Genuine credibility is comprised of trust, experience, reputation and empathy. Attaining an optimal balance of each element requires an investment of time in each customer relationship. To avoid damaging your credibility, avoid these three phrases.
“Sorry; something came up.” Dale Carnegie’s 12th Human Relationship principle, ‘If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically,’ is worth applying to maintain trust and respect. In this case, however, the phrase, “something came up,” implies that something more important than the client came up. This scenario implies what Prasad Kaipa defines in a Harvard Business Review article as a ‘credibility gap,’ because words and actions are incongruent. The potential negative impact of this gap according to Kaipa is, “…damaging to your reputation and to your career. And if you’re in a leadership or customer service role, your credibility gap could be hurting your company.”
Instead, make sure you set realistic expectations every time you are preparing to commit to a deliverable. Being completely honest often reinforces credibility—even if you don’t have all of the answers. A client would rather hear that you need to check with your technical team to provide an accurate timeline, for example, than to be given an estimate that ends up being completely unreliable and ultimately late.
“I don’t think that will work.” One of the greatest challenges in client-facing roles is to maintain a calm and collective composure when experiencing push-back frequently. I recall my advertising agency days where countless rounds of creative revisions seemed to rarely appease clients. It’s okay to disagree you can justify your perspective with facts and figures. As long as this behavior is the exception, and not the rule, it can be used to reinforce your credibility rather than undermine it.
Dale Carnegie’s 17th principle, ‘Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view,’ underscores the importance of putting yourself in clients’ shoes. Sometimes they have pie-in-the-sky ideas or last-minute changes that can feel frustrating and unrealistic. Instead of saying something won’t work, calmly state the challenges of accomplishing what they wish based on your experience. Include concrete details so that they clearly understand why you are pushing back. This approach not only preserves the relationship, but strengthens your credibility as an expert.
“Does that make sense?” For many people, it’s completely normal to follow a statement or conclusion of a presentation with this question. There are two potential negative impacts of asking if something makes sense. First, asking the question could imply that you aren’t 100% sure about what you are saying. After all, if you believe it, then it should be true and would therefore make sense. Secondly, your audience may infer that you doubt their ability to comprehend what you’ve said or presented. Instead of questioning your client’s competency, apply Dale Carnegie’s 9th principle, ‘Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.’ Simply asking if anyone has any questions bypasses any negative connotations and helps to maintain your credibility as an expert.