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How to Close the Credibility Gap

How do you demonstrate credibility with your team members, colleagues, and boss so that they’ll have confidence in you?

The biggest chunk of credibility is keeping your commitments. It’s not enough to appear — or to be — eager or compliant. You have to deliver: on time, and on spec or better.

“We’ll See,” “Let Me Think About It,” and Other Falsehoods

If you’re unaware of your “tells” — those automatic, unconscious behaviors that demonstrate something you’re otherwise trying to hide — when you make false commitments or try to avoid commitments, your staff or colleagues surely know. Just ask them: “Would you describe for me how I put you off when I don’t want to commit to something, or I don’t agree with your request, but I won’t tell you directly?”

It doesn’t work to evade commitments by smiling and nodding. No matter how graceful you are, people will eventually notice if you haven’t been carrying your fair share. So stop trying to hide in a crowd, the way some people do when “everyone agrees” to help get ready for, say, the company picnic, but then mysteriously their part doesn’t get done.

Other Credibility Risks

Besides actual default or non-delivery, here are some other common markers that can lead others to question your credibility:

  • Your facial expressions, gestures, or tone of voice don’t match your words.
  • You keep having the same problems delivering results despite extensions of time, extra staff, or other resources, etc.
  • You show a lack of appropriate urgency about acknowledging or dealing with the problem
  • You tend to bite off more than you can chew.
  • You’re consistently overoptimistic about estimated outcomes.
  • Your public communications are contradicted by your private complaints.
  • You represent or vouch for a team or colleague and never check for their errors before delivery.

Inching Your Way Back to Credibility

If your version of scheduling deliverables is to say, “I’ll get to Y as soon as I finish X,” it’s time to find an alternative, because, all too often, something goes wrong with the implementation or completion of X and you don’t deliver on Y.

If you tend to say yes so you won’t disappoint anyone, learn how to say no, or “We can’t under these conditions” — because sometimes the right answer is the hard one. And if you say yes, but don’t deliver according to expectations, you disappoint people anyway.

Be careful about over-defending others on your team. Providing protective cover while they’re learning or going through a hard time personally is admirable and appropriate. But if they don’t deliver repeatedly, eventually your insulating them will have a negative impact on your credibility.

If your performance has been lacking in some way, then no matter how enthusiastically you say, “Yes, sir/ma’am! We’ll get right on that!” you’re not likely to be believed unless you can provide a detailed roadmap of how you’ll get the thing done — and stick to it.

That means giving more conservative estimates and specifying smaller milestones and deliverables at shorter intervals. If you’ve really damaged your credibility in the past, you may even need to flesh out each of the promised steps. But lateness or lack of performance may not even be your most significant problem anymore — now it’s about lack of trust.

Onward and upward,


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