Communicate With Credibility

Young-Professional.490f209379970f055c2ee7e62629b438219Credibility is one of those intangibles in life that can change dramatically from moment to moment. Throughout your life – and your career – you will have many opportunities to compromise your credibility. Never compromise your credibility. The credibility that you enjoy today has taken years to build. Why risk throwing it all away? Protect your credibility. It is one of your greatest assets. Your credibility is built on the foundation of your personal and professional character, and your competence as a professional.

In their seminal book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their longitudinal research on leaders asked professionals how they felt when they were in the presence of truly great leaders. The top ten replies were: Capable. Challenged. Enthusiastic. Inspired. Motivated. Powerful. Proud. Repeated. Supported. Valued.

How do you communicate with credibility? These tips will help you to consistently position yourself as a professional.

Align verbal and nonverbal language. Listen to your words and intonation. Be aware of your nonverbal language.

Lead by listening. Practice active listening. Deliver an “SOS” to your brain – Silently Observe, Then Speak.

Make realistic promises and keep them. Think before you speak. Do what you say you will do.

Speak from the heart. Create a mindset of inclusion. Use compassionate, caring language.

Be yourself. Align your values and behavior. Don’t try to mimic someone else’s behavior. Be your most authentic self.

Be an expert. Enhance your knowledge base continuously. Be a resource. Share your knowledge with others.

Be honest. Frame what you’re sharing so it benefits the other person. Know the difference between using kid gloves (being gentle) and boxing gloves (being more assertive).

Be proactive. Ask people their preferred form of communication. Ask clarifying questions to gain understanding. Seek challenging assignments at work, then follow through to get the job done.

Be consistent. Don’t flip-flop. Don’t exhibit unpredictable behavior.

To gain – and maintain – your credibility requires a great deal of behind the scenes strategic thinking. Begin with a simple self-assessment. It’s worth the time and your constant attention.

Set a Positive Tone and Build Lasting Relationships

relationship-building-content-marketing-372x230Your success as a professional comes from building solid relationships. When you are working with someone for the first time, you set a certain tone to help the other person understand who you are, your values, principles, work style, and your worldview.

In my career work with leaders and spokespeople for more than 30 years, I emphasize the importance of making a positive first impression. Whether it’s a new Board of Directors, new boss, or new client, you want to set a positive tone from day one. That tone says “I respect you.” “I will take your thoughts into consideration.” “I am here to help you.” Whether in business or politics, academia or non-profit life, there are certain professional standards, ethics, and behaviors to uphold.

As I enter my fifth year of providing blog posts on topics related to professional presence, professionalism, strategic communication, brand ambassadorship and leadership, I often turn to the current news for examples.

The buzz since Inauguration Day has been around one topic: What is the tone being set by the incoming administration? Herein I provide three lessons on the importance of setting a positive tone.

Make your message powerful, positive, and uniting. Words matter. Tone matters. Embracing the importance of the moment matters. Donald Trump’s inaugural address contained some strong negative rhetoric, sounding more like a campaign speech rather than the inaugural address that so many were hoping for. Part of that negative rhetoric degraded the political leaders sitting behind Mr. Trump on the platform, including elected officials, past presidents and Supreme Court Justices by referring to them as a small group of elites. The inaugural address was the time to focus on the future by including messages of unity, not division; lifting up, not putting down. Lesson: If you want to win friends and influence people, begin by starting out on a positive rather than a negative note, and never insult people publicly, especially those who have come before you. Why? Because you need those people.

