Show Off Your Expertise and Hear ‘Yes’ More Often

Do you know that where you make your request is just as important as how you make that request?

For proof, I refer you to a study by Robert Cialdini — one of my favorite psychologists and the man who developed the six principles of persuasion. Cialdini evaluated the effectiveness of medical professionals by comparing patient compliance with a set of recommendations issued by both physicians and physical therapists. He discovered that patients were complying 100 percent of the time with directives from physicians but only about 35 percent of the time with ones originating from the physical therapists.

Intrigued, Cialdini considered the environment in which these directives were given. Physicians often dressed in a white lab coat and shared their insight from an environment in which state licensing credentials, medical school diplomas and other indications of their expertise were highly visible.

When Cialdini examined the environment in which physical therapists often dispensed their recommendations, he took note of the preponderance of crazy motivational posters — like those ones with kittens that encourage you to “hang in there.” Now, these professionals had impressive credentials, too. But they weren’t displaying them to their patients.

Once Cialdini recommended replacing the cat posters with wall hangings similar to those of the physicians involved in his study, patient compliance among the physical therapists increased significantly.

What does this have to do with your persuasion efforts? It’s simple: Display your own expertise in your office.

If you have credentials, show them. If you’ve got certificates, post them. If you’ve got diplomas, get them out for the world to see.

I bet you’ll start hearing “yes” more often.

How Do You Know When People Trust You?

Some people say you can’t see trust. I disagree.

How can you tell whether you’re making progress in your persuasion attempts with a particular person — especially in such critical areas as trust and credibility? Try consistently observing a particular person’s actions (or inactions).

Here are seven pieces of evidence of things unseen:

1. Your target volunteers information that is not requested.

He might say this: “You’ll also need this, which is a study done a year ago. Not many people are familiar with it, but it’s exactly what you’ll need.”

 If your target didn’t trust you, you’d never see that report.

2. Your target shares humor.

He might say this: “Just to show you how my day is going: I had a lunch meeting and went to the wrong restaurant. And I was the guy who made the reservation!”

A comment like that shows the target is willing to let down his guard with you.

3. Your target accepts pushback and contrary views.

She might say this: “I see your point. I hadn’t thought of the impact on our European operations. I’ll have to reconsider that.

This means your target is willing to consider different perspectives. On the other hand, when someone says, “I’ll keep that in mind,” he’s blowing you off.

4. Your targets requests your advice.

She might say this: “What’s your take on the new sales promotion?”

If the target didn’t trust you or find you credible, she wouldn’t ask for your opinion.

5. Your target shares confidential details.

He might say this: “The news hasn’t been released yet, but the head of R&D has been selected.

This target knows you can be trusted. Don’t prove him wrong.

6. Your target meets deadlines and respects financial limitations.

When someone comes in on time and under budget, that means he respects you. Remember, once is an event, twice might be coincidence but three times is a trend.

7. Your target engages in friendly follow up and continuous contact.

Trusted colleagues stay in touch. It’s as simple as that.

Look for these subtly-disguised hints, and you’ll know when you’re making persuasion progress and when you need to step up your game.

How to Get Other People to Sing Your Praises

After receiving a referral, don’t overlook the importance of following up with the referring party. Always keep that person in the loop. That way, he or she can help if the third party isn’t immediately responsive. The referrer also will be motivated to provide you with more contacts and support. After all, the referring party will score some points with their sources, too.

Who knows? The person who gave you one referral could wind up giving you countless referrals — turning into what I like to call a “personal evangelist.” An evangelist, of course, is someone who promotes something enthusiastically. There already exist religious evangelists, technology evangelists and brand evangelists. Now I’m suggesting you create your own personal evangelists: people who sing your praises and attempt to convert others to, well, you.

How do you create personal evangelists? Here are five suggestions:

1. Be a rebel with a cause.

In a research paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Caleb Warren and Margaret C. Campbell define cool as: “… a subjective, positive trait perceived in people, brands, products and trends that are autonomous in an appropriate way.” The researchers cited a 1984 Apple advertisement as a prime  example. In essence it communicated the fact that “You have a choice” and then implored “Don’t buy IBM.” The ad didn’t’ say, “Burn IBM’s headquarters to the ground.” So be “out there,” but with boundaries.

