The Problem With "No Problem" | Relationship building tips inspired by the psychology of Persuation
By: Felicia O'Neil
If I had a dime for every time I heard the expression ‘no problem’ I would be a millionaire. It is one of the English language’s most overused phrases, and is a point of contention among grammar experts, and one of the most common responses to ‘thank you'. While some have no problem with a ‘no problem’ response during an informal exchange, others believe it is far too casual and somewhat inappropriate of a response to a gracious thank you.
Picture this: you just did me a huge favor and I am very grateful and thanking you profusely. Like most of us, you are likely to respond with one of the following phrases: no problem, no worries, no big deal, don’t mention it, Ahhha, or no problemo. So what is so wrong with the response ‘no problem’? After all, it does mean you’re welcome and that’s ok in that context. More importantly: what should one say in response to a thank you, especially after you have done them a favor?
Well according to Psychologist Robert Cialdini’s, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. There are six principles of influence and persuasion, and this falls under one of the basic principles of reciprocity.
Reciprocity indicates that people want to do things for people who have done things for them. In other words, people have a tendency to return a favor. The good old give and take and the good cop/bad cop strategy are both based on this principle. Do things for others and they will feel obligated to do something for you in return.
Cialdini highlights a Moment of Power that occurs after someone has thanked you for something you have done. When you do something for another and they say ‘Thank you’ it’s tempting to say ‘no problem’ in response. Please pause before you do so, this type of a response does not capitalize on your Moment of Power, in fact it does the opposite, and it diminishes the value of what just took place. Why not respond with ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘it’s my pleasure.’ We are Canadians after all and polite is our middle name.
Cialdini suggests adding: ‘Sure, and I know if I needed something from you, you’d do the same for me, wouldn’t you?’ this response will not only capitalize on the Moment of Power but it will also make the other person feel better about doing you a favor. Granted, if you are like me, you may find this response a mouthful, or not something you would say or feel genuine saying. Personally, I made it one of my communication goals not to use the phrase ‘no problem,’ instead I use ‘you’re welcome,’ and ‘it was my pleasure’ often. When someone does me a big favor and it seems fitting I will add something like: ‘I know you would have done the same thing for me.’ This according to Cialdini can have the effect of building up a credit in the ‘relationship bank account’ and increasing your chances of getting a yes from the same person in the future. The lesson here is that if you dismiss your efforts as valueless, then don’t expect someone else to view them otherwise.
Cialdini speaks of another Moment of Power which I found fascinating. He speaks of using it on his children and swears by it, so for those of you with kids, if I have not captured your attention yet, I have a feeling I have now. Here it is: faced with two options, should you present the moderate option first or the most extreme option first. Cialdini recounts a study by Phoenix University. The researchers asked a number of people whether they were prepared to supervise a group of juvenile delinquents at the zoo as part of a social project. 17% of those asked said they would. The experimenters then asked another group of people whether they would be prepared to mentor these juveniles for three hours a week for the next two years. Of those that said no, they then asked them the first question (about the zoo trip) and the number that said yes went up to a staggering 50%! He described the moment immediately after they said no as a Moment of Power. If you have to make a request have a backup request available and make it immediately, if you ask at a later date- you are far less likely to get a yes. This is also called the rejection-then-retreat technique.
So if you want to test these options with kids or anyone else, here is what it would look like: Let’s say you would like your twelve year old kid to clean his room by 6:00 PM (a moderate option). Unless your kid is the exception, you are likely to get a maybe, or later, or a flat out no. However if you ask him to clean his room, take the garbage out, do his laundry, and do the dishes (the extreme option), you are extremely likely to get a ‘No way!’ But if you follow that with, ‘Ok, will you at least clean your room than?’ According to this principle your chances of getting a yes are much greater, compared to just asking directly in the first place. I suggest you try it, you just might thank me later, and when you do, I promise not to respond with ‘no problem.’ Here is a review of the five remaining principles of persuation:
Commitment & Consistency
This principle states that when people commit, verbally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are much more likely to honor that commitment. We want to stay consistent with our commitments and past actions. Testimonials are a great example of this principle, if a client really likes a product, not only will he continue buying it but will also tell everyone about it.
People follow the crowd and do things they see other people do. Whether it is a new fashion trend or a popular product, we find safety in numbers. Testimonials also fall under this principle.
People will tend to obey authority figures, be it someone wearing a suit or a uniform, we still listen. We all know that in business we need to dress and act sharp, and people will take us more seriously.
People are easily persuaded by other people they like, they are more likely to buy if they like and trust the person selling to them, even if the competition offers a better value. Rapport is the foundation of all interactions and a key factor of persuasion and liking.
Scarcity & Urgency
Scarcity will generate demand. We want what we can’t have, the harder it is to get, the more we want it. For example, saying offers are available for a ‘limited time only’ encourages sales. Maybe playing hard to get is a worthwhile strategy after all.
I hope that you find these principles and tips interesting. I highly recommended reading the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, and applying some of the principles in both your personal and professional life. My only hope is to lessen the use of ‘no problem,’ especially in response to a thank you. So unless you are confronted by a Police Officer asking you what seems to be the problem, or you bump into a very burly man seemingly having a bad day who asks you ‘what is your problem?’ please refrain from responding with ‘no problem,’ try ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘it was my pleasure’ and start capitalizing on the reciprocity principle and the Moment of Power.