience, saying "you're welcome" sounds so cold. It's almost like saying, "yes, you should say 'thank you' because I didn't have to do this for you." Even though I know "you're welcome" logically means "you're welcome", it still feels like a cold response. On the other hand, "No problem" feels so much warmer, and like a better way of making the other person feel like their "thank you" was appreciated. I'm guessing this really is purely generational. I think it's safe to say that when a millennial talks to another millennial, "no problem" is viewed as the friendlier response.


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