2. Don’t try to appeal to everyone.

If you want true staying power, you can’t appeal to everyone. Yep — you read that right. The rock band KISS, an ongoing entity for almost 45 years, with some 80 million albums sold, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. One of the main reasons the band made it this far is because it created a rabid group of evangelists known as the KISS Army, which packs tremendous staying power. These people are devoted fans. Lead vocalist Paul Stanley said it best: “Either love us or hate us. If you’re in the middle, get out.”

3. Take care of those who support you.

Lessons also can be learned from another rock band, albeit one with a much different musical style than KISS. The Grateful Dead’s evangelists, known collectively as “Deadheads,” demonstrated the power of the people in almost everything they did. For example, while The Grateful Dead bucked convention in many ways, it’s still shocking to think that the band allowed Deadheads to record their shows for free and actively encouraged bootlegging of their music for decades. Why? Because it endeared the band to the fans. Reciprocity, anyone?

4. Be elegant.

Steve Jobs was so fanatical about design that he added costs and increased development time by railing about the importance of the aesthetic design of the circuitry found inside Apple products. Harley-Davidson motorcycles are often referred to as rolling sculptures, with each component shining like a perfectly cut jewel. Have everything you do be just as elegant. Dress sharp and keep a clean office or desk — both of which can do big things for your persuasion powers. Now apply that approach to emails you send, documents you create and PowerPoint presentations you deliver. Make sure your stuff not only is good, but that it looks good, too.

5. Be like Billy

Speaking of evangelization, why not be like an actual evangelist? I asked one person whose opinion I respect who he thought was the greatest speaker he’d ever heard? His reply: “Billy Graham — and I’m agnostic!” Speaking is one of the most effective ways to create personal evangelists. Know your topic, engage your crowd and deliver your message with enthusiasm. Whether you should mimic Billy Graham’s style or content is up for debate, but exceptional speaking skills can create a tent-revival atmosphere around you and your persuasion priorities.

Now get out there and begin gathering your own personal evangelists!

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?

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.

Write Stuff, Persuade More

Thanks to technology, there are numerous ways for you to use the written word to persuade people and build credibility – from posting on your LinkedIn page to writing a commercially published book.

I know one motorcycle dealer who, on his own initiative, keeps a running list of all his customers and prospects, and regularly sends them a meaningful “how-to” paragraph every month. Another client is a local small-business owner who publishes books on home repair maintenance to feed his primary business, which is home inspection. Talk about credibility boosts!

Why should you engage in these activities, too? First, when people see your name in print, it positions you as an authority on the subject. People often defer to the advice and guidance of experts. Second, you can reach many people with a meaningful yet non-promotional message, enabling your readers to become more familiar with you to the point they feel they know you.

You can take a variety of approaches with your writing strategies:

  • An article for an industry trade publication
  • A piece for your local newspaper’s op-ed section
  • A guest blog post on a relevant website
  • Social-media networks, via your own pages and those of your business

Keep in mind — and this is crucial — that you’re not writing promotional copy. If you sell tires, you don’t want to proclaim, “You won’t believe the price we can get you on new tires!” Rather, these should be informative pieces that help readers do, think or feel differently about something: “Three reasons why spring is the best time of year to inspect your tires.” That way, you’re persuading readers to check their tires; if they need new ones, who do you think they’re going to call?

Include your name, with a current photo and contact information, and watch people seek you out for more information. Do this with some regularity, and you’ll become a known entity.

Additionally, use social media platforms to burnish your image and reputation by posting a comment about something you heard in a keynote presentation at a cool seminar. This will start a conversation. Or simply post a question in one of the forums you frequent, such as, “What was the best marketing idea you saw this year?”

On the other hand, photographs of you passed out after Friday night’s revelry might not be the best thing to post on your Facebook page if you’re actually trying to boost your credibility. And that profane rant about Donald Trump? Stop.

How to Make a Positive (and Provocative) First Impression

We all know that feeling of walking into a room in which we know absolutely nobody. You might think everyone is staring at you, and that could be true. In fact, they’re already forming opinions about you based on your posture, demeanor, attire, and overall appearance. That can be a harsh reality to face, especially if you’re looking back at a conference room full of expressionless members of the board of directors.

The same thing happens in networking situations, which is why you should enter a room of strangers with a minimum/maximum mindset. Develop a range of goals, which will help you survive in uncomfortable situations. For example, during a social function at an industry trade show, don’t set expectations so high (drumming up new business with everyone you meet) that you’re bound to wind up disappointed. Instead, determine that your minimum objective will be, say, to leave with at least one solid lead for a new client, while your maximum objective could be to set up a personal meeting or teleconference to hammer out details of the new business you just acquired.

