Skills 360 – How to Sound Credible (2)

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Welcome back to the Skills 360 for today’s lesson on how you can sound more credible or believable.

In the last lesson, we looked at what you should say to sound credible. In this lesson, we’re going to take a look at what not to say. In other words, there are some things that can damage your credibility. These are habits or expressions that will make people trust you less, not more.

One thing that makes you sound less credible is talking about yourself too much. The words “I” and “me” are dangerous if you use them too much. Boasting about what you’ve done, and what you know, or who you know, won’t make most people trust you more. All right, it might work for some politicians with some listeners. But for the most part, talking at length about how great you are is not a good idea.

Another thing to avoid is exaggeration. If your company earned $800,000, don’t say “We’ve made millions of dollars.” And if there have been a few dozen complaints, don’t say there have been hundreds, or thousands, of complaints. Just be straight up with people. Tell them the truth, then explain why it matters. Exaggerating for emotional effect does not make you sound more credible.

A related habit is using too many superlatives and other extreme language. Superlatives are words like “the most” or “the best” or “the worst” or “the first.” And other extreme language includes “always” and “never.” I mean, if you’re debriefing after a corporate event that didn’t go too well, what do you think sounds more credible? The person who says “Never in my life have I experienced such a bad event. It was the worst failure in our company’s history.” Or the person who says “Attendance wasn’t as high as we had hoped and overall we need to do a better job of preparation and planning.”

Well, that second statement actually gives evidence. That is, it doesn’t just make blanket statements, it talks about specifics, like “evidence” and “planning.” Giving evidence and providing specifics sounds far more credible than general statements using extreme language.

So, what if you don’t have any evidence or don’t know any specifics? Well then you shouldn’t be talking about things you don’t understand. And there’s nothing wrong with admitting it. The person who says “I really don’t know about that” enjoys greater credibility than the person who rambles on despite his ignorance.

One of the problems with rambling is that it leads to inconsistency. One day you say this, the next you say that. And pretty soon people don’t know what you actually think, and they doubt you really know what you’re talking about. In other words, you have no credibility. But if you’re prepared – like I suggested in our last lesson – and you stick to what you know, then you won’t have to backtrack. There’s nothing worse than having to say “Yeah, well, what I said before isn’t quite true.”

Now, you’ve probably heard about “the power of positive thinking?” Or you’ve read that optimism leads to success and that focusing on the negatives will lead to failure? Well, positive thinking is great. But you can’t deny it: not everything is perfect. And the person who stands up and says everything is peachy when it’s clearly not can’t really be trusted. You’ll be far more credible if you can face up to reality. So, rather than saying “Oh don’t worry, everything with the new staff will work out great,” you might want to face reality with “Yes, there are some problems, and we need to talk about them.”

Okay, there’s one more little thing I want to warn you against. It’s an expression that people sometimes use to introduce bad news or an opinion that not everyone agrees with. That expression is “To be honest.” Can you see the problem with this expression? If someone suddenly says they’re being honest, what does it mean about the other things they talk about? Are they usually not honest, but now suddenly they want to open up and tell the truth? No, being credible means that people believe you’re honest without you having to announce it.

All right, how about a recap? I’ve talked about some of the things you should avoid, like talking about yourself too much, exaggerating, and using extreme language. I’ve also suggested knowing what you are talking about and relying on facts and evidence. And finally, I’ve cautioned against being too optimistic. Now, if it seems like sounding more credible takes more work, well perhaps it does. Nothing comes easy, especially trust and respect… Believe me!

That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.

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