My wife and I were out to dinner a while ago and ran into a very personable young waiter named Kyle.
This young man was still in college, and he was working to earn money and looking for his future.
I really liked this waiter because he made great eye contact, and he was polite but not intrusive. He had one annoying habit that was a distraction from an otherwise stellar impression that he created.
Every time he would do something, like refresh my water, I would say “Thank you,” and he would reply “No problem.” For a while I just let it pass and did not think about it, but eventually I recognized that his response habit was hurting the impression he was making of himself.
The statement “No problem” is really not a bad thing to say, but it does represent a missed opportunity to build trust with the other person. Reason: the statement does not represent a proactive positive response to gratitude.
Instead, it reflects a kind of throw-away line that I, the customer, really did not matter much to him. The effect is very subtle, so the negative impression is not severe, but a more upbeat response or at least some variety of response would work much better.
A simple “You’re welcome” would be better than “No problem,” but there could be hundreds of more creative and memorable statements the young man could have used that would further entrench the good impression we had of him. Remember, he has plenty of time to prepare creative comebacks because he pours water for people every day.
For example, in response to “Thank you” after he poured the water, he might have said, “We double-filter all of our water before we serve it to our guests.” He could have blown me away with a statement like, “We never serve water that is warmer than 47 degrees.”
Another response might be “I view your glass as bottomless.” How about, “I’ll be watching to be sure you never run out.” Another tack might be to demonstrate respect by responding, “I am honored,” or “It is my pleasure.”
The young waiter, had to realize that he was serving expensive food to people who could afford it, so every night he was making impressions on people who could potentially influence his life. I took the time to compliment Kyle on his demeanor and also give him some coaching on his habitual response to gratitude. He got the message and was truly thankful for it because he had never given the matter any thought. It was just something he was used to saying.
The response to a “Thank you” should be thought of as a great way to differentiate yourself from the pack if you are in a customer service occupation. Don’t waste the opportunity with a throw-away line like, “No problem.”
I love your posts & get a great deal out of them, but I think the problem was age & generation related also. In the waiter’s peer group, “No problem” does mean “You’re welcome”. I know because I attend community college & the polite kids use that phrase all the time. It sounded dismissive when I first heard but then I realized what it meant to them & “heard” it differently. Cultural & age differences trip us up all the time. However, for all you up & coming collegeage leaders — this one just mightbe for you!
Very interesting and helpful comment, prodo2267 (not sure of your name yet). I had not considered that the vernacular of a 22 year old may include the phrase as a translation of “You’re welcome.” I will admit to having a hard time understanding some of the texts, so it would not be a surprise. I am feeling old – well I suppose that is the truth.
Anyway, the young man was quite grateful for my comments, so I guess it was worth the risk.
Sorry, it’s Robin…not trying to make you feel old at all…obviously your thoughts are that of a strong, vibrant trust leader. Just adding to the “stone soup” of ideas you inspire…
I agree that “no problem”, in his case (and in the case of many others, including my boss) means “you’re welcome”. I think they’re saying, “I won’t let it become a problem for me, to serve you… I will make it no problem… for you.” It’s totally respectful (when my boss says it, as she’s very sweet and kind).
However, I’m impressed that you were able to point out that it has probably become a habitual behaviour (which I would love to say to my boss), and they might mix it up a bit. Good for you in being brave enuf to bring it up (gently, I assume), and good for him being able to ‘hear’ it with positive intent.
Often just a sugggestion, a new awareness, a different point of view can change everything (if we let it). EQRocks!
Right Matt. The comment was well received by the waiter because of how I brought it to his attention. It said something like.. “I noticed what a great impression you have been making on me and my wife. You are attentive without being intrusive. You are friendly without being insincere. You make great eye contact, in fact you make a fantastic first impression, which will do you very well in life. I also noticed that there is a response you give when someone says ‘Thank you’ that works against the impression. I’ll share it with you if you are interested….”
I have two teenage sons and have to agree with prodo2267. There is an age component. The other phrase they use all the time is “sure”. I hate it – I rail against it – and still they say ‘no problem’ and ‘sure’. It is indeed a “throw away”.
I hope that this is only vernacular – I worry that this is reflective of a generation that resents service. There was a time when hospitality was a real profession, when the ability to make the customer feel “served” was valued, when professionals took pride in excelling at this, when a tip reflected appreciation for this. Sure this prevails in very high-end restaurants and hotels however in many every day ‘joints’ it seems that service is merely ‘delivery’. That is a shame. Our young people should learn to take pride in the work that they do. Service is an art when done well.
It also strikes me that we often surrender to the notion that this is a generation’s “way”. However, that a generation behaves this way does not make it ‘right’. We live in a world of several generations and we all need to figure out how to accommodate each other. It seems to me that putting the notion of service together with the notion of accommodating each other entirely supports your approach Bob. I, for one, am not prepared to surrender even tho I fully expect to be reminding my adult children to say “you’re welcome”.
Thanks for the support, as always, Gail.
Good insights, as usual, Bob.
A related trend I have seen is that some people deflect a compliment when they receive it. After hearing something nice about themselves (“What a nice dress”), they might respond, “Oh, this old thing. It’s nothing.”
