To Gain More Credibility at Work, Think Others First
I’m often asked to speak about ways to show up with more confidence and to build credibility at work.
There are still a stupid number of places that this is way harder than it needs to be, particularly for those without the “right” title, background, or who lack the privilege that helps their voice carry naturally in certain scenes.
In fact, Adam Grant recently released some great research on gender and credibility—worth a read. The bottom line, women are often perceived as talking too much, when in fact they’re doing less talking. Such bias is real.
Of course, there are the basics:
- Ditch the pre-apologies (e.g. this is probably a dumb idea; in my feeble little mind; I’m not great at math so somebody, please check my figures.)
- Don’t take a seat on the periphery of the room. If you belong there, literally take a seat at the table (and aghhh, I see this mistake constantly even in virtual meetings).
- Speak with confidence and share your ideas in a way they are more likely to be heard.
- Get a sponsor and a gaggle of mentors.
- Prepare well for executive presentations.
- Work on your executive presence and build your brand.
- Oh, and take these important steps to be more courageous for your team.
The list of table stakes goes on, but that’s not what this article is about.
As an underdog, it could be tempting to overlook the surprisingly simple ways that flipping the script can build credibility, even if you’re still swimming upstream.
What if you paused and asked this question?
“WHAT’S going on for the other people in this room at this moment,
and HOW might I best show up?”
4 Surprising Ways to Build Your Credibility
It’s hard, particularly when you’re not getting the support you need. But sometimes, one of the biggest credibility enhancers is to take a look around.
1. Admit your mistakes.
I will never forget this moment back in my corporate days.
Our Senior Vice President stood in front of my all-hands meeting of three hundred and said, “I was wrong.”
I’d never experienced an off-site meeting where the group that size was immediately shocked into complete silence (in a good way).
You see, she had been a naysayer. She knew the mission our team had been given was necessary, but she didn’t believe it could be done.
And, quite frankly, she hadn’t given us the support we needed at the time. She was busy working on the back-up plan.
This stung twice as hard because she’d been a mentor of mine for years. In some ways, the mission to prove her wrong by accomplishing “the impossible” had become quite personal too.
She could have chosen lots of other words to open up her talk with my team to confirm her credibility as a female leader in a male-dominated scene. There were plenty of other words that would have saved face, but none that could have given her more credibility.
“I was wrong, I didn’t think it could be done. You did it. Congratulations, and thank you. I can’t wait to see what you do next. And I’m here to support you better from here on out.”
2. Lose a battle every now and then.
Not long after that moment, Megan, a direct report on my team, came to me visibly distraught.
She was stuck in a contentious stalemate with a peer in another department.
If I had to pick a side, I would have chosen hers. But picking sides was entirely beside the point.
The other guy’s heels were dug in deeper than skis sunk in a tree well of deep powder. No amount of convincing was going to change his mind. “It’s time to let it go.” I offered. “This battle is not worth winning.”
“But I’m right!” she insisted.
That’s entirely possible. But the battle was weakening the relationship and was making the project much less fun. When projects feel hard, they seldom blossom with creativity, which is what we needed most. Plus the wasted energy was exhausting all of us.
Should the other, older, privileged, and theoretically more mature guy have been the one to succumb? Perhaps. But he didn’t.
But she did take the high-road and let it go, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
And you know what, the next time she took a stand, her peers were all rallying behind her. She won the deeper war in terms of results and relationships.
Letting the other guy win every now and then makes your future arguments even more credible. “She doesn’t always go to the mat like this, this issue must really be important.”
3. Be ready to answer the obvious question.
One of the biggest credibility busters I see in executive presentations or meetings is when people can’t answer the obvious question on people’s minds.
To gain more credibility, think others first and put yourself in the shoes of the other people sitting around the table.
What would you be asking if you were them?
Here are some examples of questions I have asked recently, or have heard others ask in contexts where I was sure the team knew the answers. For one reason or another, they got stuck.
- Why are we doing this?
- Why have your results improved so substantially?
- What was different in August?
- How do you know?
- How does this compare to your competition?
- What’s changed since implementing this program?
- How do you know it’s working?
- What are the employees saying about the change, how do you know?
- How do you know this is sustainable?
4. Be an ally and lift up another voice.
Laura’s voice was filled with hope and relief on the other end of the phone.
“I think things are changing around here.
You know how we have a problem with men taking credit for women’s ideas?
Well, not today. Today, John watched what was happening to me and said,
‘Hey I’ve heard Laura share an idea twice now that I think really could work. Can we pause a moment here and go back to that? Laura, can you share your idea again.’
I know it’s my job to get my voice heard. But I have so much respect for what John did. And the funny part was, I really don’t think the other guys knew it was happening. They thanked both of us. I think we both gained a bit of credibility today.”
Genuine credibility is always enhanced by showing up with the Winning Well approach of showing up with confidence and humility focused on building results and relationships.
Your turn. What would you add? What’s your best advice for gaining more credibility at work?