To get to that point, though, you must exude confidence. So be prepared by researching your targets, developing three intriguing questions for any new person you meet  — Where are you from? How did you land in your current position? What’s your take on the new industry regulations? — and then be genuinely interested in what they say. In turn, your targets will take an interest in you and your business. Think of this counterintuitively: When they are talking, you are making a good impression.

While what you have to say and how you say it can trump the fact that you might have a pumpernickel seed stuck between your front teeth after that morning bagel, it still pays to practice sartorial persuasion. In other words, dress well. In most business situations, that means your attire when visiting an organization’s headquarters should be 10 percent more professional than what employees typically wear there to work every day. If the men dress in polo shirts and button-downs, you should wear a sport coat without a tie. If the women wear skirts and blouses, you do the same and add a blazer with a bit of jewelry. If you don’t know what the office attire is, better to err on the side of caution. Same goes for trade shows and industry gatherings.

Would you rather be overdressed or underdressed? Do you want people to think that you give your appearance thoughtful consideration? You better, because if you’re reliable in your attire, people will presume you’re also a likeable and trustworthy person to whom they can (and should) say “yes.” Remember the halo effect?

How to Win Back Credibility

As chairman and CEO at General Electric for 20 years between 1981 and 2001, Jack Welch was known as “Neutron Jack,” because his often-draconian decisions left buildings standing but removed all the people. When GE suffered a variety of public bruisings — scandals within the multinational corporation’s credit department, price-fixing with diamonds in South Africa, money-laundering and fraud in Israel — Walsh unilaterally announced that henceforward managers not only were required to meet performance goals, but had to do so within the company’s value system. Doing one without the other would be insufficient. And, in short order, a conglomerate that manufactured everything from light bulbs to locomotives became a model company because Jack Welch had regained his, and his company’s, credibility.

“I think you know in life what’s a good thing to do and what’s a bad thing, and I did a bad thing. And there you have it,” Hugh Grant told Jay Leno in 1995 after the actor was caught with a prostitute in Los Angeles. Grant went on to become a successful leading man in Hollywood — in part, I’ll argue, because he admitted his mistake and blamed no one but himself. That’s one way to mend a credibility gap.

President Bill Clinton, another man whose moral temptations got the best of him, was impeached for inappropriate actions with an intern and then lied to Congress about his behavior. He emerged as a consensus builder and a brilliant politician.

If those guys can regain their credibility, so can you. Here are 10 steps to put you back in good graces with colleagues and associates:

1. Assess the damage.

Try to understand what really occurred, factually and perceptively, that caused you to lose credibility. Ask others if you need objective help, because you can’t afford to underestimate the damage or assume it will pass with time. The damage O.J. Simpson did to his credibility did not pass with time.

2. Start rebuilding credibility with small steps.

Engage a few people or groups at a time, focusing on low-key topics and non-controversial issues. Make sure you deliver what you promise when you promise.

3. Admit your error.

Honesty counts for a whole lot in business. Lies have no place in running an ethical operation. Lying about a mistake or passing the blame will only undo whatever credibility you’ve managed to hold onto.

4. Learn the language of apology.

Sharing information about pending and completed decisions, apologizing for mistakes, and listening to and responding to concerns, questions and comments are at the core of leadership credibility. Simply understanding the power of apologetic language is a huge recovery step.

5. Channel your inner Johnny Carson.

Johnny Carson is one of my all-time favorite American entertainers. When a guest would mention a current event or piece of knowledge outside of Johnny’s realm, the host didn’t feign understanding, try to take over the conversation, or “one up” the guest. He simply said, “I did not know that.” That’s what I say now, and so should you.

6. Understand selective memory.

Allow some events to fade. Don’t keep reminding people of previous transgressions. You may have been tipsy at an office party, but someone else probably drank a lot more than you.

7. Realize that credibility is a volume knob, not an “on/off” switch.

It’s impossible to be “mostly pregnant,” but you can be “mostly credible.” Seek success, not perfection. Think of the needle registering on a gauge: You want it to keep rising, which represents strong and steady progress. It’s doesn’t need to be revving on the red line in order to be working properly.

