Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
Home » Language and writing | About me Impressum Contact Sitemap

I need you to stop using these phrases!


There are a few phrases that are communication disasters likely to do more harm than good, are highly illogical, or are otherwise very unfortunate—but which are still in common use. Here I discuss some.

(My own choice of title is, of course, humorous/satirical/whatnot.)

In particular, it appears that alleged “communication experts” are often horribly poor at communication and give horribly poor advice. Other examples of this can be found in e.g. “corporate” language.


Most of the below was written in 2012. Since then I have published at least two somewhat similar texts on Wordpress:

Creating leadership to raise awareness of poor language

Some unfortunate words and uses

I need you too...

Various formulations using “I need [for] you too” are common, particularly during a certain type of (at least fictional) customer interaction, e.g. towards an upset airline passenger. Consider

“I need you to go back to your seat!”

“I need you to calm down!”

(or even “You need to go back to your seat!” etc.)

and similar. However, what is allegedly needed can take a far wider range and occur in a far wider set of contexts.


While I have not kept notes, my subjective impression is that the customer, in such fictional interactions, is more likely to be in the right and the airline employee more likely to be in the wrong, often through undue and premature escalation, which makes things even worse. This is beside the point from a language perspective, but is potentially interesting from a psychological perspective and when trying to understand the users of such phrases.

This type of formulation is presumptuous and disrespectful; disregards the other party’s interests, wishes, and opinions; and is (usually) dishonest—the “need” actually being a “want”. Even where a need is present (as could well be the case in an airplane), the phrasing remains very unfortunate (see below for an alternative). If the formulation it self (as opposed to the expressed want) has any effect, it will be to put off the counterpart, to cause annoyance or reactance. In a situation like the one implied above, it is more likely than not to worsen the situation. The ethically proper (but, unfortunately, pragmatically too unwise) answer is “No, what you need is to pipe down, treat your passengers with the proper respect, and actually do your job!”—something that, excepting extreme cases, applies regardless of the problem at hand, as the phrase is so horribly disrespectful.

Consider as an alternative: I understand that you are upset and I will come back to discuss the matter as soon as possible. However, right now we have to X because of Y.

More generally, matters where some amount of actual need or urgency are involved should be explained using a schema of expressing understanding (not necessarily agreement), promising to give the other part a fair say [recompense, opportunity to follow his plans, or whatever might apply to the situation at hand] as soon as possible, and then explaining why things have to be or play out in a certain way at this particular moment. Similarly, where a matter of mere “want” or “wish” is concerned, a better schema would be e.g. expressing a wish (without pretending that it is more than a wish), explaining why this wish is present, and ensuring that the counterpart is given a fair opportunity to discuss the matter.


Obviously, not all formulations along the original schema are problematic and, in the proper context and with the proper honesty, they can be perfectly legitimate. Example: I need you to help me with X [or I will fail]. (Under the assumption that there is some degree of familiarity; that the need is real, not just a wish or nice-to-have; and that “I” has a legitimate reason to believe that “you” might help.)

However, even here, an alternate formulation is almost always better, e.g. “I could use your help with X.” or “Could you help me with X?”. For that matter, saying “please” is not physically painful—but can do wonders for the counterparts willingness to help.

Sadly, the less legitimate the use, the more likely it appears to be...

Thank you for your understanding/cooperation

To thank someone for being understanding or having cooperated is by no means wrong. The problem is that phrases like “Thank you for your understanding!” are almost invariably uttered in advance—and quite often when “you” has every reason not to be the least bit understanding (e.g. because an incompetent company has screwed up for the umpteenth time).

This formulation is extremely presumptuous and shows an almost incomprehensible lack of self-perspective and respect for the situation of the counterpart.

Anyone making in-advance statements of this kind should be fired for lacking even the most basic understanding of communication and customer interaction—or be punched in the face for being a complete and utter jackass.

Giving back to the community

An extreme oddity is “giving back to the community”, something often occurring when someone highly successful returns to do something good for the town, neighborhood, or whatnot that he grew up in.

If truly intended as spoken, it might be borderline acceptable, but a formulation like “doing something good” (as used above) would be better even then—especially, as the “back” part might be naive (cf. below).

In most cases, however, I suspect that the true intent is something else and that this is simply a “canned” statement intended to generate artificial good-will. (Indeed, it cannot be ruled out that even the “giving” is a PR stunt, but, if so, this is an issue of a different type.) More specifically, “giving back” implies that something has originally been given and now sees a returning, be it literally and specifically (e.g. “I gave back the book that I borrowed”) or in a wider sense (e.g. “I give back to my parents for all they did when I was a kid by [something or other] now that I am an adult”). However, how much has the community (or the neighborhood, or the whatnot) actually done for the new benefactor? Usually, next to nothing. In some cases, as with a poor-kid-come-sports-star vs. a neighborhood with more drugs and crime than prospects, it might even have hindered him. (I suppose that it could have helped, in such cases, by giving him an extra strong motivation to be successful enough to leave the community, but that is hardly something to reward.)

For most, there simply is very little that a community can do. Yes, there are occasional stories about a poor village that pooled its money to send someone intellectually promising to school, but this is a rare case indeed and might happen more often in fiction than in real life. In a more regular scenario, there simply is a void—which might be the reason why a such an extremely vague phrasing is used, with no specification of what might originally have been given.

From another point of view, if there is something to pay back for, who is the deserving target? For instance, various positive experiences are more likely to e.g. warrant a “give back to my friends” (or parents, relatives, even teachers, before the “community”). For instance, the community that originally gave might be a different one from the current community (even ignoring the inherent vagueness of “community”) because of old members dying, new members being born or coming of age, and, of course, various old and new members moving out of or into the community.


This could be part of a greater problem with a mentality of undue gratitude or (from the other direction) undue entitlement or similar. Consider the issue of alumni and donations: During their studies, the future alumni worked hard to earn their degrees, putting in the brunt of the work needed to accomplish anything, and they did so (in the U.S., at least) while paying through the nose in return for, and in disproportion to, the small part of the work done by the college. Nevertheless, the prevailing attitude among colleges and, oddly, some alumni seems to be that the alumnus still has some type of debt of gratitude and should be obliged to ever and ever again donate money to the college.

I have even heard accounts of someone paying to visit a concert or a museum, only to soon see requests along the line of “Surely, you remember the wonderful time that you had on the xth! Please show your gratitude by donating!”.

An excessive tipping culture might also, in part, go back to a similar idea. (Note e.g. an earlier text on how tipping is getting out of hand.)

I am humbled

An even worse absurdity is to “be humbled” by e.g. winning an award, which shows a horrifyingly distorted mentality or a gross communicative incompetence. Winning an award can be a legitimate reason to feel honored or proud, even, should it apply, undeserving—but not humbled. The idea of being humbled is, in the vast majority of cases, a complete non sequitur. Even a feeling of being old, scared, or embarrassed would, while it self likely rare, be more reasonable. For legitimate exceptions, should they, at all, exist, we must posit someone who is unusually lacking in humility and reacts very oddly or very contrary to his prior record. We might e.g. imagine someone who has little self-perspective, is certain of being a true great, is confronted with a list of past winners, engages in introspection and comparisons, and realizes that he was not that special to begin with. Even in that example, however, it is not the win, per se, which was humbling, but the introspection and comparisons, which were merely brought on by the win.

(This, of course, in reference to “positive awards” and events of a similar nature—which is where I have heard the phrase. That someone might find a “negative award”, e.g. a Razzie, humbling is more understandable, but terms like “winning” and “award”, themselves, take on new meanings in such cases.)