“You’re Welcome” (and Other Snarky Expressions)

by Freddy J. Nager, Associate Professor, MAOM

No, I’m not the old man on the porch yelling at kids to get off his lawn. Yet.

But my old-man sensitivities have been repeatedly rankled by the disappearance of two words from the English language: “thank you.” Apparently, they’ve been misplaced. I’d be happy with the one-word substitute, “thanks,” but apparently that’s gone AWOL, too.

So that’s brought out the curmudgeon in me…

“Face me, old man, I’m the Ghost of Manners Past!”

The precipitating event occurred, ironically, on “social” media — a subject I teach with increasing shakes of the head and rolls of the eyes. To be specific, it happened on the popular networking site LinkedIn, which I endorse as the only social medium that’s mandatory for today’s professionals. While Facebook could be renamed “Look at me!” and Twitter “Fritter,” LinkedIn actually has value. It serves as a professional’s career hub: a place to centralize one’s resume, connections, organizations, creative portfolio and more.

A key section of one’s LinkedIn profile comprises recommendations from one’s bosses, colleagues, teachers and other connections. As an instructor, I often receive recommendation requests from former students, and I’m usually happy to comply. I write each recommendation so that it’s distinctive and personal. Given the struggling memory cells in this old man’s brain, that isn’t always easy. But I do it.

And then I wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

And while I’m at it, I do some waiting.

What I’m waiting for is some acknowledgement that the recommendation was received, with a simple “thank you” as all the compensation I need. I don’t require a recommendation in return, as others might expect. Nope, just a little common courtesy will do.

But apparently, I’m a greedhead who’s just asking too dang much.

Easily half the people I’ve recommended on LinkedIn have never thanked me. Either I must write heinous recommendations, or I’ve grossly overestimated their value. The fact that LinkedIn enables its users to request recommendations at the click of a mouse has probably devalued them. But still, would it hurt to show this old fogey some merci?

The problem is, etiquette-absenteeism isn’t just limited to LinkedIn.

I recently wrote a lengthy letter of recommendation for a former MBA classmate’s grad-school application. This entailed actually going to the physical post office and mailing sheets of dead wood. (No, really, people still do such things in 2011.) Then some months passed. I finally contacted that former classmate to see if the school had ever received my recommendation, and he acknowledged that they had, and that he had been admitted to the program and was having a great time.

Nice to know. (And, hey, oh certain grad school who requires such recommendations: you’re not off the hook, either.)

In the past few years, I’ve also experienced “thank you” voids from people who have called me up for advice, emailed me for information about the schools where I teach, even met with me in person to talk about their business or career problems.

Apparently, I didn’t get the memo that said “thank you” had been omitted from the common vernacular.

Now, call me a decrepit, senescent creature of habit, but when such omissions happen, I still feel compelled to respond with the equally antiquated and apparently forgotten term “you’re welcome.” I know, how retro of me. Oh, I give it a week or so after I send the recommendation/write the letter/take the call/have the meeting, but the urge to say “you’re welcome” is so great that it bursts loose on its own, even without a “thanks” to provoke it.

Today, in fact, I sent a “you’re welcome” to someone on LinkedIn who never acknowledged the recommendation I wrote for him. He responded by asking if I was being “snarky.” I hadn’t thought of it that way: who, me, the rude one?

What a concept. Four letter words are so passé that our jaded ears no longer hear them, but “you’re welcome” actually raises hackles and elicits offended responses. I feel so… so… gangster.

So I’m now on a mission to issue a pre-emptive “you’re welcome” whenever possible, even if it means having the FCC bleep me out or courts issue restraining orders against me.

Then, the other day, something jarringly odd happened: I received a “thank you” card from a student I had recommended for business school. No, really. The young woman had actually perpetrated the post office deed and mailed a piece of folded cardboard that she had spent good money on. When I opened the envelope, I dropped the thing out of shock and stared at it for a good 30 seconds or so, wondering if I needed to report it to the Department of Homeland Security. A thank you card? The gall!

My aged knees quaked and symptoms of myocardial infarction sent me crashing into a comfy chair. I stared at the card again. Yes, indeed, there they were: the words “thank you” handwritten and even exclamation pointed. I felt like I had just chanced upon the Loch Ness Monster and the Tooth Fairy hanging out with Amelia Earhart in the lost city of Atlantis. What’s this world coming to?

So perhaps some traces of chivalry remain. I just thought I’d warn you so you can take the necessary precautions, like having a fluffy pillow nearby to cushion your fall. And by the way, should this piece of advice ever prove helpful to you, please allow me to say “you’re welcome” in advance — or would that be too snarky?

Guest Blogger Freddy J. Nager teaches courses in social media, entrepreneurship and marketing at AULA. The founder of agency Atomic Tango LLC, Freddy has over two decades of professional experience in marketing and media, including 17 online. He previously worked for music label MCA Records and major ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, and served such clients as Nissan & Infiniti, the NFL on Fox, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, National Lampoon and numerous startups. He holds a BA from Harvard University and an MBA from the University of Southern California.