The 2 Words You Should Stop Using Right Now

When someone expresses their feelings, how do you respond?

Posted Jan 04, 2015

“Thanks for being there for me yesterday. It really helped to talk with you.”

“No problem.”

“The flowers are really beautiful! Thanks for bringing them.”

“No problem.”

“I appreciate the ride to the airport.”

“No problem.”

In each of these interactions, there is something offered and gratitude expressed. Yet the giver does not appear to receive the gratitude. There is a lost opportunity for a deeper flow of giving and receiving.

You may wonder what I am talking about. Saying “no problem” lets the recipient know that everything is OK. The favor was not an inconvenience; you are not beholden to me; I didn’t mind doing it. Or, as the French say, “de rien.”

In French class, I was taught that “de rien” means “you're welcome.” But it literally means, “It was nothing,” which is similar to “no problem.”

So, what’s my problem with “no problem”?

When someone responds to me with “no problem” or some version of it (“It was nothing"; "Don’t mention it”), I often feel that my gratitude has fallen flat. It was not received in any deep or meaningful way. I am left with a somewhat cold and distant feeling.

“No problem” is not an optimal way to acknowledge gratitude. It does not touch our deepest longing to give and receive love and caring. It does not build intimacy.

An alternative French response to an expression of gratitude is “c’est moi,” which means, roughly, “the pleasure’s mine.” This moves toward an intimacy-building response, but still doesn’t go all the way, especially if it is said in a rote or mechanical way. “It’s my pleasure” reveals some of the feeling of the giver—“It felt good to do that for you.” But a more meaningful flow of connection may be created if we become a little more revealing of our deeper feelings when someone expresses gratitude.

Here are some possibilities based on my earlier examples:

“Thanks for being there for me yesterday. It really helped to talk with you.”

“I appreciate your saying that. It felt good that you were so open with me and talked about something so personal. I appreciate your trusting me.”

“The flowers are really beautiful! Thanks for bringing them.”

“I’m really glad you like them. I love making you happy and seeing you smile.”

“I appreciate the ride to the airport.”

“I’m happy to take you. You give a lot to me and it feels good to do something to help you.”

Of course, the feeling behind the words is more important than the words themselves. And a warm, broad smile might say more than any words can. But words can make a difference. Cultivating a language that supports gratitude can deepen the intimacy we long for.

The next time someone expresses gratitude to you, be mindful of how you feel. Pause a moment before responding automatically. Take a breath. What do you notice inside? See what words might come from your heart—and if it’s OK to take a risk by being a little vulnerable and allowing that tender part of you to be seen.

Relationships can deepen as we express genuine gratitude to each other and respond to expressions of gratitude from an open-hearted place. Expanding and relishing the experience of gratitude also helps rewire our brain in positive ways, as explored by Dr. Rick Hanson in Hardwiring Happiness.

At the same time, please don’t criticize yourself for saying “no problem." I’ll sometimes find myself saying it in situations where some problem might be anticipated. Someone steps on my toe or a friend calls to say he’ll be late and I might respond, "no problem” or “no worries” to alleviate possible embarrassment. When someone expresses gratitude for something small that I've done for them, such as holding open a door or picking up a hat they dropped, I'll most often say, "you're welcome," or "my pleasure" or something similar.

In our busy lives, we may miss precious opportunities to meet caring moments with kindness and sensitivity, which can connect us more deeply with each other. Next time you’re confronted with an opportunity in which you would normally say “no problem,” try something else—and see how it feels.

© John Amodeo

For more on relatonships as a spiritual path, please see Dancing with Fire: A MIndful Way to Loving Relationships, an award-winning book.

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