Study People to Build Credibility

Credibility is a funny thing. Not ha-ha funny but the kind of funny that’s counterintuitive. Credibility lies in the eye of the beholder. It’s not so much what you do as it is how others perceive what you do. Herein lies the salient, career-enhancing point: building credibility is not about you, it’s about other people.

credibility blog picThis understanding is particularly important in such fields as technology, biotechnology and accounting.  In these businesses there is a premium placed on technical expertise, the knowledge and experience applied across a wide range of situations and problems. However, what makes someone credible is not that he simply knows a lot. Being thought of as being credible is the result of committing and delivering something of value to others – over and over again. Understanding what that value is requires more than just technical smarts. With no disrespect to technologists, scientists, or CPAs, knowing a lot of “stuff” alone does not define job success.

Studying People

Building credibility requires a different type of intelligence that is developed by becoming a student of people. It’s thinking through the people’s perspective – understanding why people do what they do and what’s important to them – that makes your credibility possible.

Everyone knows that dealing with people is anything but an exact science, yet this has not dampened a fascination for understanding what makes people tick. If you ever took a course in psychology, you most likely studied a number of motivational theories. Then again, we don’t need a psychological theory to understand why people do what they do. My experience is that this understanding is both art and science.

The Art

Some people have a natural fascination and curiosity about people. Take my cousin, Terry. He really enjoyed understanding people. In meeting someone new, he would spend time asking all types of questions about their jobs and interests and anything else that came up in conversation. He did the same with people he knew – really wanting to understand what was important to them and why. Or he’d hear secondhand about a situation and want to understand why a person responded the way he did. My cousin Terry was interested, engaging, and curious when it came to people. To a great degree that helped make him a successful entrepreneur, great family man, and all around special guy.

The Science

Not everyone has a natural curiosity about people, but anyone who is looking to succeed in their job can develop the ability to study people. What this requires is:

  1. Taking the time to understand what is important to someone else

This means you have to spend time with others to get to know them. It is a matter of building an awareness in conversations to note what someone describes as important. Ask that person to tell you more.

  1. Be a good listener and ask good questions

Credibility is built by actively listening. Keep in mind that to understand what is important to someone is to ask “why?” Why gets at intent, purpose, or motivation. A good way to ask why without sounding accusatory is to say “tell me more about this.”

  1. Be visible and accessible

Out of sight, out of mind. You need to be visible to others, and them to you. You want to take the initiative to be out and about, no matter how much work you think chains you to your desk. Accessibility is also essential. When people know that you are available to them, and particularly when you help them succeed, your credibility increases.

  1. Remind yourself why building relationships is so important to your success and the organization’s success

People want to work with people they like and respect. This happens because relationships are built and fostered. While this can be an organic process, I would argue that taking a proactive approach reaps benefits for both the short and long term. The more you study and understand what is important to others, the greater the potential to build credibility. As your personal credibility grows, so grows your impact on the organization.

Studying people builds an appreciation for how vastly similar and infinitely different we are. Daniel Goleman, the father of emotional intelligence, says that “we are wired to connect.” All of us are stories. Credibility is built on an understanding of these stories, those of the people with whom we interact to create personal and organizational success.

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