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Credibility is an essential attribute that is built on the elements of integrity, reliability, veracity, competence, commitment and intent. Credibility shines in those people who are ethically motivated. Credibility is an important tool in improving your people skills. Credibility ensures a person to win the genuine respect, confidence and trust of your clients. A person is character personified only if he has enough credibility.

Credibility. How do you get it? More importantly, how do you keep it? Gaining credibility takes years to achieve, and maintaining it is a lifetime goal for any leader or intermediary. One wrong move can erase in an instant many years of hard work. Communicating with credibility is an art form, one that you can master by using a few simple guidelines.

Align your verbal and non-verbal language

Credibility is enhanced through consistent verbal and non-verbal language. The key word here is consistent. Intermediaries, who overlook non-verbal language, or body language, are dismissing one of communication’s most powerful tools. When your verbal and non-verbal language is out of alignment, you send out a mixed message. The result? The client receiving that message is confused, wondering what to believe - verbal or non-verbal. Non-verbal communication has many functions, but the two highlighted here are the functions of reinforcing or contradicting your verbal message. When non-verbal reinforces the verbal message, you maintain your credibility. When the non-verbal contradicts, or is inconsistent, with the verbal message, you run the risk of sending mixed messages, and losing credibility. For instance, the intermediary who says, "I am in full support of the increase in tariffs for smokers" but looks away or down, sends out a conflicting non-verbal message that says, "I’m not really in full support of this." When the verbal and non-verbal messages are conflicting, the non-verbal message will always win, because it is perceived to be more believable. That is why it’s called the "silent language." Remember, the foundation of your credibility is your believability. Be consistent in your verbal and non-verbal language, and you will never have to worry about sending mixed messages, which may jeopardize your credibility.

Be a good listener

Ask executives across the country what they look for in their top management teams, and most will say, "Good listeners." The good news about listening is that it is a learned behaviour, which means, even if you are a poor listener today, you can train yourself to be a better listener tomorrow. How well do you listen to your clients? The good listener does not merely hear what is being said, but rather observes and uses all the senses to reflect on the whole picture. Why should listening matter to you as an intermediary? In today’s competitive marketplace, silent observation is one of the most influential tools you can develop to gain a keen sense of awareness and keep you at the front of your game. We will be discussing the art of listening and observing in more detail later.

Be reliable. Make realistic promises and keep them

Reliability is a very addictive breeding ground for mutual trust and improved interpersonal relations. The evidence of reliability lies in the consistency with which we deliver on commitments, promises and statements.

Reliability is about whether clients think you are dependable and can be trusted to behave in consistent ways. Judgements on reliability are strongly affected, if not determined, by the number of times the client has interacted with you. We tend to trust the people we know well, and assign less trustworthiness to those with whom we have not interacted.

If I’ve dealt with you five or six times in, say six months, I have a better idea of what to expect from you than if I’ve known you for a year but have only dealt with you once or twice.

Reliability is one component that has an explicit action orientation. It links words and deeds, intention and action. It is this action orientation that distinguishes reliability from credibility. 

Credibility can fizzle if you don’t keep your word, whether you have communicated it in writing or verbally. Your credibility slips when you don’t live up to the standards you have set for yourself or others have set for you. If promises are made and repeatedly broken, you begin to lose your credibility. Whether it is a client, a colleague or your assistant who you make promises to, you will spiral downward ever so quickly if you don’t deliver on your promises. If you have a bad habit of committing more than you can deliver, take this advice: Think before you speak, and realistically promise only what you know you can deliver.

Speak from the heart

Some of the most powerful presenters are people who speak from the heart. When a message is communicated from the heart, it is more believable. An audience can quickly tell the difference between a speaker who is genuine and one who is artificial. Some professionals have their presentations so over-rehearsed that they are often interpreted by the audience as phoney or insincere. Don’t just talk the talk. Walk the talk.

Be a person of integrity

According to Webster, integrity is “the state of being complete, unified”.

In simple words it means standing for your values and be firm on your views. When I am a person of integrity, my words and my deeds match up. I am who I am; no matter where I am or who I am with. Integrity is an essential factor to win the adulation and trust of others. Integrity is the solidarity with which you make your presence felt.

A person with integrity does not have divided loyalties (that’s duplicity), nor is he or she merely pretending (that’s hypocrisy). People with integrity are “whole” people; they can be identified by their single-mindedness. People with integrity have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. Their lives are open books.

Integrity is not what we do as much as who we are. And who we are, in turn determines what we do. Our system of values is so much a part of us we cannot separate it from ourselves. It becomes the navigating system that guides us. It establishes priorities in our lives and determines what we will accept or reject.

“The first key to greatness”, Socrates reminds us, “is to be in reality what we appear to be”.

Integrity is not a given factor in everyone’s life. It is the result of self-discipline, inner trust, and a decision to be relentlessly honest in all situations. Unfortunately, in today’s world of quick fixes, strength of character is a rare commodity. As a result, we have few contemporary models of integrity. Our present culture has produced few enduring heroes, few models of virtue. We have become a nation of imitators, but there are few leaders worth imitating.

