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Ps and Qs: The Overlooked Final Piece

April 30, 2019

When I was younger, I learned to “mind my Ps and Qs.” I’m glad I did. It’s a relatively straightforward behavior that has paid dividends over the years. The benefits aren’t always tangible, though sometimes they are - like when a gate agent responds positively to my request that they were under no obligation to honor (and often stretch a rule to do so). I suspect, however, I am not alone in neglecting the last step: saying you’re welcome.

(Aside: Embarrassingly enough, it was only a few months ago that I realized that “Q” in “Ps and Qs” was an allusion to the sound made when you say thank you, as in Than-Q.)

We just don’t say “you’re welcome”. Or, rather, we don’t say it nearly as often as we should. I see examples of this daily - when a person holds the door open, a server brings water to the table, or a colleague does something nice. All of these elicit a thank you, yet are often responded to with “yeah” or “sure.” Ignoring for the moment the absence of an exclamation mark (it’s always “yeah.” not “yeah!”), the choice of words is telling, and frankly, I don’t like the story it tells.

The response is often automatic - we don’t really think to say “yeah” instead of you’re welcome, but we do it anyway. The problem is that when I reply to someone’s thanks with “yeah” or “sure” I’m not only minimizing myself, but criticizing the other person.

By saying “thank you”, the other person is taking it upon themselves to thank me for something I’ve done. It may not have felt like a big deal to me - I may have even wanted to help them - still they appreciated it and so acknowledged it. When I respond with “sure” I’ve just told them they’re wrong. Not in so many words, but that’s the message I’m sending. That what I did was not worth a “thank you” and therefore, by withholding “you’re welcome” I’ve just questioned their judgment. As if that weren’t enough, I’m also telling myself that I’m not very important and that what I did isn’t worth acknowledgement.

Doing things for the sake of attention is decidedly not what I’m advocating. If, however, what you do is worthy of acknowledgement (you can tell because someone will thank you for it), and someone takes the time to do so: take a moment and own it. Say you’re welcome - for your sake and the person thanking you.

Stephen Weiss

Written by Stephen Weiss who lives in Chicago with his wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Follow him on Twitter!