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CONTEMPORARY COURTESIES

Etiquette column: A problem — fewer gracious replies

Be attentive to what you say instead of firing off quick answer.

Friday, November 9, 2012 - 12:01 am

Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today's world sometimes it's complicated to figure out how to do the right thing. Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at www.news-sentinel.com.

Q. Karen, have people forgotten how to respond to a simple thank you? Everywhere I go people say, “no problem” instead of “you're welcome” after thanking them. What is the best response to a thank you?

A. The “no problem” response seems to be ubiquitous, and I doubt many people even realize they are saying it. It is one of those phrases that becomes popular and before we know it, it becomes the norm. However, it is not the best response to a thank you. A simple, “you're welcome” or “it was my pleasure,” depending on the situation, would be a better choice of words. To say “no problem” suggests there was a problem of some sort in delivering the service.

The other side of that question is how to be a gracious recipient of a compliment. Many people have trouble accepting compliments for one reason or another, but the best response to any compliment is simply, “thank you.” When someone pays you a compliment, think of it as a verbal gift. To diminish the compliment is saying you don't want their gift.

Take stock of how you respond to all sorts of questions. For instance, “we never do it that way” or “I always do it this way,” sounds so definitive. Many times there is an exception to a rule and it's important to be flexible. So, instead of using the “never” phrase, consider saying, “it has been our policy to do it this way, but let me see if we can accommodate your request.” That response leaves the door open for discussion and other possibilities and makes you seem much more approachable.

So, the next time someone says thank you to you, pause and be attentive to what you are going to say. You may be surprised.

Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email clarson@news-sentinel.com, and we'll forward it to her.