Tag Archives: building credibility

They Key to Credibility is…

Empathy! Yep, that’s right–not credentials, expertise, title, or extensive research. The key to achieving strong credibility with your audience is to empathize with them. Why is this? Because, empathizing with the audience helps speakers achieve the type of true credibility Aristotle describes in Rhetoric:

“We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided. . . his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses.” Aristotle, Rhetoric

True credibility comes from a person who is “good,” a person of good character. Empathy, the ability to become your audience’s needs, wants, values, fears, and desires, is key to conveying good character. A presenter who can empathize with his or her audience is truthful–no one likes to be lied to; a presenter who is empathetic conveys his or her expertise–he or she knows her audience will trust a presenter who is wise an experienced; a presenter who can empathize will focus on shared values and goodwill–no subject is one-sided, all perspectives matter; and finally, an presenter who is empathetic has a good reputation–no one will believe a speaker whose reputation is questionable or whose intentions are self-centered.

Achieving each of these qualities: truthfulness, expertise, goodwill, and reputation requires empathy. But, how do we work to truly become empathetic speakers and humans? The RSA and their RSA Animates and RSA Shorts series provides a good starting point. According to Jeremy Rifkin, empathy begins at birth. We are empathetic creatures, driven by our soft-wiring by the “drive to belong” (Source). Empathy is what leads us to not only be aware of our own mortality but also be aware that others are mortal and fragile.

Dr. Brene Brown adds depth to this definition in her RSA Animates short, created by amazing animator Katy Davis (find her at Gobblyne).

For Brown, empathy is what “fuels connection,” the very thing that we are trying to achieve through credibility in the first place–connection from one human to another, connection that helps us bridge divides and conquer opposition. Further, empathy is a conscious process each presenter must engage in. It is a process characterized by perspective taking, staying out of judgment, recognizing emotion in others, and then communicating that emotion. Our job as presenters is to make the world better for our audiences, and “what makes something better is connection” (Source). Credibility isn’t about credentials, expertise, or experience. It’s about showing the audience you are a good person–empathy is the key to achieving this goal!

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Are your communication habits killing your credibility?

In studying the three modes of persuasion, ethos or credibility, pathos or emotion, and logos or logic and evidence, we learn that strong persuasion is about creating a balance between these three essentials to effective rhetoric, the art of persuading others.

Rhetoric is a balance of three modes. Think of it as an equilateral triangle.

Rhetoric is a balance of three modes. Think of it as an equilateral triangle.

While the dominant mode may change depending on the speaking context, and while many disagree on which mode of persuasion is truly the most important, it cannot be denied that an imbalance between these three can negatively affect your audience’s reception of your message. Too much pathos and the audience may feel manipulated, too much logos and the audience is disconnected from the humanity of the topic. What happens when we don’t tend to ethos or credibility though?

According to the article “8 Conversational Habits that Kill Credibility” by Geoffrey James, credibility often comes down not to dress or decorum but language (also definitely the realm of logos and pathos). What we say can either show we are credible, trustworthy, and have the audience’s best interest in mind, or leave our audience feeling we are biased, pompous, or untrustworthy. So, what are the 8 habits you need to avoid to build strong credibility?

1. Avoid Shop Talk

Jargon may make you feel better and you’ll assume your audience sees you as a knowledgable fount of information and wisdom, your audience is over business speak. A colleague recently expressed his disgust at the word “followship” used as a replacement for “leadership”. Why do we need to redefine leadership as anything but what it is?

2. Avoid Overused “Truisms”

The cliche “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” was awesome…100 years ago. Now, it’s an instant sign to your audience that they should stop listening to you because you are out of touch at best or lazy at worst.

3. Avoid Fancy Language

Verbose diatribes infrequently engage participatory assemblages… in other words, the bigger the words you use, the less likely that your audience will listen to or retain your message. Keep it simple!

4. Avoid Verbal Fillers

Non-fluencies like “um” or “uh” can be difficult to filter out, particularly because they are part of our conversational structure, so from my perspective a random uh or um won’t necessarily kill your credibility. However, when they become so frequent that they are noticeable or when those fillers include words such as “like” or “basically”, they communicate to your audience that you are not confident in your message or ideas.

5. Avoid Statements as Questions

James calls these “upticks”. When one raises the pitch at the end of what should be a statement and phrases it instead as a question. This one is a subtle credibility killer. The raising of your voice can communicate a lack of confidence in your ideas and message. Much of our credibility comes from an ability to phrase ideas assertively and with confidence.

6. Avoid Doublespeak

The term doublespeak was first introduced in George Orwell’s 1984. Doublespeak is language that deliberately seeks to distort and confuse meaning. The purpose is to often make difficult truths more palatable (aka, lying by omission). James refers to these as weasel words–no one trusts a weasel. One of the biggest challenges of strong persuasion is presenting ideas as they are, no matter how ugly or difficult.

7. Avoid Blaming your Audience

Placing blame on the audience by way of a “fake apology” (I’m sorry you didn’t get the point) is disingenuous . It also shows a lack of empathy for your audience, a definite necessity of a credible speaker.

8. Avoid Useless Information

Often times, when we don’t know what we are talking about, we rely on information overload–a barrage of mostly useless (to the audience) information that works to actually increase anxiety in most speakers. Focus on audience relevance and audience centeredness to ensure your information is useful.

What is your biggest credibility pet peeve? Take the poll and compare your results to other readers. 

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