Be yourself

This is an easy one. Many people who fall into the credibility gap do so because they misrepresent themselves as someone else. We all know individuals who have inflated their professional accomplishments to appear more attractive for a leadership position. They soon discover once they are in the position, they don’t have the level of expertise others expected of them (and everyone around them knows it!). People can see through individuals who try to position themselves as someone they are not. While there are people who spend time joining the right clubs, traveling in the right circles, and attending high profile events, the in crowd knows the difference between a wannabe leader and the real thing. 

Be an expert

You are at the top because you know your business, and you have an uncanny ability to lead others. Yet, there are intermediaries who lack credibility because they only have a superficial knowledge base with no depth. The more you know, the more believable you are. But it doesn’t stop there. The credible intermediary is one who is willing to share that acquired knowledge with others and encourage open communication and idea sharing. It’s not just how much you know that positions you as a credible intermediary, but how willing you are to share that knowledge with others.

Be competent

Competence is the combined effort of knowledge application, experience and conscientious effort to the best possible solution for a given problem. When deadlines have to be met at the earliest a person's competence is the only handy tool that can see him through that deadline. A competent person has no ifs and buts in his vocabulary. He won't fix a blame for failure on something or someone, but will modulate himself to rectify the situation.

Be honest

We need to look no further than the political arena to select our best examples of how to lose credibility by covering up. What do you think of when you hear the words, "I am not a crook" and "I did not have sex with that woman." Do you think of honesty? Hardly. Presidents Nixon and Clinton could have saved face if they had been honest in their statements from the beginning. If they had admitted wrongdoing, the public would have been more forgiving. Instead, their statements came back to haunt them. The old saying, "What goes around comes around" demonstrates this to be true. Leaders are the first to be scrutinized during tenuous times, because they are in control, whether they represent government, corporate South Africa or a non-profit organisation. Too many leaders think they are invincible. When you accept a leadership position, you also accept full responsibility for your words and actions. Be honest from the beginning, and your credibility will remain intact. As an intermediary you will either stand or fall if your client catches you out.  It is important to always be honest in your dealings, if you forgot to do something, rather say so, than pretend that you did make the enquiry.

Be committed

A proper canalisation of one's energy, enthusiasm, talent and thoughts into completing a given project or thoughts is commitment. Commitment calls in for a firm mental resolve to fulfil the job at hand and see it through. A committed person won't rest on his laurels till he has completed his duty.

Be relevant

Make sure you’ve done absolutely all your homework on the client’s business, the client’s workplace, and the client, and that you are absolutely up to the minute with the latest information.  Even if you know your client’s business backward, there is likelihood that there will be some news clip about your client that will have been published that very day. There is no reason to show off.  They already assume you know what you’re talking about (or how to handle a situation). The number of times your client actually wants to test your knowledge is actually quite low.

Be proactive

It’s never too late to do a credibility check. To stay on track, ask yourself questions, like, "What could potentially jeopardize my credibility?" "What steps can I take to improve my credibility?" "What can I do each day to ensure that my credibility is maintained?" The more aware you are, the better equipped you are be to keep your credibility elevated.

Spell out your intent

Intent can be either positive or negative. It is important that the client experience positive intent.  Positive intent can be demonstrated with consistent body language, tone of voice, and follow-through on commitments. Unless you communicate your intent, clients won’t trust you because they don’t know what you intend to do.

Intent has to be dealt with on two levels:

  • Your initial disclosure;
  • Each subsequent visit or “project”.

Common pitfalls in demonstrating intent include:

  • Appearing manipulative or as having a hidden agenda;
  • Reluctance to provide information about weaknesses or negative aspects of your product or service.

Intent should be established whether we deal with:

  • Initial meeting with a new client; or
  • Existing clients (longer term).

You can communicate intent by disclosing information about your Purpose, the Process you intend to follow, and the Payoffs (or benefits) for both the broker and you.


Why are we meeting?

The Purpose statement lets the client know the specific reason or objective for the appointment.

Example1: “The reason for our meeting today is for me to introduce myself and set up the start of a (hopefully) long relationship based on what we expect from each other.

Example 2: “To discuss a way to ensure future growth in your portfolio.


How will we proceed?

The Process statement tells the client what you are going to do and suggest a process or way to do it. Clients will be more open when they know what to expect.

Example1: “The way I like to work with clients is to take a few minutes for us to get to know each other, and then, with your permission, to ask you a few questions that will help me understand your situation better. I will ask you to provide me with a profile of your current position and an understanding of the products you currently have in place. You will also have an opportunity to ask me questions about how I can be of service to you.”

Example 2: “What I would like to do is to firstly give you an idea of what I think the typical client for this product looks like, secondly to make suggestions as to how we together can customise products for your specific need and lastly give you an idea of how the company and myself, can be of practical assistance in the future.”


How will we both benefit from spending this time together?

The Payoff statement tells the client the benefit of the appointment for both you and the client.

Example1: “As a result of the time we spend together, I will be able to make the most appropriate recommendation to help you increase the options for you as a client, and you will have an understanding of me and my company and how we can help you as a client.  How does this sound to you?”

Example 2: “Obviously we can all benefit by this, by doing a proper analysis we address your exact need – you will understand this – while you will benefit by having your planning in place, I will be able to achieve my target, set by the company.

There is no asset more valuable or powerful than your personal credibility, because it goes to the very core of who you are as a person and as an intermediary. You are responsible for building and maintaining it...for life.

© Successful Salesmanship – Johann Cloete