Why is that phrase so hard to say?
A gold star spins across the screen, and magical sounds play from the speakers of the online English learning platform.
“Thank you, teacher!” says the 4-year old student in Beijing.
“You’re welcome!” I state, modeling the correct response to the phrase ‘thank you’ for my student.
But why do I avoid using those words in my daily life? I replace them with, “anytime, of course, no problem, sure thing, yep!” But what message does that send?
Their appreciation makes me so uncomfortable I’m not able to acknowledge it.
Saying You’re Welcome Verbally
There are some situations where I find it’s easy to say, “you’re welcome” verbally, especially when I know the person and I can control my tone. When grandma thanks me for picking up some things she needed from the store, I can comfortably tell her, “You’re welcome. I’m happy to help you out at any time.”
I wouldn’t tell her, “no problem” because I don’t want her to think of asking me for any help as a problem. I’m afraid it would come out as, “It was no problem this time.” And I don’t want to use the phrase, “no worries” as she would hear that as a cue to start worrying about something.
When she thanks me, I know its genuine as I often do go out of my way to help her. Would it be so terrible if I felt I deserved her gratitude?
I often don’t feel deserving of appreciation.
Acknowledging The Gratitude of Strangers
But what about when I am dealing with a stranger? I frequently hold the door open for people, sometimes going out of my way if they have a stroller, or look like they could use a hand. When people do thank me, I have nothing to say. Usually, I mumble something like, “yeah,” or “sure,” or even worse; I fail to acknowledge their gratitude and tell them, “have a great day.”
Being able to help someone with a small gesture brightens my day. But their appreciation makes me so uncomfortable I’m not ready to acknowledge it.
This is coming from someone who has a daily gratitude practice. I take the time to be grateful for the sky, the taxi driver, and my cup of tea. But it’s difficult for me when someone expresses gratitude to me for something I did. I often don’t feel deserving of appreciation.
I considered phrases like, “no problem at all” or “it was my pleasure,” which felt fake and ingenuine to me.
Writing You’re Welcome
Putting those words in print is even more foreign to me than saying them out loud. What inspired this post was responding to comments on my latest published story.
I mentioned the writing of some people that I admire, and felt so awkward responding to their comments. Each type I typed, “You’re welcome,” I found myself quickly backspacing, and I didn’t understand why.
Mentioning them was kind of my way of expressing gratitude for putting themselves out there and allowing me to read their work. So when they thanked me in the comments, I was stumped on what to say. If I said, “you’re welcome,” it would have felt like I believe I did them some huge favor; which is not the case. I considered phrases like, “no problem at all” or “it was my pleasure,” which felt fake and ingenuine to me.
In many of my responses, I failed to acknowledge their gratitude, or I responded with my own, “thanks.” It is a very British way to respond to thank you, in my experience. The exchange goes something like, “THANK you.”
“No, thank YOU.”
While I’m not British, this is what I tend to be most comfortable saying. I have an issue with my self-esteem. If I don’t feel worthy of “thank you” how could I possibly utter the phatic expression that accepts gratitude?
So Why is “You’re Welcome” so Complicated?
While it is the most courteous and professional response I can imagine, it does have an air of confidence about it. By acknowledging gratitude, it calls attention to the deserving act. As someone who is generally humble, this is what I believe trips me up. I’d rather brush it off with, “it was nothing” or “don’t worry about it,” to keep the attention off of me.
In addition to this, it is overused as a snarky and sarcastic comment. Imagine this scenario: you are rushing through a door with your mind all over the place, and someone holds it open for you. Before your instinct prompts you to turn and thank them, they have already let out an exasperated, “You’re welcome.”
People often say “you’re welcome” as a way to call attention to a lack of deserved gratitude. There is even a Disney song in Moana, where, “You’re welcome” is a cocky phrase used by a demi-God to express how awesome he believes he is.
Somethings I consciously avoid “you’re welcome” because of a fear that it will be perceived this way. Replacing it with, “no problem” seems to make sense as a way to express that you didn’t do any big thing. But I don’t think it acknowledges gratitude the same way saying “you’re welcome” does.
Where should I use ‘no problem’ then?
“No problem” is more of a response to a casual apology. When someone is sorry for stepping on your foot, you can say it. But beware, it’s also not useful for more severe apologies. It takes a lot of courage to apologize, just as it takes a certain humbleness to express gratitude. I don’t want to refuse to acknowledge gratitude or devalue apologies with this phrase.
I can’t control what people say, but I can choose my reaction
In conclusion, I’ve decided to continue to accept when people use phrases like, “yeah, sure, yep, and no worries” to acknowledge my gratitude. I recognize its a complicated topic, and I’m not going to assume the worst of anyone. But I plan to hold myself to a higher standard.
Words are powerful and should be considered before a response. They have the power to lift someone up or tear them down. So moving forward, I’m challenging myself to use “You’re welcome” the way it was intended.
I will acknowledge those who express gratitude toward me and allow myself to feel their appreciation. So in the future, please hold me accountable if you don’t see me acknowledging gratitude and validating the human that expresses it on the other end of the machine.