Credibility in 3 Simple Steps

Trustworthiness is not something YOU have. It’s something others perceive. Honest, credible people get overlooked all the time, simply because they do not know how to communicate their credibility.

Perception is Reality

Unfortunately, in many circumstances perception is reality–at least to others. Whether you are in a casual conversation or giving a formal PowerPoint presentation, it doesn’t matter how much respect you deserve if others don’t see your competence.

Sax player or woman? Your perception is your reality. Source:

Likewise, we all know the bonehead at work that gets the attention because the boss thinks he’s credible, even when you know he’s not.

How you communicate will change that perceived reality.

Interpersonal communication techniques are about speaking in a way that the other person understands your words as intended. Group presentations and public speaking skills are about speaking in a way that each individual in the audience understands your words as intended.

When you use the right words, you will appear more credible. When you include the right details, you will earn more authority. When you reveal yourself the right way, you get more respect. You get the sales. You get the influence. You get the promotion.

Although the following example may seem more applicable to one-on-one communication with an individual, the same principles apply to a group of individuals.

The Weak Way

I was working with a client recently who explained that he and his supervisor had a much different personalities. The personality clash in communication styles meant that my client wasn’t getting the respect he deserved.

Sometimes the result was that meetings were a waste of time. Sometimes the result was that a meeting got out of hand as multiple attendees competed for attention. My client asked:

How do I inject myself into the conversation in a way the my boss will respect?

For this example, let’s suppose your boss asked you about a customer complaint:

Hey! Acme Industries is on my back about a botched order. What’s the status of that?

Most people respond with what they think is confidence and optimism:

I’m on top of it. I’ll take care of it as soon as possible.

You lose! That’s a WEAK answer.

bossIf that’s your answer, you did nothing to boost your credibility. You will not earn any extra brownie points from the boss. In fact, you might even LOSE credibility with that answer!

Unless the boss already trusts you implicitly, that answer leaves open the possibility for the boss to second guess your legitimacy and doubt your competence. Subconsciously, the boss may be thinking any number of things:

  • It sounds like you forgot.
  • What? You haven’t started yet?
  • On top of what?
  • Take care of it when?
  • Why are you so carefree about this?
  • Don’t you see how important this client is?
  • Am I going to have to babysit you?
  • Maybe I should just do it myself.

Based on the SpeechDeck communication principles, let me give you the 3 step solution I provided to my client.

Step 1: Give Validation

600px-mw-icon-checkmark-svgYour boss–and every boss–respects people who are similar to him or herself. If you want respect from your supervisor, your supervisor must feel like you understand the supervisor’s problems.

Don’t just answer the question. Don’t just give details. Don’t just assume the boss trusts you. First, validate the other person’s concerns.

“Acme industries is on your back.” Dang, I hate “botched orders.” Let me tell you the “status of that.”

Notice the words in bold quotes are almost word for word repetitions of what the boss said. Repeating the other’s words is very validating. I didn’t change or restate the other person’s words, I repeated the exact same phrasing: “on your back” and “botched.”

This sentence is important to show the boss that you were actually listening. Also, by using similar language you will be perceived subconsciously as “more similar” to the other person and the other person (boss) will subconsciously respect you more.

In that response, you didn’t only repeat words, but you validated feelings. You acknowledged that the boss has a customer “on his back,” but you also validated the frustration by proclaiming your own understanding of the emotions involved (“I hate it”).

By validating the boss in a way that highlights your similarity, you are applying two SpeechDeck principle to “Empower the Individual” and  “Develop Relationships.”

Step 1: Give validation.

Step 2: Give Specifics


Once the boss knows that you understand the problem, you must prove that you are legitimately qualified and competent to handle the problem.

The boss doesn’t want to deal with the problem. The boss doesn’t usually want to know all the details about how the problem gets fixed.

The boss only wants one thing. The boss wants to know that you can make the problem go away.

If the boss trusts you, the boss doesn’t have to waste energy dealing with the problem him or herself. YOU become invaluable.

One simple way to project competence is by revealing specificity:

I talked to Kevin this morning and we identified an incorrect bar code on 76 items in the warehouse.

I realize your exact problem will be different. I realize that sometimes the problem will be easy and sometimes hard. I realize that sometimes you can answer after you determine the problem, and sometimes you must give an answer before you know the details.

What I ask you to notice about the response above is SPECIFICITY. I included 2 specifics in that response, a NAME (Kevin) and a NUMBER (76).

Names can be anything: an individual, a team or organization name, titles, brands, geographic locations, and so on.

Numbers can be anything: dates, times, quantities, facts, sources, measurements, etc.

It doesn’t matter what the name and number is. If I didn’t actually know about the bar code problem yet, I could have said something like:

I will set up a conference call with the Springville office at 2:00pm.

I used a geographic name (Springville) and a number (2:00pm).

The boss probably doesn’t care about the name or the number, but any name and any number give the perception that YOU do. The boss probably doesn’t want to know–the boss just wants to know that you know.

Specificity requires just the minimum number of specifics, a name and/or a number.

By including a few specific details you are applying the SpeechDeck principle of “Revealing the Messenger,” or more specifically, revealing your own expertise and authority.

Step 3: Give Choices

Of course, this is somewhat of a paradox. The boss DOESN’T want to have to deal with the problem, but the boss DOES want credit for solving the problem. The boss DOESN’T want to do the dirty work, but the boss DOES want to feel in control of the solution.

The boss needs to trust you to handle the problem, but if you leave the boss feeling any lack of control, you lose.

How do you make the boss feel in control and yet assume control for yourself at the same time?

Answer: give a choice.

Would you like me to give you an update in one hour no matter what, or wait until after I talk to the customer?


Notice the two alternatives. You choose the alternatives. You choose two options over which you have control, and either of which you are willing to accept.

You then give the other party the power to choose which option you implement.

The options don’t have to be about follow-up as shown above. The options can be ANY options: processes, communication, times, solutions, word choice, order, people involved, roles, etc. I could just have easily given a different choice:

Do you think I should ask Todd or Susan to talk to this customer?

It’s not about what choice you offer; it’s about giving control to the person that you want to respect you.

You know you’re in control. The boss feels like the boss is in control. You get credit. The boss gets credit. You win respect. The boss feels respected. Everybody wins.

As long as your alternatives are specific, you appear more authoritative, more prepared, and more credible. Don’t just say “what do you think I should do?” A vague option like that places all the onus on the other party. Make sure your alternatives give the other party a choice, without actually offloading your responsibility to the other party.

Such a choice is just one of many ways to apply the SpeechDeck principle of “Empowering the Individual.” Check out the SpeechDeck essentials presentation skills system for other techniques.

Instant Credibility

Here’s the whole conversation:

BOSS: Hey! Acme Industries is on my back about a botched order. What’s the status of that?

YOU: Acme industries is on your back. Dang, I hate botched orders. Let me tell you the status of that. I talked to Kevin this morning and we identified an incorrect bar code on 76 items in the warehouse. Would you like me to give you an update in one hour no matter what, or wait until after I talk to the customer?

Now, you sound legitimately credible and worthy of respect.

Assuming you actually are qualified and competent, you don’t have to change anything about what you actually DO. You will earn more respect simply by changing what you SAY.

  1. Give validation
  2. Give specifics
  3. Give choices

Apply these same steps in any one-on-one communication situation, or even in a public speaking environment. To turn this process into a public speaking technique, stand on stage and speak as if you are talking to an INDIVIDUAL.

Get the respect you deserve.

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