Here Are Six Signs That You Have More Credibility Than Others

Regardless of what line of business you’re in, every organization, every department, every team has at least one person whom everybody trusts. When that person takes on a project, it’s done well, on time and on budget. He gives you advice? It’s solid. She provides data or other information? It’s accurate. These are the people who get things done. And these are the people who hear “yes” more often.

In short, they possess the secret to persuasion success: killer credibility. The dictionary defines credibility as “the quality of being trusted; the quality of being convincing or believable.” I define it with one word: “essential.”  Throughout your career, your credibility will be tested. All the time.

Easy to lose and tough to build, credibility ranks as one of the primary characteristics of a successful and professional persuader. A basic determination of credibility can be found in the following six indicators:

  1. You do what you say you’re going to do.
  2. Your information is accurate and unbiased.
  3. You’re not prone to exaggeration or hyperbole.
  4. You admit when you’re wrong and accept blame.
  5. You share the credit when successful.
  6. Your word is your bond.

The key question is this: What do people say about you when you’re not in the room?

How to Start a Worthwhile Conversation

Let’s keep this one short and sweet: You’re at a networking event and don’t know anybody. What should you do? Take a page from best-selling author Jim Collins, and pick someone. Then start with the question: “May I ask, where are you from?” You’ll receive a host of varying responses, upon which you can build the rest of the conversation.

Individuals may respond by mentioning a locale (“I’m from Pennsylvania.”), a company (“I work at Microsoft.”), an industry (“I work in the tech sector.”) or even a discipline (“I’m in finance”).

Next, ask an intriguing follow-up question: “How did someone from Pennsylvania end up all the way out here in California?” “What’s the best aspect of life at Microsoft?” “What’s the most common misconception about working in the finance world?”

You’ll more than likely receive an engaged response, which is fantastic. Because although you’re asking someone to talk about himself, your line of questioning will make you seem more interesting, too.

Try this approach, and you’ll soon find out engaging with (and persuading) strangers is easier than you think.

Why Do You Need a Mentor?

A mentor is a wise and trusted counselor or teacher. He or she can either be a formal, paid relationship or an informal, unpaid one. The critical component is finding someone who already has accomplished whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.

This was made crystal-clear to me when participating in renowned consultant Alan Weiss’s mentor program. I asked him for guidance on a particular business matter and shared with him the guidance I received from someone else. He simply responded, “There are three of us having this conversation, and only one of us has done it.” Point made. I took his advice and never looked back.

Keep in mind that mentorship is not about having a coffee buddy or someone to commiserate with you. There may be some of that, of course, but coffee time should really constitute a fraction of one percent of the relationship. As Weiss often says: “If you want a friend, get a dog.” When I interact with Alan these days, I make sure it’s regarding a significant issue — one I’ve tried to work through on my own first. I go to him because I can’t get his kind of insight or perspective anywhere else.

Unfortunately, a regrettable lack of informal or formal mentoring happens in many organizations these days. But when you seek out and develop mentor relationships with the right people, you’ll rectify your skill discrepancies and shift to a higher gear almost immediately.

Influencing Groups: Why You Don’t Need 100% Agreement

When persuading groups, you don’t need unanimity or an overwhelming mandate to generate agreement; you need critical mass.

Consensus is something everyone can live with, not something everyone would die for. With that in mind, focus on the pragmatism of the numbers. That means that “being right” in your own mind isn’t sufficient. You may have all the facts and all the right conclusions, but that still doesn’t mean your idea will become reality in a group setting.

You must be cajoling and politically savvy. “Work” the system, just as you would “work” a room when you’re networking. You don’t want to meet everyone, just the people who can help you the most. (A politician wants to convince every voter to vote for him or her but is most interested in those voters who can deliver — through their own influence — thousands of additional votes. Hence, a union officer is more attractive to a politician than a union member.)

Groups are not sentient creatures as an entity, but they contain sentient creatures. The legal and marketing departments will have different views on your pitch than, say, the R&D and finance departments.

In other words, where others stand on an issue depends on the professional background they bring to the discussion and the impact a “yes” will have on their job, rank or career.

