Can “No problem” Create a Problem?

Girl Looking Up Pensively

I was recently inquiring about a rental property of what appeared to be a vacant house.  The owner replied to my text saying the property would not be available for two months and not to disturb the current tenant.  I responded that I was surprised because the photos were all of empty rooms and that, of course, I would not reach out to the tenant. Then I thanked him for responding. (I’ve learned many people don’t respond.)  He simply replied, “NP.”  As I considered his “no problem’’ response, it got me thinking.

When I say “no problem” it is a way to let the other person know that the faux pas they just committed and are apologizing for is not a big deal.  It’s like saying, “think nothing of it.”  In today’s societal norms, it’s a casual way to accept an apology.  It’s also used as a way to say “you’re welcome.”  Someone thanks you for giving them directions and you say, “no problem.” My fiancé called to book reservations for breakfast. Before hanging up he said, “thank you,” and the young woman replied, “no problem.”

Both my fiancé and I were a little put off by the “no problem” responses.  In my situation, I felt the owner was misleading potential renters by posting empty rooms when in fact the house was not empty.  Apparently unbeknownst to me – a homeowner who hasn’t looked for rental property before – this is a fairly common practice.  The property owner takes pictures of the unit before renting it out and uses the same pictures each time they are seeking a new tenant.  If you don’t know this practice, it’s easy to feel deceived.  And if you’re feeling deceived, the last thing you want is to have someone tell you “no problem” as if you are being forgiven.  You want an apology for being deceived, or at least an explanation.

My fiancé would have preferred to hear “you’re welcome” after making his reservation.  After all, he’s going to give patronage to the restaurant and make them money.  Plus, if part of your job is to take reservations, saying it’s not a problem to do that seems inappropriate.  How differently he would have felt if the woman had said, “my pleasure” instead.  The Ritz Carlton, whose customer service is legendary, trains its employees to say “my pleasure” when being thanked.  Have you ever had someone tell you that?  Doesn’t if feel much better than “no problem?”

So let’s look at the actual words. No Problem.  Both words are considered negative words.  There is a plethora of training around how to say no without having to say the word – that’s because our brains tend to react negatively to the word no.  And the word problem is very definitely a negative word.  You’ve certainly heard companies try to turn problems into opportunities, right?  Did the phrase “no problem” evolve because someone thought two negatives would make a positive?

You may be thinking I’m making a mountain out of a molehill because it’s all in the tone and the context of how you say these words, isn’t it?  Maybe so.  If you have a strong relationship with someone and they know your intent, “no problem” is a totally fine response.  But if you are in a service role or in a position where you need to influence others, do you want to risk them being put off by your responses?  Our brains keep track of those small infractions and treat them as triggers, eventually causing us to take our business elsewhere.

The emotionally intelligent approach is to use your social awareness of the relationship and context of your conversation to decide if “No problem” will actually be a problem.  Over the next couple of weeks, try this: Watch for opportunities to say “No problem” and instead sincerely say, “Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” or “I appreciate that” and see what happens.

Thank you for reading.  Make it a great day!

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