Hindsight Bias in Social Interaction

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They say hindsight is 20/20. Learn what hindsight bias is, why it is detrimental to social relationships, and how to prevent it! As a bonus, you'll also learn how to respond to that annoying phrase "I told you so"!

Ah, hindsight bias.

Let me ask you this:

Do you ever catch yourself saying “I just knew it. I told you so.” Or maybe you say to someone “I knew you were going to react that way.”

Hindsight bias is thinking we were able to predict an outcome, a reaction, an event…after it has already happened.

We know we can’t predict the future and we’re not ordained fortune tellers, but for some reason we are convinced that we know how something was going to transpire after the fact.

So, if you’re like me, then you don’t like hearing: “I told you so.”

With that in mind, today I am going to teach you how to respond to a person who says “I knew this was going to happen.” Or “I told you so.”

If this sounds helpful, then keep on reading.

How does hindsight bias affect our communication and more importantly, how does it affect our relationships? 

Thinking that we knew something all along can negatively impact our thinking and make us susceptible to poor decision making, both of which affect the quality of our social interactions. 

Let’s first look at what hindsight bias is, then we’ll look at ways of responding to “I told you so”, and if you stick around to the end, you’ll learn how the hindsight bias can be particularly destructive to our social interactions.

Alright let’s Explearn.

Psychological scientists Neal Roese and Kathleen Vohs identify three different levels of hindsight bias:

Level one of hindsight bias is memory distortion. 

That means we don’t accurately remember our initial judgement or opinion of something. So after it happens, we say something like “See, I said that it would happen, didn’t I?”

Level two is inevitability.

This is saying something like “Duh, it was bound to happen. That outcome was just inevitable.”

And level three of hindsight bias is foreseeability. 

This is saying “I just knew this was going to happen” as though you could see into the future…which we can’t.

Research supports the fact that we tend to be selective about memory recall in that we will remember information that confirms our preexisting beliefs and we’ll spin a story to help us understand the information we have.

The easier it is to spin that story, the more likely we are to trick ourselves into thinking the outcome was predictable.

The most dangerous thing about hindsight bias is that we trick ourselves into believing in a fixed mindset. It impedes our ability to learn from our mistakes and experiences because we place blame on anything but ourselves and we are reluctant to investigate the outcome if we dismiss it as something that was bound to happen.

That’s not good for fostering personal growth.

What should we do to prevent hindsight bias?

When it comes to decision making and problem solving, try to imagine other possible outcomes that did not happen but could have happened and why that is the case. This way we don’t selectively remember information that fits the narrative; instead, we have a more holistic and nuanced perspective.

Now that we understand how hindsight bias works, let’s talk about how you should respond to someone who says  “I told you so”.

The reality is that people will do this whether you like it or not, so there’s no point getting angry at them. Instead, your best bet is to keep things positive.

For example, you can interpret the phrase as them looking out for you, in which case you can respond with: “The fact that you care means a lot to me. I'm glad I have you to think through these kinds of things.”

You can also just laugh it off with some kind of joke, such as: “Well well well, aren’t you quite the fortune teller. Watch out Nostradamus.”

On the other hand, you should avoid negative or sarcastic responses. Sure, hearing “I told you so” is annoying, but in truth it makes no difference if someone foresaw the issue. The fact is that it happened, and there’s no changing that. 

Figuring out who saw what is much less important than determining what to do next. So regardless of how you respond, try to move the conversation toward establishing next steps.

Now, I also said I’d talk about why the hindsight bias affects our relationships and interactions.

When you say things like “I told you so” to someone else, you damage the relationship because you’re not showing empathy. In fact, it’s almost like you’re rubbing their pain in their face. And you’re not helping someone understand why it happened or what steps to take to ensure you get a better outcome in the future.

Think about it, would you want to be friends with someone who just stated the obvious and made you feel hurt and vulnerable? Or would you prefer to have a friend who listens to you with empathy and helps you recover from mistakes and unfortunate situations?

And equally important, don’t engage in self-talk of this sort either. When you say “I told you so” to yourself, you lower your sense of self-worth and your ability to think strategically about solutions. 

These four little words seem innocuous but they’re detrimental to the fabric of our social interactions

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Okay, so today we learned about hindsight bias, its three levels, how to respond to it, and how it can impact our social interactions. 

So now that I've shared our thoughts, I want to hear about the last time you encountered hindsight bias. How did it make you feel? What are some ways you think you could respond? 

Share those experiences and ideas with me in the comments below.

And, if you loved this lesson, please be sure to let me know. You can give this video a thumb’s up on YouTube and if you haven’t done so already subscribe to join our tribe of Explearners, so you never miss a lesson. If you ring that bell, you’ll get notified about new lessons and our weekly live streams. 

Email this video to a friend or coworker who also wants to supercharge their social skills. 

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With that, have an awesome week, Explearners.

Thank you so much for joining me and I’ll see you next time for your next Explearning lesson.