Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

Why do people say "you need to do..." instead of "I want you to do..."?

Asked by wundayatta (58571points) March 24th, 2011

Over the past couple of decades, it seems like I’ve been hearing this more and more. It seems like women use this locution more than men, but I don’t know for sure. In any case, it bothers me. I’ll tell you why later.

Does this bother anyone else? Why do you think people use “need” instead of using “want”?

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20 Answers

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

My guess would be that the person is indicating that it is something you need to do (for yourself) and not something they want you to do (for them.) The two phrases really do not mean the same thing, and if people are using them interchangeably, then they are not effectively communicating.

Randy's avatar

“I want you to…” indicates more of a suggestion whereas “You need to…” indicates something that is important and must be done. People just like to over dramatize things. I think that’s the reasoning behind it all.

6rant6's avatar

They are putting you in a more difficult position to say no. If you don’t give someone what they want, well that’s too bad. But if you don’t give what they NEED shame on you.

cookieman's avatar

I agree with @Randy.

These may also be people used to getting their way or are a bit manipulative.

What’s funny is this is an ongoing lesson with my daughter. “Need” vs. “Want”. It’s a hard lesson when you’re a little kid. Apparently some people never learn it.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

Because like @Randy said, “need” implies that there isn’t an option, but “want” does. Many parents say that you “need” to set the table, because they don’t really see it as negotiable, and then kids learn to speak that way, and create a habit of it.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I notice women say, “You need to…” more often as well.

There may be a subtext where when women ask, especially at work, a task may not get done, whereas when a man says, ” I want you to…”, well, he gets what he wants. A woman may believe that if she puts a bit of a demand to it by using the “You need to…” preface, she’ll get results.

BarnacleBill's avatar

People like to should all over each other.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

You’re right, it’s something that has seeped into our language in about the past twenty years and I attribute it to the advent of professional television advice givers like Oprah, and old SJR and continues with Dr. Phil and the rest of these charlatans who make millions off the mindless idiots who watch them regularly in order to be told how to live their lives. I find it presumptive and rude, and elicits a nearly automatic hostile response from me. It takes almost every bit of effort for me not to tear the head off the person who thinks they know what I need to be doing, especially when they don’t know me.

wundayatta's avatar

I think “you need to” is a tacit acceptance of having less power. It is particularly ironic when these are kids you are talking to. But kids often rule the schools and the homes because adults don’t know how to display their power.

When someone says “you need to” they are almost always saying it’s what they want you to do, except they want to trick you into thinking it’s something you want to do. I’m sorry, but I don’t need to do anything you say I need to. If I want to, I will.

And that’s the power of saying “I want you to”. I say it to my kids, and then they have a choice. They can do what I want, and make me happy, or not do it, for their own reasons, and make me unhappy, together with consequences of making me unhappy.

If I say “you need to” then they don’t get a choice. They don’t get to act as full, decision-making individuals. They don’t get to think for themselves.

In the school, a teacher says “you need to clean up the table.” The kid can think, “I don’t need to do that. What will happen if I don’t do that? Very little. The school room won’t fall apart. The teacher won’t die, clearly I don’t need to do this.” etc. It does the opposite of what the teacher wants. She is exerting control and giving up power at the same time, and also losing the respect of her charges.

I think women do it more because they are, on average, the least powerful sex. As compensation, I think they use this technique. I see it on fluther a lot, too. People give advice saying “you need to…”

Need, it seems to me, is for something that, if you do not do or can not do, the project we are working on together out of our own free choice will fail. Is has to be a consequential failure, too. Sure, if I tell you that you need (and not I need) to clean off your desk, and you don’t do it, the desk will be dirty. But that’s of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. If I tell you to clean your desk so we can set up our project to show to the rest of the class, well that’s a more significant need, mostly because we are doing this together.

I have trained my children to say “I want.” I want them to grow up to be people who expect power. They are, in fact, leaders in their classes. I’m sure my rule about that has something to do with it.

This thing really bothers me, though. I don’t know if my analysis is over the top or not. But I think it is a serious thing and people should be educated (not “need” to be educated) to speak as if they have a right to be making this request of someone, instead of trying to trick them into thinking it’s something they need to do, when it’s really something the person giving the order want them to do.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

How can you possibly know whether people using this (what people, what demographic, where, etc?) term are doing it more and whether women do it more. It’s all anecdotal and sounds foreign to me. I have no idea what I even use more often.

wundayatta's avatar

I notice it because it annoys the shit out of me. I’m not saying everyone does it. I’m just asking about the people who do it.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

I know my father went through a phase where he was trying to acknowledge all the things he didn’t need to do, so he instead said “want”. The problem was, he didn’t really want to – ie “I want to do the dishes” instead of “I need to do the dishes”. For whatever reason, it didn’t occur to him to say “I should do the dishes” or “I need to do the dishes if I want clean dishes tomorrow”. So I think part of it comes from the idea that there is only want vs need, and if you don’t want it, you must need it.

longtresses's avatar

I know you’re discussing “need” in the context of language VS self-empowerment, but at the DMV office they don’t say, “I want you to fill out that box in order to xyz”; they say, “you need to fill out that box in order to xyz,” which sounds normal to me.

aprilsimnel's avatar

HA! Not my local DMV.

“You got a pen? Go over there and fill out this form. NEXT!”

No preface necessary.

wundayatta's avatar

I just find it so passive—aggressive. The DMV doesn’t have to tell me I need to fill out the form. They can tell me they need me to fill out the form in order for them to give me a license.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@wundayatta A lot of people are just saying words – it isn’t always indicative of a larger issue.

wundayatta's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs You might be right about that. I think that there’s a lot going on in our language and in the way we express things that is indicative of underlying states of mind. But then, I also think that there is meaning in buildings and the shape of rocks, etc. In other words, I think our minds make meaning out of a lot of stuff we aren’t really aware of consciously. So, the upshot, I think, is that there is really no such thing as “saying words.” But then, all my life I’ve been accused of overthinking things. So just chalk it up to me entertaining myself.

Just a warning: if you do want to overthink things, it is best done under the watchful eye of a master. You can easily hurt yourself! ;-)

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@wundayatta No worries – I myself am addicted to overthinking things like it’s cocaine.

lifeflame's avatar

I disagree with this in terms of power.
If a doctor says “You need to take this pill two times a day,” he or she is speaking with the authority of the medical establishment.
But if he/she said, “I want you to take the pill two times a day,” the emphasis is on the personal power of the doctor.

Now if it for something as mundane as doing the dishes… it made me realise how the “self’ is probably not upheld as much here as in the West.
So in Chinese, “I want you to…” would sounds much more self-centered. If the dishes need to be done, the point is not me wanting someone to do it, but the fact that if no one does it, it’s going to pile up and be bad for all of us. I can’t imagine someone saying “I want you to do the dishes” in Chinese. (我要你洗碗) would sound very egoistic.

However, I personally don’t like “You need to…” either, since it suggests an anonymous authority dictating. This can lead to an evasion of personal responsibility.

If you ask me, I prefer direct questions and statements.
e.g. “Could you do the dishes? They’re piling up.”

Or, on the occasions you don’t want to give a choice: “Please do the dishes. I think it’s your turn.”

6rant6's avatar

@lifeflame Yes, what you say makes great sense.

I think we obfuscate what we want/need with this kind of language for purpose of plausible deniability.

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