Building Your Credibility - Proteus Leadership | So what is credibility?
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Building Your Credibility

It is sad that the usually well-intentioned efforts of hardworking people is so easily discounted, mistrusted or ignored. But it does highlight a reality about contemporary communication we trust what we see much more than what we hear.

Think about the loss of credibility for many public figures, be they political leaders or commentators. A recent Roy Morgan survey of ethics and honesty in the professions sadly rated federal and state politicians at just 12%, with media professionals at just 18%. (On the other hand, nurses topped the survey at 91%, congratulations nurses!)

In short, we’re not listening, we’re watching. And if what we’re seeing doesn’t stack up then it gets really serious – we stop trusting. We stop trusting because there’s no credibility. (The root for credibility, credit, credulity, etc., is credo, meaning ‘to trust or believe’).

Way back in 1967, Professor Albert Mahrabian from UCLA published his (frequently misrepresented) principle that only 7% of a message is communicated in the words used, with 38% of the message being contained in the tone and 55% in the nonverbal communication. The key to these statistics is not that they are hard and fast measures but that where there is not ‘congruence’ or alignment between words, tone and behaviours then we will trust the content of the nonverbal behaviours (and tone) far more than the actual words. Where the three are aligned, of course, we will be able to rely on the message being communicated through the words used and – attribute credibility to the speaker.

Mahrabian, of course, wasn’t limiting this principle to political communicators or media professionals it – applies to us all. If tone, nonverbal behaviour, or reputation doesn’t align with the words being said, we’ll trust what we see (or what experience has shown us). It’s about trust.

“The entire economic system is based on trust”, wrote Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner in the most recent edition of their book Credibility. “If people don’t trust those who handle their money, their livelihoods, and their lives, they’ll just refuse to participate”. Across three decades of researching the qualities people look for in leaders, they say that “No matter whom we’ve asked and no matter where we’ve asked it, credibility is still the foundation of leadership”.


So what is credibility?

“The characteristics of trustworthiness, expertise, and dynamism compose what communication researchers refer to as source credibility”, say Kouzes and Posner. “In assessing the believability of sources of information – whether the president of the organisation, the president of the country, a salesperson, a TV newscaster, or a product spokes person – those who rate highly on these three characteristics are considered to be credible, believable sources of information”.

In short, if we believe the messenger we’ll believe the message; if we don’t believe the messenger then we can’t believe the message. Or to put it another way, who we are speaks far more loudly than what we say.

To enable people to listen to what we have to say, it’s important that our words and actions are aligned. That of course makes perfect sense and for most of us it’s our intention. The challenge is in delivering – and in how our actions are perceived.


4 Tips To Build Your Trust And Credibility

So, how can we optimise our communication efforts to ensure we build trust and credibility?

1. Do what you say you will do

The most obvious and most frequently cited principle: DWYSYWD (Do what you say you will do). Of course this is normally our intention. But it’s easy to set ourselves up for failure. Being careful not to overpromise or overcommit is key. Not succumbing to the pressure to agree before you’ve had time to assess your commitment (or understand it properly) means you can make commitments with confidence and integrity. You can become better at DWYSYWD by watching and listening more so you can understand better before agreeing.

2. Know your values

Be clear about your values (i.e., what you value – which is typically reflected in what you do). Values are a guide for our attention, behaviour, respect and decisions. Values provide a compass bearing that imbues our language and our actions with focus, purpose and commitment.

3. Build your competence

Build your competence, skills and knowledge. Competence is an often neglected, but vital, dimension of trust especially in professional settings. We watch for competence in our leaders, whether that’s in a specific task, in communicating, in managing, or in influencing others.

4. Show respect

Express respect for others, for their work, and for their contribution. We tend to reciprocate the behaviour we receive. As leaders, our behaviour and language creates culture, so if we want cultures of respect and mutual trust, openness and candour, then setting the example by our actions is an essential step.

There are, of course, many other ways to build credibility. And it’s a process, not an event. Trust and credibility are hard won and too easily lost. But it begins with an awareness that before people listen, they watch…

Republished from the International Institute of Directors and Managers (IIDM) –


Proteus Leadership is one of Australia’s premier leadership training and development companies. Proteus Leadership provides leadership courses and management training to a range of industries and assists organisations to build positive workplace cultures, implement change and Create Great Leaders. Proteus also facilitates a range of world-class management courses, workshops, conferences and events across Australia and beyond with the sole purpose of bringing leaders together to connect and grow.

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