My worries about “no worries”

The other day, I was running to catch an elevator and the person coming out of it held the door open for me. I said “thank you” and he responded “no worries.” No worries? I thought about it for a minute. I’ve heard and, I believe, have even used this phrase. For the first time, I pondered what was he, or was it I, potentially worried about? Hmmm.

In yesterday’s “Ask Amy” column in the Seattle Times there was a question by a 76-year old man. He wrote that several teenagers in his neighborhood help him with small tasks and when he says “thank you” they respond “no problem”. He asked Amy, “…when and why ‘you’re welcome’ was replaced by “no problem.”

That made me wonder what “you’re welcome” means. My Google search took me to Urban Dictionary where it said “it’s a polite way to respond to thanks. Implies that the other person is welcome to ask for any other favors.” Well that was news to me. I like that; that you are saying “I’m happy to help anytime.”

The Urban Dictionary further wrote that “you’re welcome” is “synonymous with no problem.” But the problem with “no problem” and “no worries” is they imply you were not put out by doing the favor. Is that really how to respond to “thank you?” It’s a bit like when someone compliments you on something and you say “oh, this old thing.”  You’re pushing the compliment away; you’re not honoring the praise. “You’re welcome” honors the person for saying “thank you” and acknowledges their gratitude.

Thank you for listening to my thoughts, you’re welcome to respond.

22 thoughts on “My worries about “no worries”

  1. Beth Buelow, ACC, The Introvert Entrepreneur

    Ha! Your timing is perfect. I was JUST responding to an e-mail where someone said “Sorry for not getting back to you sooner,” and I almost replied “No worries.” I kid you not! I stopped myself, because I thought, “Really!? Like she’s sitting there *worrying* about it!? Hardly!” So I simply said “Thanks for your reply” and went from there.

    I remember hearing about the difference between “no problem” and “you’re welcome” a few years ago, but not as eloquently as you put it here. To me it’s in the same camp as saying “Please don’t hesitate to contact me” vs. “Feel free to contact me” at the end of a letter, conversation or e-mail. The former implies that the other person might be afraid (!!) or reticent, while the latter is invitational. They both have the same intention, but very different meanings.

    Thought-provoking as always, Ms. Clise!

  2. Arden Clise

    Beth,

    That’s so funny on the timing. It’s funny how if we hear something often enough it’s easy to start using it ourselves. Good for you for catching yourself.

    I love the analogy of the “please don’t hesitate to…” and “Feel free to contact me.” I hadn’t thought of that in that way, but I suppose that’s true. It’s also a lot more concise to say “Feel free to…”.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. Carole

    I have no worries about anyone using “no problem” instead of “you’re welcome”. I confess that I tend to use the former phrases in very casual settings. In fact, it seems I use both “no worries” and “no problem” verbally in day-to-day situations, while retaining “you’re welcome” for written communications, including email.

    What this topic brought to mind for me is which etiquette rules we need to let go of today. By this I mean, in the 1950s and 1960s when I grew up, etiquette rules were more formal and more prevalent. However, many times acts of etiquette were very insincere because they were obligatory responses with no meaning or heart behind them. In that context, I’d rather get a sincere “no problem” than and hand written note that lacks sincerity.

    Etiquette is about making people feel comfortable, not adhering to a standard. The younger generation “no problem” is intended to make the recipient feel at ease by making them aware that giver was not troubled by the effort, was not coerced into giving (such as parents required them to help), and further implies that the recipient is free to ask again should they need additional help. If you turn it around this way, “no problem” is a compliment. I think that’s the real etiquette lesson here…learn to accept a gift graciously, even if it is not how you require it to be given. 🙂

  4. Arden Clise

    Carole, you are absolutely right, accept a gift graciously, even if it’s not what you wanted or expected. We should never correct someone or tell them they are wrong. The only people who can do that are teachers, parents, mentors, maybe bosses, and etiquette consultants, when they have been hired for their advice.

    While you are right, a response is better than no response, “no worries” and “no problem” are not complete sentences. “You’re welcome” is. “No worries” doesn’t even make sense. It’s slang. I’m not advocating we all be uptight grammar nazis, and I certainly hope I don’t appear that way, but I do think we look more polished and professional when we use proper english that makes sense and honors the other person.

