My son is an interesting young man. He is equal parts nerd, laid-back surfer (this is so unfortunate, seeing that where we live is land-locked), hopeless romantic, and adventure-seeker. To illustrate just how “chill” he is, when I asked what he thought about this description, he said “I can dig it.” His unique personality has enabled him to get along with a wide range of people. He talks about how regularly visiting his great-grandmothers taught him patience and to value the life experience and stories of seniors. His big sister taught him even more patience and how to be friends with people several years older and, incidentally, in a different generation (she’s a millennial; he’s Gen Z). His calm, people-pleasing demeanor has served him well as a lifeguard, a barista, and at his current position. He often shares stories about the variety of people he meets – of different ages and backgrounds – and how interesting they are. Recently, he shared a different anecdote with me. He failed to connect with a baby boomer because he said “no problem” instead of “you’re welcome.”
“You can’t say that!” I exclaimed when he shared the story with me.
“It’s rude! Of course it shouldn’t be a ‘problem’ to help someone. You’re at work to serve them! If you want to piss off a boomer, that’s a quick way to do it. Just say ‘you’re welcome’!”
“No.” he replied.
“Let me explain…”
Thus began a conversation about why many people in his generation say “no problem” instead of “you’re welcome,” and I have to say: he won me over.
He explained that “you’re welcome” implies that it has been an imposition to ask for whatever service was needed and that the customer has taken some of your time and effort, and for that, they should feel “welcome” to that time. It implies that even though it was mutually beneficial, the exchange has taken something from the person who provided the service – something they can never get back, like time.
He further explained that “no problem” means that he sees it as absolutely no imposition at all to help the customer because that is his sole purpose for being there, and that no thanks are necessary. He does not feel that there has been an exchange in which he had to give something up, like time, because he is truly happy to help.
I’m not saying that I haven’t been annoyed by a millennial or two (or several) who have said“no problem” in an off-handed, lazy way, but I’ve been just as annoyed by workers who don’t say anything or say something automatic and insincere (like “have a good day” when it’s 11 p.m.). I especially hate it when I’m the one who says “thank you” when it should be them saying it to me!
My son received, by his estimate, a 5-minute lecture from the customer about saying “no problem” instead of “you’re welcome.” He did not explain his choice to the man at that point because he just wanted to listen respectfully and restore peace. He has learned from the experience and will consider switching to “you’re welcome” to avoid inadvertently offending someone, but we must do our part, too.
Boomers, Gen Xers: I challenge you all to talk to young people about the choices behind their language. Young people change and adapt language in every generation. We can never forget that intention and tone matter at least as much as the words themselves. Remember to react from a place of compassion even when you feel you’ve been slighted, and for that reminder – you’re welcome.