The Most Offensive Phrase In The Workplace

A lot has been written about workplace etiquette and social mores, and there’s an anthology’s worth of opinion out there. Don’t say “no”. Don’t say “yes”. Don’t say “he” or “she”. Don’t talk salary at work. Don’t not talk about salary at work. Don’t swear. Don’t not swear.

While there may be some merit to all of these, none tackle the most heinous behaviour in the workplace: uttering the single most offensive phrase possible, and one I can no longer stand.

“I told you so.”

There is no phrase nor line of thought more entirely offensive, nor tolerated behaviour more toxic, than “I told you so”.

“I told you so” is a massively damaging phrase to hear. It suggests to you, the receiver, that you’re not doing your job. It suggests that you’re not listening, that you don’t care, that you willingly decided not to do something in spite of what someone else, so smart as to have foreseen the peril you’re likely now in when you hear this, had said.

And generally, the people who hear that for whom the words don’t pass in one ear and out the other are those who are most negatively affected. It is those people that do care, deeply, and those people who are generally doing everything they can to make things work.

And thus, the receivers are the true victims — morale, the blood dripping from the punctures left by the word’s wounds.

That’s why such an utterance is so damaging and so offensive: it is generally uttered by someone more concerned with their own status and self-worth than that of the company and the product.

But those utterers are oft utterly misguided.

“I told you so” is not a victory. It’s not a hallmark of your excellence. If you say this, you’re not any smarter or right-er for it. It’s not a W; it’s an L.

It shows that you, the utterer, couldn’t and didn’t influence the business when you had an insight. It demonstrates that you were unable to rally support for your beliefs. It celebrates that you failed in driving action in the organization.

It shows that no one listens to you, not because you’re wrong but because you’re ineffective.

“I told you so” doesn’t fix problems.

“I told you so” doesn’t add value.

“I told you so” is little more than the quiet, sneaky, cloaked “fuck you” of the office.

“I told you so” is the out-of-shape, armchair quarterback on Monday morning talking about how he’d run the play differently were it him having never played a game, never held a ball, and never stepped onto a field.

If you’re smugly chanting “I told you so” as whatever doom you forecast so knowingly becomes immediate, what you’re not doing is helping to solve the problem, to better the product or the business, to leverage your prophetic insights to actually affect change and add value.

And you know what? When you find yourself without supporters in the organization that evolves to work around you, well…

I told you so.

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