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Credibility Busters that Could Ruin Your Career

Whether you’re an employee, leader, or entrepreneur, personal credibility is truly a “magic bullet” for success.  It’s simple:  if you have no credibility, people won’t trust you. If they don’t trust you, you won’t persuade them. And if you can’t persuade, you’ll never be able to problem solve, innovate, or lead. You’ll become increasingly irrelevant—and vulnerable to the staggering numbers of others, worldwide, who are vying for your spot.

If you want to increase your level of personal credibility, avoid the following “credibility busters:”

  • Failing to do what you say you will do.  This is the number one way to bust your personal credibility. How often do you say, “I’ll get that to you today”…and then you don’t?  We’re all guilty of committing this sin from time to time, but when you do it often, you’ve got a credibility problem.  If you’re not sure you can follow through on a promise, don’t make it.

  • Breaking appointments (or frequently rescheduling them). Have you ever dealt with someone who regularly needed to break or reschedule appointments with you? It’s annoying, at best. And after it happens more than once or twice, you stop trusting them. Don’t be this person. When you make an appointment, keep it.  Then when you have to make an exception, it will be just that—an exception.

  • Showing up late. You say you will meet a client at 11:30. You call her on your cell phone and say, “I’ll be right there—I’m caught in traffic,” and then you arrive at 11:45. It’s bad enough to do this to a friend. But in business, where people tend to be less forgiving, it can be the kiss of death. Plan ahead and arrive a little early—consistently.  You’ll increase your credibility and reduce your stress level.

  • Being messy and/or disorganized. Is your desk overflowing with papers that should have been filed (or trashed) months ago? Do you often lose documents or leave them at home? Do you go to meetings looking disheveled and bearing wrinkled, dog-eared reports? If so, your credibility is almost certainly called into question—and with good reason. When you’re disorganized, important things fall through the cracks. And if you’re sloppily dressed, people assume you’re equally sloppy in your work. Allow enough time at both ends of the day to look neatly put together and to file away your papers. It makes a world of difference.

  • Bringing too much “personal life” into your workday. Do you get lots of personal calls at work? Is your e-mail inbox cluttered with letters from friends and receipts from Internet shopping you’ve done on company time? If so, you’re losing credibility. When personal matters start to interfere with your job—or even appear to do so—you’ve got a credibility problem.

  • Keeping your staff in the dark. Trust and credibility are built when others feel valued. It is broken when others feel as if they don’t matter to us. Let’s say you head a project team, and after gathering the team’s input you have reached a consensus agreement about a key decision. Then you learn additional information and change your decision. As the leader you have the authority to do so, right? Yes—but the team needs to understand your thought process. Otherwise, they won’t believe you really wanted their input, and your credibility as a leader is busted.

  • Telling little white lies that morph into big hairy lies. You’re preparing an important presentation for a client, but hit an internal snag and miss your deadline. Rather than admit you dropped the ball, you blame your tardiness on a vendor: “Sorry, the printer had trouble getting the color exactly right on the cover and made us a day late!” It turns out that your client had built a few extra days into her deadline, so she’s not upset at all (in fact, you get kudos for being such a perfectionist about the color). No harm done, right? Wrong!  Over the weekend, your client runs into the owner of the print shop at a party and mentions how nice the cover looks, adding, “so even though it took a day to get the problem straightened out, the end result was worth it!” Puzzled, the printer asks, “What do you mean? We turned that job around in record time!” With that single chance encounter, your credibility is busted—not only with your client but also with the printer who now knows you sold him down the river. It would have been so much better to take the blame for the missed deadline, apologize, and possibly offer a discount on the project.  When you lose someone’s trust in this way, you can never get it back.”

  • Trying to do everything—but ending up doing it all in a half-a**ed way. Let’s say your manager asks you to help him write a critical marketing proposal. Then, a few hours later, an outside client asks you to do an “emergency” project. You agree to both. Problem is, you are also trying to prepare for a speaking engagement just a few short days away. You don’t want to let anyone down, so you cross your fingers, vow to go without sleep for the next 48 hours, and try to do it all. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that at least one of these commitments is going to suffer—and probably all of them.  It’s far better to say no to some things than do a poor job at everything.”

  • Putting others down to pull yourself up. Suppose one of your coworkers has recently received a promotion to a position that you wanted. You congratulate the person, but then proceed to have a few “private” conversations with other employees about how unqualified the promoted person is. As you enumerate the areas the promoted employee is “deficient” in (from your perspective), you also enumerate your own qualifications. Do you convince them? Not a bit.  With each put-down you actually demonstrate your own lack of credibility, as others write off your rant as “sour grapes.”

  • Putting yourself down rather than learning from mistakes. Surprising as it may seem, self-deprecation is a credibility buster. We’re not talking about true humility, but rather the tendency to continually beat yourself up over past mistakes. You increase your personal credibility when you acknowledge and admit mistakes, both to yourself and others. You derail it when you continue to rake ourselves over the coals—either mentally or verbally—and fail to learn the lesson and just move on.

  • Making too many excuses—even if they’re legit. Maybe the dog actually did eat the expense report. Or maybe the check really is in the mail. Perhaps you really cannot finish the project due to someone else failing to do her part on time. All of these things can be legitimate excuses. You destroy your personal credibility, however, when you frequently offer the same excuses to the same people.  Instead of focusing on the excuse part, focus on what it will take to solve the problem and to prevent it from recurring.

  • Being a rigid rule enforcer rather than a flexible problem solver. Rules and policies are helpful; they set guidelines and boundaries so things can get done in an orderly way. However, your personal credibility suffers when you rely only on rules and policies—instead of trying to be flexible enough to help others solve problems.  People trust problem solvers. They don’t trust rule mongers and bureaucrats—people who are hung up on following procedure at the expense of common sense.

  • Casting blame. Let’s say your sales department makes commitments to customers that your operations department can’t realistically meet. Operations works long and hard to try to deliver on Sales’ commitments and tempers begin to flare. What happens next? Often a power struggle ensues, with each department blaming the other.  Everyone loses credibility with each other—and the company loses credibility with its customers.  Someone must care enough to stop the squabbling, determine the cause of the problem, and work toward developing the solutions, and ending the blame game.

  • Coming across as “all knowing” when you’re really just thinking out loud.  Many of us are extroverts, which means we tend to express ourselves verbally as we are thinking. (If you’re one, you know what she means.) But other, more introverted people, like to ponder ideas carefully before they speak.  They may assume your “thinking out loud” moments represent firm conclusions. Then, when you do make a final decision, they think, “Well, here he is flaking out on what he said yesterday—again!” and you lose credibility. If you have a tendency to think out loud, be sure to tell others that’s what you’re doing.  When they realize that this verbal mulling is just part of your decision-making process, they won’t see it as “flip-flopping” behavior.

Concluding Thoughts
Does this list seem a bit overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be. Focus on one “credibility buster” at a time and work to eliminate it from your life. The results you see will motivate you to tackle others on the list.  Although some of the changes may seem small—for instance, showing up on time instead of always being late—they all work together organically.  You remove roadblocks to your personal credibility, one by one, and once they’re gone, you’ll be amazed at the positive energy that flows into your life.

About the Author(s)

Sandy Allgeier Sandy Allgeier is a consultant, trainer, and facilitator who assists organizations in maximizing their human potential. Prior to beginning her consulting business in early 2000, she had over 25 years of experience as a human resources professional.  She is the author of The Personal Credibility Factor: How to Get It, Keep It, and Get It Back (If You’ve Lost It) (FT Press, 2009).  She has been selected as a national faculty member and facilitator for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), where she helps develop and educate HR practitioners across the United States.