Recently, I was interviewed on a radio show about the importance of words purportedly taught us by our mothers: “please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” Please and thank you are no-brainers. We know we should say them, although there are times we don’t, and that’s when we come across as demanding, self-centered, or downright rude. “You’re welcome” on the other hand isn’t a regular part of discourse today.
When we say please, we are asking someone to do something; but if we fail to say please, then we’re demanding it: “Please, Bob, would you get me the newspaper?” as opposed to, “Bob, get me the newspaper.” Just reading those words conveys two very different attitudes—one pleasant and considerate, the other strident.
When we fail to say thank you, we demonstrate that we simply expected the other person to do what was asked. Saying nothing, or grunting an acknowledgment, tells Bob that his effort isn’t worthy of your attention. Conversely, saying thank you shows appreciation for what another person has done for us. “Bob, thank you for getting the paper for me,” is the best way to acknowledge Bob’s effort on your behalf. There’s a world of difference between appreciating a person’s effort on your behalf and simply expecting them to do something without making the acknowledgment effort.
The place most of us fall down is in the use of “You’re welcome.” Most times when someone says “Thank you,” we automatically say “Thank you” in reply, or, even worse, “Oh, no, thank you.” Both these responses trump a person’s thank you. An alternative you hear a lot is, “No problem” or “It was nothing.” At least in these cases the response isn’t an attempt to one-up the thank you, but it doesn’t acknowledge it, either.
The best response of all is a simple, sincere, “You’re welcome.” It expresses that we heard what was said, and we appreciate it. Once said, then feel free to follow with your own thank you.
Of course, all this is easier said than done, especially getting into the habit of saying, “You’re welcome.” At the end of that radio show, the host thanked me for being on, and before I could stop myself, I replied, “Thank you.” I should have listened to my own advice and said, “You’re welcome; and thank you for having me on.” Next time.
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About the author
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."