Don't Say This Two-Word Phrase at Work—and What to Say Instead

We toss this flippant phrase around all the time—but it actually rubs a lot of people the wrong way. (Seriously, it's a thing!)

I say it. You say it. We pretty much all say it—often on a daily basis. But as it turns out, this (seemingly) harmless expression irritates some people in the workplace. The offender: "No problem."

I learned about this blacklisted phrase from my very first boss. She mentioned in passing that getting "no problem" or "no worries" in reply to any request irked her. Completely taken aback, I started to panic. I'd never heard this opinion before. I said "no problem" numerous times every day and thought I was being pleasant, professional, and obliging! Now I worried that I had been rubbing important people the wrong way without even knowing it.

What's so bad about saying "no problem" anyway? Her declaration seemed a little harsh at first, a little unforgiving. Isn't saying "no problem" just a colloquialism for "sure" or "you're welcome"? Was her aversion to hearing the phrase a personal pet peeve, or was this a widely despised expression they didn't teach me about at the college career center?

And then I started managing a direct report myself. On this co-worker's first day, she hit me with a casual "no problem." I wouldn't say I was annoyed at her, but there was something in the way the response came across that made me cock my head and wish she'd been a little less off-the-cuff.

I knew from my own experience that she meant nothing by it other than to be naturally cooperative. But I did finally come to understand why some people could take it the wrong way: There are some more layered implications to this two-word phrase.

Some people can't stand it when you say "no problem" because this reply suggests that the person speaking to you thinks that their request is a problem—one they're asking you to solve. This puts that person on the defensive, thinking: "I know it's no problem. I'm not asking you for a favor. This is your job!"

You may read this and think that anyone who negatively reacts to this phrase is being hyper-sensitive. And honestly? You might be right. But we all ought to try to get along in this world, right? Now that you know about the potentially irritating effects of this phrase, you might as well consider using any number of easy, friendly responses instead. A few favorites: "You're welcome." "My pleasure." "Any time." "Absolutely." "I'd be happy to."

As a matter of habit, I now avoid saying "no problem" like the plague, just in case. But, for the record, I couldn't care less when people say it or write it to me. Seriously, it's no problem.

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