One of the weaknesses of group influence is that the task takes much longer because of such dynamics. You have to stay the course and, in some cases, outlast opponents who will eventually be transferred, promoted, retired, terminated, or otherwise obscured or overruled. Sometimes, no other way exists, so be prepared for a long-term persuasion arrangement in which you might need to create allies who recognize how they can prosper from your ideas.

Don’t Let Your Co-Workers and Clients Stress You Out

Stress can hugely impact how well you interact with — and thus persuade — others. In any job, you need the cooperation of your colleagues and clients, and you’re less likely to get that if you are abrupt, terse and snap at those you rely on.

Additionally, mistakes resulting from stress can affect the workplace environment. A deadline not met on time could delay a sale and upset a big-spending buyer. Or a pricey sale might be stalled because the paperwork wasn’t ready on time, creating tension between you and the finance team. Or a presentation might go downhill because of an unexpected question or prolonged disagreement.

These situations quickly escalate into conflicts, which can lead to even more mistakes. Your business suffers when stress takes its toll, which is why you need to treat your co-workers and clients with the same respect and gentility you would a customer.

Maybe even more.

Four More Ways to Bounce Back After Hearing ‘No’

In a previous post, I wrote about four ideas to help you recover from hearing “no.”  I will now present four more ways to bounce back from rejection.

Here we go:

1. Perform a self-assessment.

Heed your own counsel. Is this the first rejection you’ve received regarding your pitch? Or have you been turned down several times making the same pitch? Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence and three times is a pattern. Is a pattern emerging?

2. Immediately do something you’re skilled at doing.

Whether it’s writing a memo, coaching a coworker or giving a talk, go do something in which you know you’ll be successful. This success-immediately-after-defeat strategy is a great way to reinstate positive feelings and get them working again in your brain. Even if it’s a small victory, it’s still a victory.

3. Forget about perfection.

Rather, focus on success direction. Set parameters of success, not “either/or” outcomes. Think about your results as the volume nob on an amplifier instead of the “on/off” switch. You turned in a great project and your boss called it “solid” but not “stupendous”? Don’t worry about it. Who uses the word “stupendous,” anyway?

4. Evaluate your entire body of work.

Hank Aaron had a lifetime batting average of .305; Joe DiMaggio, .325; Ty Cobb, .366; Lou Gehrig, .340; Babe Ruth, .342. Those guys failed approximately seven times out of every ten trips to the plate. Not only are they in the Baseball Hall of Fame today, their names are woven into the fabric of our language. If, when is all said and done, people refer to you as the Joe DiMaggio of new products, or the Hank Aaron of project management, or the Babe Ruth of marketing — well, you’d be in some pretty sweet company. Focus on your whole career, not one or two errors in the field.

The next time you hear “no,” don’t be so hard on yourself and make the necessary strides toward getting to “yes” next time.

How to Bounce Back from Hearing ‘No’

You’ve worked hard to hone your pitch, state your case and present your ask. And then someone says “no.”

What now?

Here are four ideas to help you bounce back:

1. Move on to what’s next.

My favorite TV series was the seemingly timeless political epic The West Wing. In it, Martin Sheen played the role of President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet. It  captured a fairly accurate portrayal of life in The White House. President Bartlet — whether triumphant in victory or suffering a crushing setback — always responded in the same manner: “What’s next?” That’s a brilliant example of how to handle any situation. Activate the next issue on your own agenda, and don’t deliberate over defeat. Autopsies are for medical examiners, not managers.

2. Realize that you’re not the problem.

In his groundbreaking work, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Ph.D. Martin Seligman wrote what should be required reading for every persuasion professional. He initially concentrated on the habits of explanation, or how people explain what most frequently happens to them. Those who were pessimistic (and less resilient) when facing setbacks would blame themselves: “I’m the reason this sale failed.” Optimists, on the other hand, (predisposed to being resilient) would blame the circumstances and then move on to the next challenge: “The buyer was in a bad mood, and there’s nothing I can do about that.”

Seligman notes that optimism won’t change what a salesperson says to the prospective buyer; rather, it will change what the salesperson says to himself after a negative exchange. Instead of telling himself, “I’m no good,” he might rationalize that “the client was too busy to fully consider my offer.” That particular target chose not to agree to your course of action at that particular time. That’s it. There is no connection to your worth as a person or the validity of your viewpoint.