Remain open, not defensive. Being a former spokesperson myself, I tuned into the live television coverage of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s first press conference. The key word here is first. What I saw and heard shocked and concerned me. His defensive body language spoke volumes. He came at the media with both guns blasting, yelling, as he chastised them for the ‘miscalculations’ of the size of the audience on Inauguration Day. He claimed that the audience size was bigger. His language was bombastic, aggressive, and unprofessional. When he was finished, he abruptly left the room, not allowing the media to ask any questions. You see, the White House staff was miffed at the comparison in audience size, since television stations and major newspapers ran a side-by-side photo of President Obama’s 2009 Inauguration Day audience with President Trump’s 2017 Inauguration Day. Clearly, Obama’s audience was much bigger. And rightfully so. It was an historic event. He was elected as the first African-American President of the United States. On that day in 2009, Washington, D.C. Metro stations were jammed. Busses were full to capacity. Hotels were over-booked. It’s historically noted. You can’t change those facts, though this is what Spicer was trying to do, to de-legitimize the media’s reports of the size of the crowd on Inauguration Day. Lesson: There are several lessons here. The first, and most important, is on your first day, your first press conference, you set the tone. Make it positive, not negative. Second, have something important to say. Don’t waste the media’s time with a single trivial message. There was no reason to hold a press conference. Third, control your emotions. Don’t shout at the media. They have power. And they will use that power to call you out. A spokesperson’s role is to communicate factual information in a clear, concise fashion. Uncontrolled emotion does not belong in the room.

Admit your mistakes and move on. In a televised interview with Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd, White House Counsel Kellyanne Conway tried to downplay Sean Spicer’s remarks by using a new phrase, “alternative facts,” which immediately went viral. When Chuck Todd pushed Conway on the phrase, claiming that a more correct phrase to use would be “falsehoods,” Conway flippantly accused Todd of being “overly dramatic.” In all the years that I served as a media spokesperson, I never talked to a member of the media like that. It’s disrespectful. Lesson: Words matter. The moment Conway said “alternative facts,” she was in trouble because there is no such thing as alternative facts. There are just facts. Admit that a mistake was made, and move on. Now, the alternative facts conversation will continue to be covered in the national media and social media for far too many days to come. News flash: There are far more important issues to be discussed.

Instead of setting a tone of inclusion and unity, the Trump administration in its first few days in office has unfortunately continued its exclusive, divisive, arrogant tone from its campaign days. So sad!!!!

The Pro’s Code: Credibility

Part 2 in a series on professionalism.

Criteria 2: Credible. Has integrity and follows through on what has been promised.

CredibilityBookCoverAs a professional, you work hard to establish and maintain a certain level of credibility in the work you do. If you have no credibility, you have nothing at all. Why, then, do people who call themselves “professional” keep ending up in the headlines doing stupid stuff that dismantles their credibility? The answer: They aren’t really professional.

On the topic of credibility, I rely on the wisdom of James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, authors of the book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It. Kouzes and Posner have conducted longitudinal studies on the topic of leadership for more than 30 years. My dog-eared copy of the book was added to my business library since it first hit the market in 2003. If you haven’t read this seminal book, then visit Kouze & Posner’s website, The Leadership Challenge, and order a copy of the 2011 Second Edition, along with the companion Strengthening Credibility: A Leader’s Workbook.

Kouzes & Posner asked people what specific behaviors they appreciated in leaders they most admired. Four key traits were revealed:

1. Honest

2. Forward looking

3. Competent

4. Inspiring

Combining the three traits of honest, competent and inspiring leads to what Kouze & Posner call source credibility, meaning that people believe you. This is the true essence of credibility. Each of these behaviors reflects an emotional connection. They represent how admired leaders make people feel.

dolezalSpeaking of honesty…in the news recently, Rachel Dolezal, (now resigned) president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington, lost all credibility as her true race, Caucasian, was revealed. She used a few props to portray herself as an African-American woman: An assortment of hairstyles and wigs, adjusting her skin tone to appear “black-ish” as some news commentators quipped, and posing with an older African-American man who she claimed was her father. When asked by an interviewer if she was African-American, she paused and responded, “I don’t understand the question.” What’s not to understand? You either are or you are not. She never admitted the mistake she made, nor did she apologize for lying to and misleading NAACP Spokane chapter members, the national NAACP organization and the general public. Remember, too, that the NAACP, both the Spokane office and the national office, have also lost credibility. Vetting someone takes a few seconds; in the click of a mouse, you can learn just about everything you need to know about that person. The NAACP selection committee would have understood her background better and known she was not qualified as a person of color to lead or represent the organization.

