I was twenty-two years old and had just recently graduated from college when I got my first “career” job that included leadership responsibilities. Unlike some of my millennial peers, I did not have some innate confidence telling me “I got this!” or helping me to fake it until I made it. It did not help that one of the first things that I heard from one of our partners was that I had big shoes to fill. I obviously looked young which suggested my inexperience.
Not only did I have to learn on the job fast, but I also had to build credibility.
Credibility is defined as the quality of being trusted and believed in. It is crucial in business or in the workplace as it reflects your value and abilities. It also increases your influence and enables you to have access to bigger opportunities. Imagine brokering a deal or asking for promotion without being credible. Success would be near impossible!
Here are some effective strategies to help you build credibility at work.
Note: In light of the pandemic, this has been edited slightly to be applicable in a work-from-home setting.
You may have heard that it only takes seven seconds to make a first impression. You can control the way people perceive you by being prepared for the interaction. When you meet someone for the first time, gather as much relevant information as possible about the topic or issue that you are discussing. Anticipate questions or materials that he or she may need from you. This could mean having shareable files on hand or if the meeting is via Zoom, make sure that your screen is prepped in case you need to hit that “share screen” button. By being prepared and organized, you can avoid coming across as nervous or uninformed and instead, appear more calm and confident. Really take the time to do your research and spare a few minutes before your meeting to review the material and the agenda.
Make learning an on-going process
Building and strengthening your credibility should be an on-going effort. One of the ways that you can do this is by continuing to learn and honing your skills. Stay up to date with trends that affect your industry. Arm yourself with the knowledge that can be transformed into useful and actionable strategies. Look for ways to increase efficiencies. Improve your management and leadership skills through training and observing leaders within your organization.
If you’re a young professional, learn as much as you can about the company you work for and how your job fits in with its overall operations. Likely, you are abiding by certain protocols. Make sure you learn what those are inside out to avoid making any costly mistakes that could be detrimental to you or your team.
Trust is a major ingredient to credibility and relationships are key to earning trust. Find ways to relate with your colleagues, clients, and other key people in your organization so that you can establish rapport with them. Pay attention to what they value — is it punctuality, openness, reliability? Try to honor and respect those things and in turn, they will eventually grow to respect you and trust you. If you’re working from home, there are usually tell-tale signs as to what your peers value in the way they comment on shared documents and respond to emails and group chats.
Do not be afraid to ask questions. Contrary to what you may feel when you don’t understand something, asking questions won’t actually hurt your credibility — especially if people see it as part of your effort to learn about the important aspects of your job or if your question provokes the team to investigate an issue more deeply or think about it from another angle. Questions that are thought-provoking could lead to innovative solutions that nobody has thought of.
Consulting with others could also boost your rapport with them. When done right, it could make them feel that you value their knowledge and expertise. Just be mindful of people’s time and the context in which you ask your questions.
In addition, asking questions demonstrates your honesty. Sometimes, pretending like you know something can backfire when you don’t meet people’s expectations.
Be aware of how you communicate
This goes for both verbal and non-verbal communication. Let’s talk about non-verbals first. There is a dramatic difference in the way that people perceive you when you’re slouching versus sitting up attentively. You can learn some simple non-verbal communication techniques to enhance your credibility. Some of these techniques include: adopting a good straight posture to indicate leadership and confidence; leaning forward to show interest when others are speaking, and relaxing and avoiding fidgety behavior. If you feel like you must fidget, try taking notes instead.
As for verbal communication, be aware of your tone and word choice. There were a number of young people in my office a few years back and one thing I noticed about them was how they communicated differently when they were at meetings or talking about work-related matters. They didn’t use filler words such as “like” or “um.” Their maturity and professionalism, despite their age, showed through. This made them credible to our senior staff who awarded them with bigger projects and opportunities for growth.
Speaking up is one of the greatest strategies that you can implement to build credibility. Just make sure you know when and where it is appropriate to do so. Pitch your ideas and share any best practices that you think may be useful to your colleagues. If you’re the type who has some apprehension about speaking to a large group, try it first with a smaller group or a trusted colleague until you build your confidence.
But before you open your mouth, make sure that you’ve organized your thoughts and can make a coherent point. Nothing arises suspicions about credibility than a sentence that trails off and concludes with “…so, yeah.”
Say “Yes!” (with caution)
I can attribute a large part of the credibility I’ve built in the workplace to saying “yes” to projects that I felt a little bit uncomfortable with. Saying “yes” has a three-fold advantage. First, it reaffirms to your supervisor (or whoever made the request) that you are capable and that you trust yourself enough to handle such responsibilities. Second, it demonstrates to your colleagues, clients and/or partners your skills and expertise. Third and most importantly, you prove to yourself that you can achieve so much more than what you expected from yourself. Saying “yes” builds confidence on many fronts.
I prefaced this tip with caution as you must also have a strong understanding of when it’s okay to say “yes” and when it’s appropriate to say “no.” If you feel like you really don’t have sufficient knowledge and expertise to execute a project, be honest and kindly decline. If you are incredibly busy and the project would compromise the overall quality of your work, say “no, but next time.”