Do You Have Influence? Part 2

I started writing on influence last week and promised some comments on how to build influence and credibility. There are a lot of ways to do both, some maybe more effective than others, and some perhaps more cynical than others. Hopefully these will get you thinking and from there you can decide what works for you.

I think credibility is similar to trust, but not quite the same. I can find you to be credible on a topic and your advice and thoughts at face value, which is a form of trust. That doesn’t mean that I’d trust you to hold my wallet or to do anything else, it just means that somehow – magic – you’ve convinced me that in that particular area I can find value in what you say. More than that, I can stop testing and doubting that you’re credible in that area.

Credibility is usually built from doing. Walking the walk. If you want to be credible about anything, you have to be able to do it, and you have to have the experience from doing it, and you have to have the track record of doing it. Could someone fake it? Sure, at least for the short term. Over a longer period it just fails. It also doesn’t mean you have to have x years experience to be credible. You can solve an interesting and hard problem today in one tiny niche of a product, write about it, and be instantly credible – in that one area.

Credibility is also about the presence or absence of an agenda. It’s ok to have an agenda, whether it’s trying to earn karma, solve world hunger, or make a buck. There’s a lot to be said for not having an self serving agenda that goes beyond karma. It’s easy to do, but not powerful, and sometimes not sustainable. You can take months to earn credibility and lose in an instant by appearing to be pushing a hidden or commercial agenda. It’s not a line in the sand. For some you have will be to 100% pure of heart, others will acknowledge or filter out the agenda without losing sight of the other value. Interestingly it’s often a function of who you are perceived to be that governs how much agenda you can have. Some people are able (allowed) to be blatantly commercial and self-promoting, others would get the boot for the same. Hard to figure out sometimes.

Influence sometimes grows from credibility, sometimes it’s just reach based. For example, if you have found person X and they suggest/recommend a product, you’re likely to consider it. If they plug a product every day they may lose credibility with you, or you may buy a lot of stuff! Direct markets have long had influence just based on reach. Research indicates that if you mail to x million people, a given percentage will open the offer and respond with cash. The rate is higher if it’s from an organization you consider credible, but it works for organizations you’ve never heard of. Somehow in the space of a direct mail piece they establish enough influence that you decide to engage.

A lot of theory, and my theory at that. What works in the real world? Consider these tips:

  • Be clear about what you know you can do, what you think you can do, and what you don’t know how to do. Isn’t that what we expect from anyone we hire, from a lawn guy to a surgeon?
  • If you’re talking about your successes or plans in an area, also share the failures. It’s cynical, but admitting to failure is a good way to build credibility. Failing three times a week, well, not so much.
  • Let them know your bias. Even if it’s a note in italics or a footnote, be honest about it without overplaying it. Show them that you’re not trying to trick them.
  • Engage calmly and honestly with those that disagree with you. Not easy some days, but worth doing.
  • Be authentic. That doesn’t mean you can’t filter some, but some of who you are has to come through, it contributes to the credibility thing in a strangely human way.

Do you have credibility at work? If you recommend an approach, does the boss ignore you, and if so, why? What about influence? Can you convince your team to go left instead of right? And if not, why not? What could you do to change that overall (not on a per issue basis)?

At least one more post coming up, to look at how you might use credibility and influence to promote change, even when change is difficult.