In Matt Laur’s interview of Rachel Dolezal on The Today Show, when asked about how differently things might have turned out if she had been more transparent, Dolezal said, “Overall, my life has been one of survival and the decisions that I have made along the way, including my identification, have been to survive and to um, you know, carry on in my journey and life continuum.” It got me thinking about two things: 1. Wouldn’t it have been neat to have Al Roker as the interviewer? I love you, Matt, but… 2. Dolezal’s motives became more apparent to me when she used the word “survival.” Ponder that one.

Back to Kouze and Posner’s book on credibility. In a section entitled “Scandals, Betrayals, and Disillusionment,” they say, “The most common reasons for the decline of credibility are the most visible.” In Dolezal’s case, her own visibility – both physical and professional – is the pivotal reason for the decline of her credibility. The truth simply caught up with her. Had she been transparent from the beginning, about her identification with (rather than her portrayal) as a member of) the African-American race and culture, her future may have looked a little different.

Credibility is one of those intangibles in life that can change from moment to moment. The credibility that you enjoy today has taken years to build. Why risk throwing it all way? Protect your credibility; it is one of your greatest assets. It is built on the foundation of your personal/professional character, and your competence as a professional. Never compromise your credibility.


Opulent Positioning Strategy Backfires

Ben Terris, The Washington Post

Applying my signature mantra “Everything I do positions me” to the recent resignation of Senator Aaron Schock (R-ILL) over extravagant spending habits causes me to ponder the question, “What were you thinking?”

In Senator Schock’s case, it was the over-the-top opulent design of his Capitol Hill office that caught the attention of the media, other politicians and his constituents back home. Was this how a senator’s office was supposed to look? Wasn’t it a tad bit too much? Who paid for the furniture and expensive decorative items?

Certain expectations come with the role of a public servant. The greatest of which is how you best represent the needs of your constituents. Your number one priority is to ensure that the voices of the people you represent in your district are felt, heard and presented. Taxpayer dollars are expected to go towards important issues, like education, job creation and health care, not office furnishings or an extravagant lifestyle. Even though the interior designer donated her services, that act also has faced scrutiny from Capitol Hill, questioning if that donation broke some ethical rules.

The foundation of our democracy – the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – reminds us that individualism – and self-expression – is celebrated as one of our greatest rights. However, there are certain norms and standards that apply to public servants. Beyond the Downton Abbey-esque decor of his office, Senator Schock also had gained a reputation for a flamboyant, ostentatious lifestyle, often posted on social media. (Lady Violet would have never approved of the red walls, by the way The sexy pose on the cover of Men’s Health?. You’ll have to ask her personally at her Twitter account, Dowager Countess).

violet_dowager_countess_of_grantham_downton_abbey_maggie_smith-thumbI have nothing against Downton Abbey. I am a huge fan, so much so that my husband and I transformed ourselves into ghosts “Lord and Lady Creepy Crawley from Downton Abbey-Normal” for a friend’s Halloween party last year. But I digress…

The young, 33-year-old Senator Schock was viewed by many in the Republican party as a leader with a bright future. That future does not look so bright right now because of some poor choices he made during his rise to the top. If he had considered my mantra, “Everything I do positions me,” things might have been a bit rosier for him.

Maintaining positioning power and credibility are achieved through understanding  what is expected of you in a specific role or position and appropriately living up to the standards and ethics of that role. The moment you push the boundaries too far, you expose yourself to risk. The next time you are considering a bold move, answer some important questions: How much of a risk are you willing to take? What are the potential consequences of that risk? Is taking that risk worth it? Those are questions only you can answer.