“That Doesn’t Surprise Me”

I’m always on the lookout for how people try to signal high status.

Here’s a subtle example I’ve discovered recently. Tell someone a fact they don’t know, and listen for the answer: “That doesn’t surprise me.”

The other day I told a guy who’s well connected in tech: “Did you know that Joe had a falling out with his cofounder, and so he has moved on to a new project?”

The other guy’s reply: “That doesn’t surprise me.”

The alternative answer would have been: “Huh, I didn’t know that.” By saying “That doesn’t surprise me,” he conveyed that he did not, in fact, know the thing that was just said to him, but rather than stop there — which would have lowered his status relative to me in that moment — he simultaneously conveyed the fact that he would have guessed the fact to be the case had he been asked. All done in one tidy sentence.

As another example, Donald Trump’s first quoted response to the Harvey Weinstein news was: “I’m not surprised.”

Signaling status in this way is not necessarily good or bad or even that important. It’s fun to notice it. And, sometimes, it can be a useful data point as you build psychological models of how the people around you operate, and in particular, as you predict how status-oriented a person might be.

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