A compliment is a gift from someone. Deflection of a compliment is a denial of the gift.
How much nicer to respond with a genuine smile, eye contact, and a heartfelt “Thank you.”
Building trustworthy relationships is all about giving and receiving “thank you’s” sincerely.
Bob, you raise an interesting phenomenon. Your describing this as a denial of a gift is precisely what it is – and their inability to trust.
Finding out who you can trust is pretty easy. You ask them a question and their reaction is usually the clue, as you found out. If you want to establish trust quickly, take a risk. That is to say, trust them first!
I met a chap yesterday evening on the train home. We’d already established something of a rapport since we both owned folding bicycles. We’d both caught the wrong train, the slower one, and we watched the express trains dash by with their bright lights and happy passengers.
He needed to write a card for the party he was attending that evening with his girlfriend, and put it on the small table and wrote with a careful hand. Which was also totally illegible. I asked him cheekily “Are you a doctor?” His eyes brightened and he said with a wry smile “Is my handwriting really that bad?”
I hadn’t intended it to hit the mark, he could have acted puzzled, irritated or just fob off the remark. But he had the confidence in himself to respond with a smile to my incourtesy.
I completely agree, Gemma. It was the honest exchange that made the event a high trust evening for both of us. I extended the trust that I could give him some gentle input without him taking umbrage. It seemed to work.
Your poor lad’s problems start with trying to do too much – not unusual in the restaurant trade. Jut getting through the evening was probably his first concern, and switching to automatic pilot is one survival method! The fact that he made good eye contact implies he was more than ready to form relationships, and your short coaching tips will have settled in fertile ground.
it will have taught him when it’s important to slow down. After all, dashing from busy kitchen to the bustling restaurant, it’s easy to forget that you can stand still. Taking a twenty second pause from his rush will allow him to engage his imagination rather than his automatic, “lizard brain” response.
Hi Gemma. Actually this was not the case in the particular situation I was describing. The waiter was most attentive and took time to chat with us as it was not very crowded that evening. He was personable and warm. He made great eye contact and he took care of us very well. The only habit that was not helping him was his response to “thank you.” After I pointed out the implication, he was highly grateful and said he just never gave it any thought. He said that my comments really helped him.
I found this very interesting. I understand that it is common for younger folks to use terms and phrases such as ‘no problem’. I’ve used it myself and I am certainly no youngster. But the reality is that it is still a phrase used with very little thought. Robert is correct in saying that ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘we never serve water above 47*’ would set this young man apart as an interested and interesting person. Well mannered, well spoken, thoughtful, these are all qualities that draw others to you. I think it was an excellent gesture on Robert’s behalf to share his insight. Obviously the young man was doing his best to be the best with attention to his customers. This is insight he can take into any area of his future.
I work in academia, hear the ‘no problem’ as well as the thank yous. Certainly age is a factor, but right off the bat I view those who respond w/ thank you’s as very mannerly, a step above those who use slang. The 22yo waiter has goals and is willing to work toward them, it seems, and he just got a lesson that will serve him well on that path.
The Australian “no worries” instead of the “no problem” reply sounds better to my ear, but it comes with the same baggage.
what about ” no problem happy to help ” ?
His reply could have been “whatever”!
Elements of language become stereotyped and mechanical over the years. I wonder if the use of grazie and prego were once considered very modern to renaissance Italians. As with all of these novel usages it is the tone of voice, body language and subsequent actions which speak volumes.
absolutely enjoyed every comment and observation on this topic. I wholeheartedly agree most with Gary re: tone of voice and openness with body language. To me it signifies that the connection has been made and the communication is taking place. Actual words themselves account for a very small portion of the message. How and when and the spaces between them usually convey the message. Good for Trustambasador to point out the “when in Rome” to the young man though.
I completely agree with you, and it doesn’t matter that it may have morphed into an acceptable answer for today’s youth. In my opinion, negatives should never be altered to mean positives. While they are only words, they carry a negative vibration, and I’m all for eliminating them. Another huge pet peeve I have in business is the expression “I don’t disagree.” What this tells me is that you DO disagree, you’re just trying to be polite and seem agreeable. I’m so glad you pointed this out.
Great article Bob! I believe one point is missing from most of the comments; You just taught this young waiter how make more money! If a waiter said to me “Your glass is bottomless and I will make sure it stays full”…(and he did it), his tip would go up at least 5%. Generational differences aside, any waiter who pays that close of attention to me would get more than 20% for a tip.
Years later, I still chafe at a former co-worker’s response to gratitude. He would murmur, snarl really, “Don’t mention it” every time, So after a while, I did just that-I stopped thanking him, and, our relationship improved, I think he disliked my bringing attention to his station (I was a waitress, he a dishwasher); he did not realize that none of us cared about such small distinctions.
Excellent article! We will be linking to this particularly great article on our website.
Keep up the great writing.
Responding with a “You’re Welcome” validates the gratitude being shared. Saying “no problem” is dismissive. I wouldn’t attribute this to being generational as much as it’s just easier to brush off the sentiment of gratitude. Say you’re welcome, look the person in the eye, and help them feel your sincerity by being present in that moment. Nothing else can replace it.
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