    Today in Toastmasters I was chastized twice for saying “You’re like…”, to describe a situation. It is complete slang. They were right to call me on it. So, I’m learning too and making my share of mistakes.

  5. Barb Hunsinger

    I have the same concerns that you do, Arden – “no problem” sounds like someone was not really that excited to help but did it anyway. My response is, “My pleasure!” (which I learned from my daughter, who is in the hotel industry).

    Just saying those words creates enthusiasm and authenticity. I think I will also add, “I’m happy to help!”. Words like “help” and “pleasure” take the response to a different level.

  6. Carole

    “I’m happy to help” is a wonderful response!

    Consider me a convert. I’m going to check my use of “no problemo” (yes, I even use pseudo-Spanish), even in casual sitations, and use this phrase instead.

    While I might have argued that “no problem” is casual and therefore keeps things relaxed, I can see that it can also be interpreted as not really caring. Ugh.

    I am happy to make this adjustment!

  7. sarah

    I’m coming to this a bit late, but I’m very intrigued by this discussion and it has caused me to reflect on my response to being thanked. I am 22 years old, so I may be a part of the “younger generation,” which likely contributes to my assessment. I consider “no worries” very informal. I do not use “no worries” at all, but do not mind when people use it with me.

    I do use “no problem” in an informal setting with friends who are very thankful and seem to feel almost guilty or indebted as a result of my action, if that makes any sense. In this case, “you’re welcome” has the connotation of “I was happy to go out of my way to help you,” while “no problem” means “Please don’t feel indebted; it wasn’t too much trouble for me to help you.” In these cases, I actually see “no problem” as being more polite or appropriate than “you’re welcome.” In other words “you’re welcome” is an acknowledgment that you did indeed go through some trouble to help the person, while “no problem” attempts to put the person at ease by conveying that it wasn’t a huge issue for you to help (and thus the recipient of the help should not feel indebted; this is key). I think I may be splitting hairs here, but to me, as a 22 year old, there do seem to be times that “no problem” is more appropriate than “you’re welcome.”

    Of course, I always say “you’re welcome” in formal situations and to people who are older than me.

    I know I’m really late here, but I’d love to get a take on this perspective. Could it be partially an age difference? Because I feel as though I am very etiquette-conscious (although not etiquette-perfect!), and I feel very, very comfortable stating that in certain situations, “no problem” is more polite than “you’re welcome.”

  8. Arden Clise

    Hi Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing your comment. It’s always great to get different perspectives.

    I don’t perceive “you’re welcome” as less polite than “no problem”, but perhaps it is a generational thing.

    “No problem” is actually coming from a negative place – I wasn’t bothered, it wasn’t a problem, whereas “you’re welcome” and “my pleasure” are positive. It’s focusing on the fact that you’re happy to help anytime.

    If you’re willing, let’s do a little experiment. Try saying “you’re welcome” or “my pleasure” to a few close friends when they thank you and after a moment ask them how they felt by your response.

    Then report back and let me and my readers know what the responses were.

    All the best to you.

    Th

  9. Michael

    Hello,
    This comment may be a little late after the original article was written, but I’m 33 and I was with my girlfriend at a restaurant. I said to the waiter “Thank You” for the food and he said “No Problem, Guys, Enjoy!”..I really had a problem with No Problem there, and with the fact that he called us GUYS when my girlfriend is female (last time I checked). I think No Problem is ok in informal settings, but when someone is doing you a service which you are paying for and is not going out of their way No Problem is not polite. Also I would like to point out that in 2011, as overused as “You Guys” might be, it’s still gender biased and not appropriate unless you are referring strictly to MEN. I wince at that more than my girlfriend does and especially when it is used in a service industry by a server.
    Just my two cents,
    Thanx 🙂

  10. Arden Clise

    Hi Michael, thank you for your comment. You have hit the nail on the head. The waiter was very casual using both “no problem” and “guys”. “No problem” is not only casual it also makes it sound like he wasn’t put out by serving you.

    And, “You guys” is gender biased, although people treat it as gender neutral. You might have seen my post on “The trouble with you guys.” where I talk about this very phrase.

    Good for you for being careful about your word usage.

