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The problem with "No Problem"

 
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brian-hansen
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Joined: 17 Mar 2006
Posts: 712
Location: Oregon

PostPosted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 9:29 pm    Post subject: The problem with "No Problem" Reply with quote

"No problem" is now an unavoidable response to expressing thanks.

The problem with "no problem" as a response to thanks, is that it is
more properly a response to an apology. The effect, therefore, is
to transform my act of thanking into an act of apology.

"No problem" makes a claim about what has been happening
between us. It claims that I might think that the action you took
that triggered my gratitude was a significant burden to you, but
that because of your regard for me, or because it was a small
enough burden, you do not want me to believe that this burden was
too great. (Or something like that. I'd love to see a refinement of
this formulation.)

Compare the effect of "no problem" versus "you're welcome" in
the context of my thanking you for a gift. I want my "thank you"
to express my delight in the gift and the thoughtfulness of the giver.
To recast my thanks as apologizing for the burden that the giver
has taken for my benefit is to convert my gratitude into regret,
which the giver than mitigates or minimizes, by saying "no problem."

Sometimes, the thing I'm thanking you for is clearly a burden,
but one that is part of your regular employment, or is of the kind
that anyone could reasonably expect (holding the door for someone
holding many packages, for instance). Arguably, "NP" would be
apt, but pretty low on the politeness scale; the response of someone
who is only just barely trying to be polite. To convince yourself
of this just consider other responses to a "TY" in these situations,
slightly more polite, and slightly less polite. I find it hard
to identify a less polite response that doesn't come across as sullen
and resentful. Merely acknowledging a "TY" (in a verbal face-to-face
context) would be quite jarring to the thanker. Below this (in politeness)
is lashing out "I hate my job, and that's the 3rd refill of water you've
wanted, and your clothing makes you look ridiculous."

I guess I'm imagining a different response to "NP", one that I
would hope that does not result in bad feelings going forward.
"I didn't expect that what I thanked you for would constitute
a problem, or I never would have asked it of you. I merely
want you to know that I am pleased with it; I am grateful.

If you think I'm making a distinction without a difference, I think
I may not have captured my sense of "NP" as a response in these
few paragraphs. I invite you to compare how "NP" as a response
feels next time you receive it.
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jabailo



Joined: 20 Mar 2006
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Location: Kent (East Hill), WA

PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 2:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In the sense that no problem seems to cause problems, perhaps its a gentle way of reminding the requestor that everything has a cost. Imagine a humble bureaucrat and his overbearing boss. If the boss could get away with everything, bureaucrats, like cannon fodder, would be chewed up by the month. A clever underling would take pains to needle his whipmaster at every turn, until the overlord gets the message that yes, it really is a problem and would you please go back into your office and leave us alone.
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brian-hansen
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Joined: 17 Mar 2006
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 9:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think they call this "passive-aggressive".

When you asked for some service, I didn't have the
courage to point out, gently or not, that your request was
unreasonable.

When you thanked me for the service, I took that
opportunity to interpret your thanks as an apology.

It may be that some people are just not cut out for
the service industry.
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Time Clock



Joined: 11 Sep 2008
Posts: 47
Location: Vancouver, WA

PostPosted: Thu Sep 11, 2008 1:38 pm    Post subject: You're Welcome Reply with quote

I once had someone ask me what the definition of "You're Welcome" was. I stumbled all over myself at the time, but now I have a ready answer. I won't give it and ruin your fun, and anyone, given a little time, can answer this, but as a stock response to thank-you, you're welcome didn't seem logical, it was just something polite everyone says.

First time I ever heard "no problem", it caught me off-guard. You're right, it transforms their gratitude into an apology, and it is pretentious - the person saying it seems to say, I am pretty important, and you've bothered me with this, but I'll graciously gift it to you. "No Problem".

another variation:

"Thank you so much for your assistance"

"Not at all; I am happy to help, ask anytime."

