09/09/2014 12:42 EDT | Updated 11/09/2014 05:59 EST

Sticky Situation: Saying "No Problem" Is a Problem

Sticky Situation:

I am a little peeved and I can't take it anymore!

Well not that loud, more like a niggle and I think that you can learn from it.

When did «No problem» become the new two-word service phrase?


For the last couple of years there is a trend. I could even call it a movement. Etiquette experts and linguists are quite perplexed about this trend. Workplace recruits interchange «No problem» in lieu of «You are welcome», «It's my pleasure», «Yes, right away» or «I'm sorry».

After hearing at least four «No problem» over the course of a weekend, I had to write and share the correct replacements for this all encompassing, catchy phrase.

It all started last weekend when I called my cell phone provider to inquire about a new package of minutes, texts and Internet, to prepare for my upcoming speaking schedule. After the representative wrapped up the features and cost of my bundle, I said «Thank you». To which she replied «No problem». Whaaat? Problem? I was not aware there was a problem. I don't recall calling about a problem or being informed that there was a problem.

As a service representative, the acceptable follow ups to «Thank you» are: «You are welcome» or «It's my pleasure». Both of these indicate the deserved appreciation and recognition that should be attributed to all clients.

Fall is in the air and I went shopping for a new raincoat. I needed a size that was not on the floor. I asked the pretty young clerk if she could please get my size. As she took the garment with her to walk to the backstore, she looked at me and said «No problem». Of course, there is not a problem ma'am. It is your job to go look for my size. Just like it is the waiter's job to also bring the condiments that go with your burger and fries.

When being asked to do something that is part of your job description, appropriate replies could be «It's my pleasure» or «Yes, right away».

To top off the list of examples of this contagious expression is my friend's new assistant. She is bubbly and efficient but chews gum right in front of clients, as she is booking their next appointments. All the clients see is the gum swirling in her mouth. Gum chewing is a whole other blog. It is my biggest pet peeve. My opinion's short version is; gum should be a solitary activity.

When the employee was asked to stop her annoying and disruptive habit, she replied «No problem» and immediately disposed of her gum in the trash in front of her boss. Well, in this case, there was a problem and she was displaying it. Her usage of this two-word combo shrugged off her acknowledgement of responsibility. Her reply should have simply been «I'm sorry, it will not happen anymore».

I could go on. And don't get me started with the ultra casual «No prob» or «No problemo».

«No problem» insinuates that your customer or superior is making a problematic request. In reality they are just turning to you to do your job or to respond to their direction, which is also part of your job. Serving, helping or collaborating is what most of us are hired for.

«No problem» negates the polite exchange and the position of service that you are in.

So, you may ask, when does «No problem» apply. Simply put, it only applies when you go beyond the expected. When there is not a previous agreement or assumption of doing something.

Let's say, you bring a Pumpkin Spice Latte to your colleague. When she says «Thank you», you could reply «No problem». Bringing her this favourite Fall treat was not a problem; you did not go out of your way. You were getting one for yourself and remembered how much she enjoys it. But even in this scenario, I would stick to «You're welcome».

The next time that you get the urge to give a double word answer choose one of the following appropriate options: «You are welcome», «It's my pleasure», «Yes, right away» or «I am sorry».

As I am concluding this blog, I just received an email from a colleague. He closes it with Cheers. What are we toasting? Is he in a bar? Drinking and emailing? That is also a whole other blog.

At your service!

You have a sticky situation at work or home? This is your forum. Write to Julie and she will reply promptly. Want more solutions to sticky situations? Go to Facebook, Twitter or order your autographed copy of Etiquette: Confidence & Credibility. Planning a conference? Julie happily travels coast to coast and beyond, to present customized activities. With Julie's help gone will be awkwardness, embarrassment and faux-pas.


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