A gym buddy and I sat on adjacent Expresso exercise bikes at the “Y” one very recent morning solving all the worlds problems by applying our collective common sense and worldly wisdom. It’s the same conversation that can be heard anywhere. “It’s no problem to just pay attention and use common sense.”
The phrase, “no problem”, was never a problem for me as a kid. If I ran into a snag or difficult situation, a parent or teacher usually helped me through the scenario in some practical way or by giving me some easy to understand advise. When I’d thank them, the adult would often preface his or her reply by saying, “no problem”. Hence, I grew up thinking that there were very few actual situations with which people can’t cope.
In my very early 20s I took a job as a used car salesman in San Jose, California. The gig only lasted a few weeks because I wasn’t cut out to be a high pressure salesman. But in those few weeks, I learned a lot about human behavior. Among the many verbal tools us salesmen were taught to use by rote was the phrase, “no problem”. If a customer had a question about a car’s flaw, we were to simply say, “no problem”.
Perhaps we’d be taking a test drive, the customer noticed that the transmission apparently didn’t “feel” right. We were to respond with, “no problem”. We were specifically told NOT to say, “no problem, we’ll have the transmission repaired”. We were simply relating that it was “no problem”. At least for the dealership, it was no problem. I can’t say the same for the poor customer after the bill of sale had been signed. This lack of professional ethics was a problem for me.
I pitched a beautiful Chrysler Cordoba to an up and coming businesswoman. We took the car onto the freeway. She noticed that the transmission shifted roughly. I replied, “no problem”. She otherwise liked the car tremendously. The businesswoman again mentioned the transmission as we pulled back into the dealer’s lot. I again replied, “no problem”.
The man employed as the “closer”, clinched the deal and had the woman sign all the papers. After the customer drove away, I mentioned the transmission malfunction to him. All he could say was, “Aw, it’s not our problem anymore”. I felt terrible about the deal.
The next morning, a tow-truck pulled into the lot, hauling the beautiful Chrysler. The woman piled out of the truck, very pissed off. She was in my face and made it clear that there was indeed a very big problem. I apologized the best I could and accompanied her to the sales manager’s office. There was a heated discussion in the office and I was dismissed to return to the lot to find another willing customer. The next day, I turned in my resignation.
Many years later, I had finally worked through the mental baggage of the Chrysler dealership’s stock phrase, “no problem”. I still think about that customer and the “no problem” phrase with which I had assured her. I consider that incident a very low point in my life. I think of it whenever I consider doing something, half-way or “just good enough to get by”. I know I’m capable of better.
I have a different usage of “no problem” now. I can illustrate it very simply. Whenever I encounter a challenge or difficult situation and am challenged to back away or deny it completely I’ll often mull it over in my mind. If I still can’t find a solution after lots of worry and thought, I’ll mentally tell myself, “no problem”. Just accepting the situation and knowing that I’ll somehow find a way through it using my best efforts means I have no problem with the task.
The scenario might be very tough and ugly. My first impulse might be to back away and hope nobody notices. I know that I would not be happy with that reaction. So, eventually, I’ll tell myself, “no problem”. Difficulties only become problems if we mentally convert them into such concepts.
I was never told whether or not the businesswoman’s malfunctioning car had been repaired to her satisfaction. I hope so. I also wonder how often she thinks about the Chrysler and my stock answer of, “no problem”. This incident is one of my few regrets in life. In time, I learned that regrets are treasures for learning. Anybody who claims to have no regrets in life is either not being truthful or has not lived very much of a life.
I turned the car sale regret into a positive tool to use in dealing with everyday situations with folks I encounter each day. Indeed, it has turned out to be “no problem”.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes the canard, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade”.