I’ve always found it a little annoying and self-righteous when people say “No problem” to me after I thank them for some service they’ve rendered. “Why should there be a problem?” I usually gripe to myself or to who’s ever with me. Whatever happened to a heartfelt and appreciative “You’re welcome”?
So it was with great interest (and relief) to find out that someone else was bothered by the oftentimes smug response. Writing recently in The Wall Street Journal, Greg Opelka, a musical theater composer-lyricist, explained: “There’s an implicit, albeit unintentional, condescension in the ‘No problem’ comeback. As if to say, ‘You’re interrupting my busy life, but I’ll make a little time for you because I’m just that magnanimous.’ Not to mention, it’s negative.”
Not to mention it implies the person really thinks there is a problem. Despite his or her graciousness in denying any inconvenience, the term is nevertheless framed using language implying there was at least the possibility of disruption. A problem — or lack thereof — suggests things could be going more smoothly if only you hadn’t come along. In other words, there could have been a problem, but he or she handled it before it escalated into one.
I’ve also noticed that more men than women are couching their response in problematic terms. Men, I theorize, feel they’re more entitled to recognize and defuse a potential problem. Women don’t see the situation as a problem: They’re just happy that you recognize them for doing a good job.
As Mr. Opelka points out, “You’re welcome” is the “picture of sunny benevolence. More than a mere affirmation (‘You are well come!’), it’s an invitation. Where ‘No problem’ hustles you out the back door, ‘You’re welcome’ opens its big, wide friendly arms and says: ‘Stay!'”
And since you put it like that, don’t mind if I do.
Rance Crain is the former president of Crain Communicatons and former editor-in-chief of both Advertising Age and Crain’s New York Business. In 1982 he created Electronic Media, a trade magazine that, in 2003, he renamed TVWeek. In 2015 TVWeek was sold to Dexter Canfield Media Inc. In July 2017, Mr. Crain sold his interest in Crain Communications to his brother, Keith Crain. The company had been started by their father in 1916.