Squelching the Urge to Say, “I told you so.”

There will come a day when you were right all along.

Your warnings went unheeded. Your insights blatantly ignored. But then, your experience finally pays off. A smug smile unfolds and you relish the opportunity to open your mouth and gloat, “I told you so.”

You’ve earned it. And it feels good.


“The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so.” – Gore Vidal


Not so fast.

We all know that saying “I told you so” is a bad idea. However, it is such a bad idea that it is worth reminding ourselves of the many reasons why. In no particular order,


Reasons not to say “I told you so.”

  • It makes people think that we think they are stupid. And looking or feeling stupid tends to make people defensive. And feeling defensive makes people cling more tightly to their perspective. This is not helpful.
  • Being wrong is embarrassing and calling attention to it simply adds insult to injury. They already know; there is no need to rub it in.
  • We want to believe that they will appreciate our omniscience and seek us out next time they have a problem. But this is wishful thinking at best. Gloating garners resentment, not respect.

Saying “I told you so” makes people feel some version of bad. And feeling bad is not conducive to learning.


And isn’t learning what it’s all about? We shared our knowledge, a different path was chosen, and the results revealed that we were correct the whole time. We learned something. And we want the other person to learn, too.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s about more than learning.

Why we still want to say “I told you so.”

  • We felt frustrated when they wouldn’t take our advice. Why can’t they see how brilliant we are? Do they like making mistakes?
  • We want to be useful. And we want to be recognized for it.
  • We want to make sure they will listen to us next time.
  • We are proud of ourselves and want to get credit where credit is due.
  • Perhaps we resented them a bit for not taking our advice in the first place. And now we want to even the score. Being right feels like a justified circumstance for gentle teasing, “I’m right, you’re wrong! Haha on you!”

Deep down, we believe that being right is the same as being best. And since we were ignored the first time, it feels important, maybe even fair and just, to have the last word.


Oof. That is hard to admit.

We know life isn’t fair. And we know that being right does not make us better than someone else. And yet, it is still really, really hard to let that go. Being right feels so good. And being recognized as the one who was right feels even better. It’s normal.

But normal is different than helpful.

“Sometimes that urge to be right is very wrong for a relationship.” – Charles  Glassman.


Learning from mistakes matters. Building and maintaining positive relationships matters. Our need to be recognized as being right gets in the way of both of those things.

Things to Try Instead of Saying “I Told You So.”

  • Go ahead and take a moment to feel proud of yourself and your insights. Seriously. Good job!
  • Vent about it to someone else. Tell a friend, tell your mom, share it with your journal, scream it into the woods. And then just let it go and focus your energy elsewhere.
  • Accept that some (most!) people need to learn by doing. They need to see it for themselves and make their own mistakes.
  • Don’t discount the role of luck. It is possible that the same indicators that told you that you were right told them that they were right. Only this time the results happened to play out in your favor.

Sometimes you have to say something.

But what if this is a repeat occurrence? Or the stakes were really high? If you are in a leadership position, or the situation resulted in a negative impact to you or your team, you might need to have a follow up conversation with the other party. If so, consider the following:

  • Wait until you’re feeling calm.
  • Take time to organize your thoughts. Helpful reflection questions include:
    • Why am I feeling so upset by this?
    • What was the impact? Why is it important now?
    • Will this still be important two weeks from now? Two months from now?
    • What was my role in contributing to this situation?
    • What would I do differently next time?
  • When you do approach the other person, consider how you might create an environment of learning vs perceived punishment. Helpful conversation starters include:
    • Sharing your reflections from above.
    • Asking questions to understand the other person’s perspective.
      • What are your reflections from the situation?
      • Tell me more about what you were expecting to happen?
      • What might we try differently next time?
    • Thanking them for reflecting with you.

In the above scenario, the goal of the conversation isn’t to demonstrate who was right and who was wrong. Everybody already knows that, and frankly, it doesn’t matter. The goal is to build a trusting environment where mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn and improve together.

When “I told you so” happens to you.

Earlier we touched on the role of luck in all this. Sure, sometimes being right is due to experience and skill. And yet there is no denying that luck is part of the equation. Regardless of why, at some point you will be on the receiving end of an “I told you so” moment. How will you combat the rise of defensiveness growing inside you?

When the inevitable occurs, the following questions can help turn your feelings of embarrassment into an opportunity for self-compassion and learning:

  • Why did I reject the other person’s advice?
  • What information did I have? What did I expect to happen? Why?
  • What actually happened? Why?
  • What did I learn?
  • In retrospect, what would I have done differently? Why?
  • When faced with a similar situation, what might I try?

Solving big problems requires more than the expertise of just one person, no matter who they are. No one person has all of the answers. And no one is right 100% of the time.

“You must not let your need to be right be more important than your need to find out what’s true.” – Ray Dalio

Learning to swallow your I told you so’s is a critical part of creating an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their expertise, taking risks, and continuously improving.

Leave a Comment