How to Increase Your Credibility

When you first communicate with potential customers, they’re spending much of the time determining whether you’re a trustworthy person. At stake are your credibility and your chances for developing a client relationship. You’ll improve your odds by approaching such conversations strategically and avoiding these three “credibility killers.”

The first is illocutionary suicide—killing your chances of being believed by what you say. When you commit illocutionary suicide, people aren’t looking for proof of what you say; they’re looking for a way out of the conversation. Some common examples include: “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this” (I’m indiscreet) and “To be honest with you” (it’s the exception instead of the rule). In preparation for a communication workshop to a group of orthopedic surgeons last year, I sat in on some of their sessions, listening to the presentations. A doctor who had been very successful with a certain procedure began his presentation this way; “I don’t know why they’ve asked me to speak to you” (I don’t have anything valuable to say, so feel free to tune out). Avoid illocutionary suicide by thinking more carefully about the implications of your statements.

The second credibility killer stems from the use of clichés and “business speak.” Have you ever heard a person who really didn’t know a lot, but wanted to sound like he did? “We’ll need to revisit that offline in a face to face, so that we can ramp up the synergies that give us a strategic fit we can run up the flagpole. Because at the end of the day, we want cutting edge best practices that help us think outside the box. Then, we can bench mark our bottom-line. Now, let’s put that to bed and get back to square one with our bread and butter core competencies.” Those were a lot of words accounting for very little. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “Core Competency.” When I choose a professional, I don’t want to hear that she’s just competent. Competent means having just enough skill or knowing just enough to complete the assignment. That would be like going into a surgeon and asking how much do you know about surgery, and getting the response, “I know what tools make what cuts.” Competent is just over the line from incompetent. Doesn’t it make a better impression to talk about your expertise or your experience? Just like we’re told not to put new wine in old wineskins, don’t put your fresh ideas in worn-out phrases. Avoid using any jargon or “buzz words” you hear on a daily basis.

The third credibility killer is the canned “sales close” technique. They are so well-known, they even have names: the assumed close, the pen close, the puppy dog close, the urgency close and the big ego close are just a few examples. I realize urging you to avoid these tactics flies in the face of most sales training. But, too many of these approaches operate on the premise that you’re trying to trick someone. While they might work for telemarketers and transportation investment consultants (car salesman), they will be less effective with more sophisticated buyers who are in the market for professional services. A Roper Starch survey on how Americans communicate reported that only 18% felt comfortable communicating with someone who was trying to sell them something. A canned sales close follows a transaction model. In my experience, the most successful model is not transactional; it’s relational. People will be more comfortable communicating with you when you work at building a relationship instead of hoping for a stimulus-response.


We compete as much for the attention of our customers as we do for their time. When you avoid these credibility killers, you’ll be that much closer to standing apart from the crowd.

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