That's not so cliche, but still on the order of "no problem", yet does not seem rude.
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brian-hansen
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 11, 2008 4:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Glancing around, I see sources saying that this means "freely given",
and this is consistent with my first impression that it means something
like "you are welcome to these kinds of favors/gifts from me,
especially in the future."

If you thanked me for letting you stay in my home, it would be
pretty clear, I think: you are welcome to stay again.

***************************


I agree that there are several formulations that minimize the
"burden" aspect, that are not so impolite. I think especially of
"think nothing of it", "de nada", or even "I was going that way
anyway." And yes, my original theory/rant doesn't explain
why these do not offend me so much.

I think the key to it may be the "future" element I mentioned
above. If it is "no problem" this time, it might be a problem
next time. If you should tell me to think nothing of it, then
that gives me confidence that next time it will also not be
a burden that I should start apologizing for, and that I can
keep on giving thanks, expressing gratitude. I see this as
being expressed explicitly in the example you gave.

**************************

This discussion reminds me of a situation I was in a few
years back. My boss's boss wanted to fire me. Long story.
The problem was, they really needed me, so, while there
was a transition, they extended my employment for several
weeks. At that point, they realized that they still needed me.
My (new) boss came to me and said, we're willing to extend
your employment for 6 more weeks, "but that's it."

Now, I hadn't asked to be extended, let alone begged.
I had offered to stay on if they needed me. If she hadn't
said "but that's it", I think I would've stayed. Instead,
I said "I'm disinclined to accept your offer" and I've never
regretted it.

I can imagine how that phrase came to be uttered, but my
interpretation was that my offer to help had been recast
as my begging to stay, and that they would indulge me just
this one time. In other words, I wouldn't be "welcome"
in the future.

Subsequently, just one project I was working on was
working very well and was on track to saving the
organization over $250,000 per year. They abandoned
it after I left. I daresay, politeness matters.
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Time Clock



Joined: 11 Sep 2008
Posts: 47
Location: Vancouver, WA

PostPosted: Thu Sep 11, 2008 6:44 pm    Post subject: what are you if you are "welcome" Reply with quote

You're welcome is of course short for you are welcome to have/take/etc. But then what is "welcome"?

if you are welcome, then what are you?

I think it switches targets. If you are welcome then really "I welcome/enjoy/am pleased to gift you with this favor." That's what threw me in trying to define "you're welcome", because we aren't really saying anything about them, we're really saying something about us.

I guess the part about them would be "you have special status with me, and I freely give you X"

Not saying it can't make sense, but for such a common saying it's surprising that is hard to explain in a straightforward way.
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brian-hansen
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Joined: 17 Mar 2006
Posts: 712
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 16, 2008 10:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is good.

My feeling that you are welcome is about me.

My telling you gives you expectations about
our future interactions. "You're welcome" is
more about the future, and how you can expect to be
regarded by me then, than it is about what just happened.

I will continue to treat you with respect and dignity,
and will regard future similar "burdens" with the
same diligence and grace as I did this one.
"You are welcome."

******************


Meanwhile, thanks for your postings, Time Clock.
I hope you'll know what I mean when I tell you that
you are welcome to post to YRIHF anytime.
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Time Clock



Joined: 11 Sep 2008
Posts: 47
Location: Vancouver, WA

PostPosted: Wed Sep 17, 2008 9:06 pm    Post subject: I do, and you're welcome Reply with quote

...as an example <grin>. Evidence forthcoming.
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brian-hansen
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Joined: 17 Mar 2006
Posts: 712
Location: Oregon

PostPosted: Fri Sep 19, 2008 3:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

jabailo wrote:
... and would you please go back into your office and leave us alone.


I'm starting to come around to what you said here, John. I think
that what I'm reacting to, when I hear this phrase, in light of the
above discussion, is the meaning you've identified.

Basically, "don't bother me like this again".
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