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Chef Laura: Double negatives equal double trouble


There are some innocuous phrases business people tend to use.  These disposable words range from neutral to annoying:

  1.  So basically….
  2. At the end of the day….
  3. Think outside the box.
  4. Let’s flesh* that (idea) out.

*Also heard as “flush,” which is exactly what I want to do with this wordsmith gem.

But have you ever made a request to a service provider or asked a coworker for a favor and they reply, “No problem!”? 

Well, I’m here to tell you it is a problem.

“No problem!” seems harmless enough – even downright cheery.  Kind of like “No worries” to the Aussies or “Fuggedaboutit” to Al Pacino.

When we say “No problem,” what we mean is that the request potentially is a problem and we’re not really interested in doing this favor.  But we are forced to comply; hence, “No problem” nonchalantly rolls off the tongue. 

Saying something negative: “no”, plus another negative: “problem”, equals a positive in the English language.  However, as service providers, we shouldn’t initiate something negative – that’s usually the customer’s job.

That’s the reason, when I managed restaurants, I trained my employees to eliminate this response, both with customers and each other.

Sports psychologist Bob Rotella warns that these seemingly harmless double negatives can have adverse affects.  He urges golf coaches to stop voicing advice like, “Don’t go left” when their divot-digging disciple approaches the tee.

“Left” is the last word the golfer hears.  Even though they want to hit straight down the fairway, their brain whispers “left.”  Inevitably they hook their Titleist onto the beach.  When I hear a customer service person quip “No problem!” I think of my well-meaning, yet subliminally harmful, golf buddies. 

Solution?  Choose one of these “No problem” alternatives instead:

  1.  Yes
  2. Certainly
  3. My pleasure
  4. Right away
  5. Let me take care of that for you
  6. You’re welcome
  7. I will find out for you

So basically, at the end of the day, think outside the box, and flesh out some phrases in your business vocabulary that are useless or potentially negative. Then, flush those down the loo. No problem!

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Laura Cook Newman

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net

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