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Anchor 3

The Problem With No Problem

I was checking into a hotel. When the woman at the desk handed me the key, I said, "Thank you.” She said, "No problem."


I ordered gazpacho at a restaurant. As I handed the menu back to the waiter, I said, "I am looking forward to it. Thank you." He said, "No problem at all."


The professor at a business school introduced my lecture generously. At the end of the day I said, "That was a lovely introduction. I appreciate it." He said, "Oh, no problem."


After Christmas lunch we opened our presents. I was thrilled with mine. "I love this. Thank you so much," I said. “Sure,” our friend said, "No problem."


Every time I hear "no problem" as a response to appreciation, I feel just slightly sick. And recently I have begun to feel campaignish. I want a rally to extinguish the expression, "no problem.”


So first I decided to figure out why it offends me. Am I unawarely resistant to popular linguistic evolution? I fervently hope not. Or is there something legitimately, inherently, not all right about responding to "thank you" by saying "no problem?”


Here’s what I came to. Gifts and paid service are not supposed to be problems. And so it is weird to hear that they weren't. A gift is supposed to be a generous act; and if there could have been a problem in producing it or finding it or buying it or wrapping it or keeping it cold or delivering it, tough. The recipient is not supposed to have to wonder about all of that. When someone gives us a gift, we say, "Thank you," and then the giver says, “You’re welcome,” or even, “I’m thrilled you like it.” That’s the logical deal.


The same goes for paid service. The point is it is paid. Servers serve. Customers pay. That is the logical deal. Then we the served say "Thank you," and they the servers say, “You’re welcome” or “It was a pleasure” (even if it wasn’t). They don’t allude to the trial it could have been. The deal is we the served are not a trial. We are a boon. It is not in the package that we could be a problem.


Yes, I know that neither gift-givers nor the servers mean literally that the act could have been a problem but fortunately wasn’t. But non-intentionality does not keep the word "problem" from going straight into our brains and bringing the act of appreciation down with a thud. “You’re welcome” or “It was a pleasure” keeps the appreciation alive. “No problem” kills it. (The same goes for “no worries.” It is an equal thud-producer.)


In fact, my NLP-savvy colleagues can explain the problem with “no problem.” They say that the brain does not register the concept of “not." That may or may not be true. But if it is, it goes a long way toward explaining why it is important not to use it. "Not a problem" has the same brain effect as "a problem." And that is exactly the problem with “no problem.”


So – why can’t people just say, ”You’re welcome;" or "It was a pleasure" or, just "pleasure," if they are in a hurry? I remember when the woman in the M6 Toll Road toll booth in England said, “It's a pleasure," when Christopher thanked her for the receipt for his £4.50 payment. Her response added to our already perky mood and to our enthusiasm for that lovely new road. Honestly, if someone in a toll booth, surely the #1 most soul-destroying place on earth to work, can say, “It was a pleasure," the rest of us can, too. 


So, with this I officially launch my campaign to replace "no problem" with "pleasure" in every hotel, restaurant, grocery store, café, dress shop, garage, hospital, drive-thru burger joint, coaching session, communion service, florist, gym, prison, and toll booth on the planet.


Maybe a first step would be to appreciate people for responding with “Pleasure.” I did this yesterday. When I did, the person seemed pleased. He also looked mildly puzzled, smiling nevertheless.


But that’s all right. The first step in any big change is to recognise the problem. Especially when the problem is no problem.

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