I'm sure you have either heard or said at one time or another the phrase, "Do as I say, not as I do." The phrase is so overused, in fact, that people generally consider it to be cliché. Folks badger their kids with it and toss it out as advice to their friends. But in business this attitude can have lasting negative effects on credibility.
It's possible, even when you are trying extra hard not to, to undermine your own credibility in the work environment. Sometimes it's by saying stupid things before you carefully think through the repercussions of the idea and statement.
But the biggest single cut to your credibility is hypocrisy. I witness so many daily incidents. Here are just a few of my most recent occurrences that inspired this column. (No names in print of course, but buy me a drink if you want the whole story.)
- A well-known blogger/expert on trust and authenticity indignantly said he requires $10,000 in order to post about a book or product.
- An attorney who sits on the board of a women's legal-rights, non-profit, greedily burned through $5,000 of a nearly broke, soon to be divorcee's retainer before ever doing any due diligence.
- I listened to the proselytizing from the CEO of a prominent search engine optimization (SEO) firm, which aggressively emails and charges high fees for SEO work, when ironically their own listing doesn't show up in the first five pages of Google search under any prominent search terms in the space.
- I experienced the wrath of a communications expert who created more conflict than resolution by not following the very communication advice she shares in her work and writing.
- A marketer approached me railing about how companies need her because their marketing is substandard, and upon further investigation, her website and blog hadn't been updated in over three years.
These are of course big, blatant cases of hypocrisy, but how often do we chip away at our credibility by making claims in our core values and marketing slogans that really don't represent the way we actually function in our business. Sometimes the circumstances justify the small deviation from our credo for comfort, but no one ever said consistency would be easy. That's why credibility is hard to gain and easy to lose.
Clients won't tell you that you've lost their trust, they will just stop coming to you. In truth, competitors focus sales people and marketers on exploiting the loss of credibility, and there's really no need to help them steal your customers and opportunities due to avoidable circumstances.
Here are three ways you can build and maintain your credibility for the long haul.
1. Stop speaking in "absolutes"
The older I get the more I realize that there are few things in life that are definitive. I admire passion but people who say words like all, every, always, definitely and absolutely, trigger my strongest B.S. sensors. The people that have the most credibility with me are learners. They are open to possibility. The danger with stating an absolute is that it only takes one anomaly to prove you wrong, ignorant or worse, a liar. Modifiers like almost, nearly, mostly will leave you the openings and show that you give consideration to the outliers that almost always exist.
2. Share more of what you see, and less of what you know
The more knowledge I gain, the more I realize how little I know. What I've gained through decades of experience is the ability to identify and interpret patterns. I don't always interpret them correctly, but I provide more value to my clients and peers as another set of eyes and ears rather than a feeble library that can't compare with Wikipedia or even the Complete MBA For Dummies. The world is constantly changing and while historians are valuable and important, observers along the path are much more desirable guides to lead the way to the future.
3. Practice what you preach-even if it hurts
One of my core values is consistency and honestly it is often a battle to use all my tools and follow all my column's advice. But that's the path I chose. I committed to being a leader in marketing, humor, video and pursuing the awesome experience. If I don't believe what I say then I should simply not say it and if I do believe it, there is no good reason not to do it.
I respect that there are many who find a comfortable path for owning their reputation that's really more of a gray scale then simple black and white. True, one small slip up probably won't cost me a client or even a reader but it doesn't take much inconsistency to make me a liar and a fraud in my own mind. I probably couldn't live that life. (My Jewish guilt would be overwhelming.) So I embark daily on what Jim Collins refers to as Fanatic Discipline. For I believe a consistent reputation and strong credibility are truly what help me increase my opportunities and chances for success. Perhaps it's the same for you. In any case you are welcome to point out my transgressions. I am committed to practicing what I preach.