The words we choose at any given time may be more importanter than we realize. Or something like that.
Recently, I arrived at one of my favorite travel restaurants: Cracker Barrel. I like CB because it offers an all-day variety of breakfast items, home cooked vegetables, and a cornucopia of fried meats. Oh, and they serve perfectly made sweet tea. As a southerner, I feel right at home.
The hostess showed me to my seat and I said, “Thank you.”
She replied, “No problem.”
She did not say, “You’re welcome” or “My pleasure” or even, “Well, it’s my job so you don’t need to thank me since I have to do it whether I want to or not.”
Nope. She said, “No problem.”
Before I break this down for you, I want you to know that I recognize the generational implications of this phrase. Young people today, who by the way are a group that is getting larger with every year that I age, use this phrase all the time. I get that. But, I don’t think they understand that the phrase makes no sense in some situations. I’ll explain.
Let’s say I run out of gas on an isolated rural road where the boys from Deliverance might be found. I may not want to wander too far from the main road to get help even though I’m sure almost all of locals would be kind enough to offer me gas, something fried to eat, and a big glass of sweet tea. Instead of venturing into the woods, I wait by the car until someone drives by.
The first person who happens by offers to give me a ride to the a gas station 5 miles away even though he is not going in that direction. On top of that, he offers to drive me back to my car so I won’t have to walk back.
When I thank him and offer to pay him for his inconvenience, he says, “Oh, it was no problem at all. I had the time and was happy to do it.”
In this situation “no problem” makes sense. I’ve disrupted his day but he is letting me know that it was not an inconvenience to him. In other words, it wasn’t a problem.
Now, back to the Cracker Barrel hostess. Her job is to escort me to my table. I’m not a child so I really no longer need an adult escort and the neighborhood inside the Cracker Barrel is not dangerous enough to require an armed escort. But escorting is what they do. And since it’s part of her job to seat me at a table, it should in no way constitute a “problem” for the hostess.
By telling me that it was “no problem” to show me to my table, it implies that if it was a problem she wouldn’t have done it. In other words, if she was busy working on her Sudoku puzzle and felt the need to complete it before seating me, it would have been a problem to assist me. Or, if I arrived right when she was doing the Heimlich maneuver on a customer who bit off more chicken-fried steak than he could chew, then it would be a problem to seat me. But showing me to my table when it’s part of the job description is not really a problem. So, as my whiney logic has clearly proven, it follows that “no problem” is inappropriate.
Oh sure. I realize that some people have simply replaced “you’re welcome” with “no problem” assuming it has become accepted as the same phrase. Or, perhaps people believe it is simply a more casual version of “your welcome”, the same way “yeah” is a more casual version of “yes”.
This is all well and good. But when we don’t pay attention to the words we choose, we can inadvertently suggest that we don’t actually know the right words. And I don’t think we want to do thus…or is it “that”?
So, the next time you do something for someone else, whether required by your job or out of the goodness of your heart, and that person says, “thank you,” here are a few options for your response:
“It was my pleasure to help.”
“Even though you’re really needy and need professional help, I was glad to assist.”
When we say “no problem,” we imply that we’re not paying attention to our words or that sometimes it is a problem. If, on the other hand, we acknowledge that we are glad to help, we send a message that the person is valuable and valued. Try it the next time you’re in a situation where someone thanks you. I promise, you’ll thank me.
And I’ll say, “you’re welcome.”