(Forbes first published my article here.)
Credibility counts—and not solely for your job performance. For starters, assume that your colleagues have the same equally qualifying credentials that landed them in their job. What kicks in beyond the academics, the internships, and the prior experience is what happens in the hallways of your current employer: The message you communicate, what you talk about, and how you talk about it.
Let me get more specific:
When people sniff smoke, they start to pillage through the rubble for the flames. It’s human nature to push for coworkers to dig for details and “who done it” when they think you’re bluffing. Admitting what you don’t know is a simple principle, easy to remember, easy to accomplish.
Yes, for some it’s a difficult blow to the ego when what they’re thinking is, “Oh, no, I’m caught, trapped, found out. They’ve discovered something I don’t know.” But don’t let yourself go there.
Nothing makes people believe what you do know like admitting what you don’t know. Acknowledging that sharp line between what you know and what you don’t know produces a huge credibility booster.
Think back to school days—all the way back to junior high. We all learned this trick early: If the teacher asks for a volunteer, slide down in your seat and pretend to be preoccupied with a stubborn notebook that won’t close. If your college professor asks a difficult question, don’t make eye contact.
In the workplace, these tactics look like random statements about being “crazy busy” with this or that project and having “urgent deadlines slapping you in the face.” On the other hand, the willingness to accept extra responsibility startles people.
And above all, consider this: If you have been involved in decisions, actions, and results (or had some control over a situation) that didn’t end well, own up to it. Shirkers do just the opposite—and as a result, suffer credibility gaps.
When people know you share personal, confidential matters about others with them, they fear you’ll do the same to them. Breaking confidences speaks volumes about your character. Those who observe your ability to keep your promises and your confidences will begin to trust you with their true feelings.
So in future meetings and conversations, when you ask for their input on a situation or idea, it’s more likely they’ll feel safe to give you a candid response.
Candid conversations between trusted colleagues can be invaluable. With a nod to the World War II slogan about safeguarding classified information “loose lips sink ships,” professionals with loose lips destroy their own credibility.
In your past job, did you bring in “three dozen new clients in the last year,” or three dozen new clients during your six-year tenure? Has the supplier you’re negotiating with currently agreed to lower rates 12 percent or 2 percent? Did your team win by more than 40 points or 25 points? Exaggeration makes for great humor, but it’s a huge credibility killer.
If you don’t think listening sets you apart, the next time someone’s making announcements at an event or giving instructions in a training session, notice how many audience members ask questions related to information that has just been stated: “Where did you say to submit the forms?” “Did you say we need preapproval on these expenses?” “What time did you say for lunch?”
Careless listening has become the norm.
Yet when problems surface, careful listening becomes critical. Even when you can’t rectify a problem, customers and colleagues want strong evidence that you’ve listened—at the very least. They demand it. That listening evidence includes 1) your ability to summarize accurately what they’ve said or restate it in an email, 2) your expression of empathy, and 3) your appropriate follow-up.
Careful listening is not common. It’s a stand-out communication skill.
Whether you’re working remotely or back at the office every day, your communication skills call attention—either positively or negatively—to your credibility. Are they sabotaging or boosting your credibility?
Learn more ways to boost your credibility with What More Can I Say: Why Communication Fails and What to Do About It.