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!)

By Maggie Seaver
June 14, 2019
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There’s a (seemingly) harmless expression that, as it turns out, causes some people’s hair to stand on end, especially in the workplace. The offender: “No problem.”

I say it, you say it, we pretty much all say it—often on a daily basis and typically in place of now-synonymous responses like, “of course” when asked to do something, or “you’re welcome” when hit with a “thank-you.” No harm meant, right? Apparently it’s more complicated than that.

My first time hearing about this blacklisted phrase came from my first boss at my first job. She mentioned in passing that getting “no problem” or "no worries" in reply to any request irked her to no end. Completely taken aback, I panicked—immediately. I'd never heard of this before, and I didn’t think there was a number high enough to count how many times I used “no problem” a day. I thought I was being pleasant, professional, and obliging! Now I worried I’d been rubbing important people the wrong way through various modes of communication—without even knowing it.

Being an eager-to-please young professional, I listened to my manager like she was teaching me how to breathe. (I may have even written “stop saying ‘no problem’” in my notebook.) But while I tried to burn it into my brain, I still didn’t really get it.

What’s so bad about saying “no problem” anyway? Her declaration seemed a little harsh, a little unforgiving—it’s just a colloquialism for “sure” or “you’re welcome.” Was her aversion to it a personal pet peeve, or was this a widely despised expression they didn’t teach me about at the college career center? I hated to think some well-meaning person was going around unwittingly disrespecting others by saying “no problem” instead of “you’re welcome.” (And I hated even more to think that person was me.)

And then I started managing a direct report myself, and she hit me with a casual “no problem” on her first day. I wouldn’t exactly say I was annoyed, but something clicked, and my first boss’s firm stance on the matter started to make more sense. I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but there was something so casual in the way she said it that made me cock my head and wish she’d been a little less off-the-cuff with me on her first day. Was I actually incensed by her answer? Of course not, and she meant nothing by it. But I did finally come to understand the implications of this two-word phrase after being on the receiving end.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, or perhaps it’s simply contextual, but tons of people (not just my boss!) can’t stand to hear “no problem” because they associate it with its literal meaning—and the implication that there is, was, or would actually be a problem. It makes perfect sense then for someone’s professional superior (or even a customer talking to customer service) to bristle at “no problem,” which might put them on the defensive, thinking: “I know it’s no problem. I’m not asking you for a favor, it is your pleasure and job to do this.”

You’re self-conscious about using “no problem” now, aren’t you? If you think you’ve overused—or misused—this potentially offensive expression, swap it out for any number of easy, friendly responses (a few favorites:  “you’re welcome,” “my pleasure,” “any time,” “absolutely,” “yes”—you get the idea).

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

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