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Education Plus

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Ways to respond when someone says thank you

We have considered a few informal ways in which you can respond when someone thanks you for a little favour or for some help or consideration.

But there is an important distinction in terms of the kinds of situations in which thanks are offered -- something we did not consider in the last article. There are the little voluntary favours we do as part of our normal social life, and there are s pecified roles for people where help is expected, and the role of being helpful assigned to you.

For example, if you are at a supermarket buying a large number of items, and someone behind you, buying only a single item, requests to go before you and save some time, you are hardly likely to refuse, even though technically you can.

This is the type of situation where informal or very informal responses to ‘thank you’ such as ‘no big deal’ or ‘no sweat’ are better than formal expressions such as ‘you are welcome’. Similarly, if someone drops a notebook while walking and you help them pick it up, this would count as a voluntary, minor favour, and would warrant an informal acknowledgement to ‘thanks.’

Designated role

On the other hand there are situations where helping people is your designated role. In the case of receptionists at restaurants, managers and staff of supermarkets and showrooms, or anyone working in any form of hospitality, this situation is particularly relevant. This also applies in case you are organising a party or a dinner, and are the host for a specific event, whether a birthday celebration or a wedding.

In such cases, it is better to respond to ‘thank you’ in a formal way, with ‘you are welcome’, or even ‘it was a pleasure’. But as I suggested earlier, the expression ‘don’t mention it’ is a little outdated even for the common formal situations.

Unless you are speaking to someone very senior or perhaps on the stage giving a speech, or conducting some important meeting, using this expression would feel out of place.

Accepting apologies

Even when accepting apologies, people tend to function with a very limited set of stock phrases. In fact, these are usually limited to just two: ‘it’s all right’, and ‘it’s ok’. The expression ‘it’s ok’ is really tricky, since it in fact almost always means the opposite of what it says. Using this phrase gives the impression of dismissing an apology casually, with hidden anger, rather than accepting it gracefully. Watch yourself responding to apologies from now on. Whenever you say ‘it’s ok’, chances are that you meant to say ‘there’s no need to apologize.’ Very casual expressions such as ‘don’t worry about it’ or ‘that’s cool’ are much more effective in such contexts.

Nilesh Jahagirdar

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