8. Remember that all things are relative.

Nobody is asking you to be “the most credible” person ever at your job. You simply need to be credible. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most popular guy in the office or the best-liked gal in your department, so why strive to be the most credible? Such distinctions carry little weight in most cases.

9. Conduct conversations about your lapse.

This will allow you to prove you’re in a much better place now. Just don’t raise the issue incessantly. If you’re comfortable conversing about it, you’re going to make it a topic of conversation and not a cause célèbre.

10. Shake it off.

Don’t let mistakes undermine everything you do. Ignore the “doom loop” mentality of struggling with a credibility issue or an incident that serves only to further undermine your confidence and credibility.  Let it go the way an athlete overcomes a minor injury. Don’t go running to the training room or, worse, admit yourself to the hospital.

Follow these tips, and get ready to watch your credibility climb.

Here Are Four Ways to Lose Credibility Quickly

Now that I’ve shared four ways to boost your credibility, here are four ways to jeopardize it.

There is only one condition worse than not having credibility, and that is having had credibility and losing it. Credibility lost is extremely hard to regain, so let’s look at key causes and successful prevention techniques:

1. Your success track record ends.

When that happens, so will your credibility. You either will make continuous progress and achieve victories, or you won’t. The choice is yours.

2. You become deceitful.

Most unethical conduct is committed for the organization’s gain, not personal gain. But that doesn’t lessen the impact. “White lies” in business — unlike those in family situations, where the complete truth might significantly hurt a loved one — can be tolerated in very few situations. When someone knows that you’ve lied, that person immediately questions what else you’ve been lying about, are lying about or will be lying about. And that, friends, throws your credibility over the edge of the cliff.

3. You fail to share credit, thus undermining credibility.

That’s why I continue to emphasize accepting blame and sharing credit. It’s better to risk providing credit to even peripheral contributions than to fail to reward it for just one person.

4. Your ego becomes bigger than a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

If you think only of, about and for yourself, that will become quickly apparent to those around you. You must demonstrate that you’re acting with others in mind via gestures of generosity that are clearly visible. A simple and public “thank you” often packs more punch than a reward handed over in the privacy of an office. There are reasons why the U.S. military puts medals on people in front of a lot of other people.

Can you return from credibility self-immolation?

It’s tough, but yes. And when you do, you’ll be joining a club of famous people who came back from the abyss to reinvent their careers and (in some cases) attain even higher heights — including Bill Clinton, Hugh Grant, Robert McNamara, Tiger Woods, and Jack Welch.

Four Ways to Elevate Your Credibility

In a previous post, I asked about how much credibility you have. Depending on how honestly you answered that question will determine whether you keep reading this post.

Here are four ways to build more credibility in the eyes of everyone you encounter:

1. Realize that nothing breeds success like success.

Publicize your successes, but don’t boast about them. Demonstrate your triumphs, relate your victories, repeat your progress. This is what I refer to as starting small, but just because they’re small doesn’t mean they aren’t worth noting or discussing. In short: Walk the walk. In so doing, you will acknowledge others’ contributions (accept blame, share credit) and begin to mold a track record of success.

2. Create a “rational future.”

I observed Steve Ballmer, post Bill-Gates, attempt to rally the troops at Microsoft’s 25th anniversary bash in 2000, and what he intended as a show of great energy and passion came across as bizarre beserkness (which is exactly what the press reported and the investors perceived). Ballmer retired from the company in early 2014 after 14 years as CEO. A rational future has nutrients and sustainability; it’s not a sugar donut that is quite tasty when you eat it but leaves you worse off than before. Literally walking over hot coals to try to build self-esteem is like downing one giant sugar donut, because that skill (perspiring feet) has no applicability in the course of daily work or life. Thus, help people see a future with pragmatics in the present, as well as logical arguments and persuasive appeals.

3. Become clearly accessible and accountable — or, in other words, “transparent.”

I remember college professors who held regular office hours and seemed genuinely happy to welcome students, while other professors seemed to take wicked pleasure in ignoring their students. The former had far more credibility when it came to respecting their opinions and critiques. After all, people are less likely to argue with an individual who is clearly available and responsible.

4. Hang out with all-stars.

Leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith says that in order to be a thought leader, you must surround yourself with other thought leaders. The same principle applies to credibility. Find people with impressive credibility credentials within your own organization or community and align yourself with them. Learn from them and support them, and eventually you’ll become like them.

Next time, I’ll explore four ways you can easily lose credibility.