You will no doubt have heard the phrase “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” and in fact, whether we like it or not, people will make judgements about us before we even open our mouths to speak.
But sometimes we can inadvertently undermine our own credibility and sabotage our success without realising it. There are many factors that can impact on our credibility, from whether we deliver what we say we’re going to or whether there is a spelling mistake in our email. Our qualifications, skills, knowledge and experience will have a large impact as well. But regardless of our expertise, if our non-verbal cues and our language patterns don’t support this, our professional credibility and value is in danger of being lost in translation.
So are you unknowingly sending the wrong signals? Here are five areas that may be subtly impacting on the way people perceive you:
The number one factor that impacts on our credibility is our attitude; it underpins everything. Every moment of every day we choose our attitude – we choose how we approach situations and we choose how we respond to situations. The attitude we choose will impact on other elements of how we present ourselves so it is a crucial part of whether we are perceived as credible or not. If you are negative, smug or snobbish you will be communicating a different message than if you are positive, passionate and professional.
Like it or not, our image has a large impact on our credibility. As human beings we naturally jump to conclusions and make up stories based on how someone looks to us. These include stories about them as a person, what work they do, what their hobbies might be, where they live, etc. In the workshops I run on ‘Credibility Killers and How to Avoid Them!’ participants will often come up with an entire life story based on a single photograph of a person.
In addition to stories, as human beings we often decide whether we think someone is credible based on how they look. Of course that will depend on the situation; what may seem credible in one circumstance may not be credible in another.But we can’t escape the fact that people will make judgements based on how we present ourselves.
So we need to think about our professional brand, the situation, the location, who we will be with, their expectations, their style, what’s appropriate for the occasion, etc. In most cases, you can’t go wrong if you’re well-groomed and dressed in an appropriate outfit that fits and that flatters you and that is aligned with your personal brand. But it’s important to think about how you want people to perceive you. What does your choice of outfit, accessories, hairstyle or makeup say about you? And is that what you are intending to communicate?
The third factor that can impact on our credibility is our body language. You can tell a lot about people from their body language. Take a moment to notice your own body language right now. What is it communicating? Are you happy, comfortable, relaxed, anxious, bored, interested? When we’re nervous or uncomfortable we wear it all over our bodies through fidgeting, fiddling or touching our faces and necks. If we’re anxious our legs might get jumpy. If we’re feeling a bit down, we slump.
If we want to be perceived as credible, we need to be able to control that body language and use it to put others at ease. Simple techniques such as standing tall with your shoulders back and using open gestures can make a huge difference, as can good eye contact and a genuine smile which will help to build rapport with people and enhance your trustworthiness and credibility.
Another factor that can have an effect on our credibility without us even realising it is our voice. People make judgements about us based on the sound of our voice including where we come from, how well educated we are and how confident we are.
When you’re communicating verbally with people either face to face, over the phone or in an online meeting or broadcast, you will need to avoid mumbling, speaking in a monotone, speaking too softly which can sound nervous and apologetic or speaking too loudly which can come across as arrogant.
High pitched voices have a tendency to sound less authoritative, which is why Margaret Thatcher famously had vocal coaching to take her voice from what was described in the media as ‘a shrill housewife’ to the deep strong voice of a calm, authoritative and determined leader.
Constantly clearing your throat can also make you sound uncertain. And one of the worst credibility killers related to your voice is to finish a sentence with an upward inflection which makes it sound uncertain and more like a question.
To help you use your voice more effectively, a simple vocal warm up of humming and tongue twisters before an important phone call, meeting or presentation can help with clearer diction and make your voice sound richer, freer and more confident.
Words and Phrases
Finally, our choice of words can have a considerable bearing on how we are perceived. One of the biggest credibility killers is too many filler words, such as ‘um’, ‘er’, ‘like’, ‘you know’ and ‘so’ which add no value. They can also make you sound unsure and can be very distracting for people listening.
Other words and phrases you should avoid in many situations are:
- Just… (this dilutes the impact of anything following it, implying that it is smaller or less important)
- Honestly… (infers that everything you have said up to that point hasn’t been 100% honest)
- Hope… (doesn’t sound confident; for example “We hope to achieve…” versus “We will achieve…”)
Finally, aim to use positive language and avoid using slang or jargon which can also have an undesirable impact on your credibility.
As you’re reading this post, you may well be thinking “I already know all this” and I agree that it is unlikely any of this will be new to you. However, often we are not aware of how we may be coming across to others and this is where we can come unstuck. Self-awareness is the key to avoiding credibility killers; the more aware you are of how you might be being perceived the more likely you will be able to take steps to ensure that your communication transmits the message you intend.