These Two Words Are The Biggest, Happiest Lie in Business

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You hear them all the time. They are probably said in your presence multiple times a day, if not directly to you, or by you. In fact this phrase has become so common we don't give it a second thought. Among the biggest, most frequent lies we tell is when we say: "No problem."

Whenever someone says "no problem" what they mean is "there is a problem." They mean "I don't want to do that. I shouldn't have to do that. But I will."

Or, they might mean "I know you think this is my job, but it's not."

Maybe they mean you should have, or someone else should have, or it should be done automatically.

But if they thought it should be done and it was their job, they would say "yes."

This might seem like nitpicking. You have likely said the phrase “no problem” thousands of times without ever considering it further. But flip it around. Think of when people respond to your requests with “no problem.” When you hear *someone else* utter those words, aren’t they being said because they figured that you would think it *would be* be a problem?

The answer to any request should begin with the word “yes” or the word “no.” It’s okay to add clarifications or caveats: “Yes, but we need to adjust the budget and the schedule” or “No, unless we put another project on hold.” It’s okay to explain your answer. But “no problem” is a little bit suspicious.

In fact, “yes, but” is far superior to “no problem” because it shows engagement and earnestness. “No problem” says “don’t worry about it” while still implying that something is wrong.

The deeper point here is not merely about these two words, or even being precise with our language. Rather, it’s about how much our communication involves bending the truth. When someone asks you if you can do something, it’s essential to answer honestly. If you don’t, you’re going to either disappoint them when you fail, or stretch yourself thin trying to meet the promise. And what’s worse is that in the long run you’re only going to set yourself up for more failure. You’ll be remembered as the person who broke their promise, or you’ll be expected to perform secret heroics in the future.

The next time you’re asked to do something, step up and say “Yes” instead of “No problem.” Or be clear and say “No” instead of trying to impress someone by going beyond your reach.

You can’t avoid having problems altogether. But if you want fewer issues and less stress, don’t create more problems by using words that insist the problems you do have don’t really exist.

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