3. Understand the external locus of learning.

For people who claim they already know what they need to know, a setback can be devastating. If, on the other hand, people believe their locus of learning is internal, they can shrug off the setback and tell themselves, I’ll have to get some coaching or read up on how to improve my presentation skills, so next time I’ll experience a better result. The world always seems a little brighter for these people, because they have more arrows in their quiver. You can always learn more about the subject, the target and/or the process of persuasion.

4. Ignore unsolicited feedback.

Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice, tells the memorable story of how — following a rousing talk to a capacity crowd that gave him a standing ovation — a speech coach approached him and asked if she could provide some feedback. “Is there anything on the planet that might stop you?” Weiss wisecracked in his own inimitable way. She proceeded to tell him that she couldn’t concentrate on his message, because he always moved around on stage, and that he should stand still to make a point. My point: Pay no attention to suggestions of your so-called “supporters” — especially if they tell you that you should have tried harder or danced on the ceiling. Instead, seek out constructive feedback from credible individuals you trust.

Next time, I’ll explore four more ways to bounce back after hearing “no.”

A Two-Step Process to Measure the Unmeasurable

“You can’t measure morale!” somebody once tried arguing with me. “You can’t measure enthusiasm!”

OK, fair enough. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. That’s why I have a two-step method to help prove the unprovable:

1. Describe an observable behavior that you believe is an indicator of the desired result.

2. Count the occurrences.

It’s that easy.

If you’re seeking sustained high morale, perhaps you’ll choose to measure whether people are on time for staff meetings, or you might calculate what percentage of the staff is displaying positive emotions during a meeting. If you’re seeking efficient and effective teamwork, count the number of times people come into your office asking for you to settle disputes. If you’re trying to build positive repute, keep track of positive media mentions.

Is this a perfect method? Of course not. But it certainly is better and more accurate than using intuition alone. And the results might be compelling enough to help you prove your point.

How to Respond to All Those ‘Can We’ Questions

Often buyers (and other persuasion targets) will ask if they can do something out of the ordinary, some sort of customization to the sale. In the motorcycle business, one common question customers ask is, “Can we …”

Can we make it louder?
Can we make it faster?
Can we make it lower?
Can we make it shinier?
Can we make it …

Sometimes a buyers even asks all of those questions.

In other jobs, you might hear things like this:

Can we create our own color schemes?
Can we set our own fee thresholds?
Can we accelerate the timeline?
Can we not and say we did?
(I’m kidding.)

Far too often in the act of persuasion, people get side-tracked on some customizing-research adventure before they’ve even closed in on the primary decision: Are we going to work together? Do we have a project? Do we have a deal?

If you allow your target to derail that primary decision, you will end up increasing the amount of effort expended and in all likelihood reduce the possibility of actually reaching a worthwhile decision.

When your target asks one of those “can we” questions, be ready with an effective and compelling response. As long as you believe the request is within the scope of possibility, one of my favorites responses goes like this:

If you can devise it, we can do it. We believe we have the best talent and most capable resources in the businessWe can make just about anything a reality. Here’s what I suggest we do.

First, let’s pick the approach that’s right for you. Then once we get the basic agreement worked out, I’ll introduce you to our people and we’ll get busy.

Now, tell me more about …

Note that this reply assures the buyer you will be able to help, and that you’ve got the staff and resources to do so. Then, a transition statement takes you back to the primary decision that needs to be made.

This response helps you stay in control and not get sidetracked by all sorts of questions about customization.

What Do Playing Basketball and Persuading Others Have in Common?

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament begins this week. Teams play all season for the opportunity to compete in what is arguably sport’s most exciting event, and the ones that are “hot,” or “in the zone,” or “firing on all cylinders” usually perform the best.

Claremont Graduate University’s Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced MEE-hye CHEEK-sent- -HYE-ee) calls this progression the “state of flow.”

In his groundbreaking 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi described “flow” as “the process of total involvement with life.” Later, in a 1996 interview with Wired magazine, he defined “flow” as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Unwittingly, Csikszentmihalyi also was describing peak performance, which occurs when you perform almost effortlessly at an incredibly high ability in challenging situations. Like the athlete who makes the winning free throw with 1.2 seconds remaining, the salesperson who performs gracefully and comfortably in challenging and complex selling situations, or the marketing manager who convinces a roomful of opinionated people that his way is best.

Think about it.