You’re welcome. We don’t think about what those words really mean when we casually drop them following an expression of gratitude. In fact, in many cases we don’t even say them at all. We’ve replaced them with phrases like no problem, sure, and even yep. While I certainly appreciate the acknowledgement, I wonder if we’re selling short some of the sentiment behind the words.

You’re welcome. A polite response to a preceding thank you, it means you are welcome to my time, my hospitality, my effort, my service, my thoughtfulness, or whatever action prompted the words in the first place. When I think about it, you’re welcome really carries a lot of weight. Or it should, anyway.

As an alternative, my pleasure appeals to my sensitive side, too. That phrase is even more straightforward. It means whatever I just did to earn your thanks, I was glad to do it for you. What a nice thought.

I use no problem and sure just as much as anyone. There are many times when the thank-you-you’re-welcome exchange is purely ritualistic and even a well-intended grunt would suffice. No one would notice.

For the times when it does matter, though–and those times occur more often than you think–make those words mean something. If you’ve handed me my food through the drive-thru window or completed a transaction at the teller window, for example, don’t say no problem. Of course it’s no problem! You’re getting paid to do it. Make me feel appreciated instead. Tell me I’m welcome to the service you just provided or that it was your pleasure to do it for me. If you really mean it, I’ll be a lot more likely to come back.

Thank you for reading this post. (And now you say…)