As a remote worker, I get to know a lot of my coworkers by chatting with them on Slack. (It makes those years of using AIM feel like job training. Or at least I like to rationalize it that way!) As a result, I have a lot of conversations that go something like this:
- Coworker: Rachel, I’m dealing with [this tricky issue]. Can you help me sort it out?
- Me: Sure! You can learn more about that in [one of our knowledge bases] or try [this solution I’ve learned from experience].
- Coworker: Thanks!
- Me: [insert appropriate phrase for accepting thanks here]
The first part of the conversation is the easiest, really. It’s the part where I’m thinking and researching and teaching and guiding. It’s in the last part, where I have to figure out how to accept the thanks, that I overthink it. Why? Because I can never, ever decide if I should say, “No problem,” or “You’re welcome.” (Or sometimes just a quick “Sure thing!”)
This internal struggle was highlighted when I read the conversation about “No problem” vs. “you’re welcome” on All Things Linguistic, and even more when I got to the article on You’re welcome on Separated by a common language (a blog that compares American and British English). The basic issue is a divide between people who find “You’re welcome” acceptable and “No problem” rude, and people for whom “No problem” is the most natural response and “You’re welcome” sounds sarcastic or over the top. Add to that cultural differences in how to accept thanks, and you’re headed for a minefield any time you help someone out.
I realized that I fall into the generation of speakers who prefers “No problem,” although I try to avoid it in a lot of situations out of fear that I’ll be seen as rude or dismissive. I actually had to make a conscious decision to start using the phrase “You’re welcome” both online and offline, after I realized my habits could be offending people. That said, if you’re going to pick apart the meaning behind the words, I’d argue there isn’t a big difference between “No problem” and the ever-so-polite “It was no trouble at all.” (The latter is the sort of phrase that feels so proper I pull out a silly fake British accent as I say it, until I remember where I live and swallow the words before they can come out of my mouth.)
I could go on for ages with the intellectual exercise, mulling over the various ways everyone accepts thanks. At some point, though, I have to stop thinking and type out a reply to my coworker (because nothing feels as rude as an answered “thank you”). How do I do it? I’ve decided to try to use “You’re welcome” as much as possible, as a sort of standard polite American English response. But once I’ve done that a bit, or I’ve gotten to know the person I’m talking to, I’ll fall back to “No problem.” Or I’ll try to avoid the seriousness of the reply with a quick “yw” or “np” or — to avoid this dilemma altogether — just a quick thumbs up. 👍