  11. jenaigoss

    There was an article I read a while back on how young adults and teens tend to use “no problem” or “no prob/it’sok/no worries” over “you’re welcome”. The informal no worries or no problem implies that the act of kindness was ‘nothing’, that there was no thought/love/care/selflessness put into it, and that the receiver cannot excpect by default further acts of kindness. “You’re welcome” implies that the act of kindness was a sacrifice, and that the giver is at the other person’s disposal.

    My sister and I have been trying to get into the habit of using ‘you’re welcome’ over no problem since I became aware of the habit, and it’s hard to break, but it’s far more refreshing to use. Surprisingly, people respond much better to “you’re welcome” with smiles/talking/connection and returning favors to others, whether strangers or friends, over the non-commital ‘no problem’.

  12. jenaigoss

    Further note: I will still use “No problem” if its a very informal setting with friends, and it really was something that didn’t inconvenience me or that everyone is doing (like say passing food around at a potluck) – but in general I am trying to switch to your welcome, especially with people who wouldn’t know whether they would be ‘welcome’ or not to help in the future (such as a stranger asking directions).

  13. ArdenClise

    @jenaigoss

    You explained the difference between “no worries/no problem” and “you’re welcome” very well. Good for you for trying to say “you’re welcome” more often. I do think it is disarmingly charming and does elicit more smiles and respect from others. I think using “you’re welcome” is also very appropriate with strangers as well as close friends in an informal setting. Again, it’s a polite, courteous expression that makes people feel special.

    Thanks for your comment. Much appreciated.

  14. Dallas Alexander

    Wow, as a business owner I have changed to saying no worries instead of saying no problem like I use to. One person had asked me if there was a problem since I said no problem.
     
    Never had an issue about saying No Worries but now I am worried that you are correct.
     
    Being 22 typing this, I grew up in an atmosphere where everyone says no problem. They “meaning us younger generation” don’t even think about it, it’s more of a pride / ego thing and being embarrased saying glad I could help or your welcome. Some do it to be cool too but I have found that to be miniscule. Sort of stupid but I think my generation overall is messed up or perhaps im too old school.

  15. ArdenClise

    @Dallas Alexander
     Hi Dallas, thank you for commenting. I do think it may be a generational thing, although I hear plenty of people in the older age bracket that use the term “No worries”. Interesting that someone thought what you did for them was a problem because you had said “No problem” in response to their “Thank you”.
     
    “You’re welcome” and “My pleasure” are much more professional terms. It does take a while to break the “No worries” habit though. Keep working at it. Awareness is the first step.

  16. David Qat

    I ordered at a pizza place, which is fine.

    He said, “What would you like to drink?”
    I said, “Iced Tea.”
    Then he said, “No Worries…”
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    (Do I really seem worried?
    –or–
    (He wants me to know that I should not worry,
    because pouring a class of tea is normally dangerous?)
    –or–
    (He’s angry that his job is getting things for people,
    and he’s projecting that I’m worried and demanding? )

    I’d love to see this odd phrase disappear.

  17. ArdenClise

    David Qat Ha, very funny! Yes, indeed, that was a strange response from the server. He could have said, “One ice tea coming up” or simply “Certainly” to acknowledge he got the order.
    Yes, it’s a very strange response to someone’s order or when a person says “Thank you.” I’m all for getting rid of it.
    Thanks for your comment.

  18. Pingback: I’m NOT Sorry – Modify the Message

  19. Jon

    I see I’m a few years late here, but as a 27 year old I have to say that Sarah’s distinction between the two is precisely the way that I’ve always used them.

    I say “no problem” when I want to downplay the amount of effort that went into something and make the person feel at ease. Saying “you’re welcome” to someone offering me giving thanks makes me feel like I’m acknowledging that I put a lot of work into something and I want to avoid making them feel indebted.

    That said, in formal settings I would avoid “no problem”. I actually found this post as a result of a search for more formal alternatives.

  20. Arden Clise

    Jon,

    Thanks for weighing in. I really believe “You’re welcome” or “My pleasure” are appropriate for all occasions. I don’t see it as formal. As i said to Sarah, try experimenting with people by responding “You’re welcome” or “My pleasure” after they thank you. See what kind of reaction you get. It might be a pleasant surprise. Or the person might look at you oddly. I’d love to hear back,

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