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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