Heather Hansen

Credibility Always Comes First

No matter what you want to win, credibility always comes first. You can’t win sales, attention, loyalty or engagement without it. For twenty years I’ve defended doctors in medical malpractice cases. If my juries didn’t find me credible, I couldn’t win. Game over. And you have the same challenge. If your jury of clients, customers, employees or investors don’t find you credible, you will lose.

Now I work with individuals and corporations to help them build their credibility. And sometimes they want to focus on other things. Authenticity was a trend for a while. Then it was vulnerability. And trust, of course, is a term often bandied about for leaders and those in sales. But while vulnerability, authenticity and trust are all valuable in their own ways and at their own time, credibility always comes first.

Let’s look at vulnerability. Vulnerability is defined as “the state of being exposed to harm”, and the root of the word is “wounded”. That’s not something I urge my clients to embrace. Though my clients are vulnerable, and probably more so than most. When they get up into the witness stand to advocate for themselves and what they did, they are exposing themselves to an adverse verdict. They could lose and so they are vulnerable. But we don’t focus on vulnerability and we sure don’t aim for it. Credibility comes first.

And you don’t want to expose yourself to harm either. You don’t want your business, your employees, your income or your potential to be wounded. Vulnerability has its place in some relationships, but even then I’d suggest that credibility comes first.

Now authenticity is a little different. It has many definitions, but one is really on trend right now. That definition of authenticity is “true to one’s personality, spirit or character” and the origin is “authentikos” or genuine. My clients could take the stand, turn to the jury and say “I’m scared you’ll find against me.” or “I’m mad that patient sued me.” That would be authentic. We wouldn’t use it to win.

And you won’t win with authenticity either. If you’re authentically feeling angry, cranky or bored, you don’t want to start screaming it from the rooftops. In fact, you are more likely to be successful in your career if you’re able to manage other’s impressions of you. When you manage impressions, you aren’t being authentic. You are “faking it until you make it”, or, as I describe it in my book The Elegant Warrior “showing it until you grow it”. You can show who you genuinely want to be and you will succeed. But that’s an aspirational authenticity–true to one’s potential–and not typical authenticity. Authenticity doesn’t win until you have credibility. Credibility always comes first.

Finally, you may have heard that trust will bring you success. You need to trust your clients, customers and team members, and they need to trust you. Trust is defined as a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of something.” And the root of the word trust is “strong”. I’d aspire to that, and I bet you would do. But aspiration isn’t now. And trust isn’t now. You have to earn it, over time. In business and in life you don’t always have the time.

I don’t have that kind of time in my trials. And you don’t have that kind of time either. Some of my trials take 2 weeks, some take 2 days. That is not enough time to build a strong belief in anything. It’s not enough time for trust. And you don’t have time either. You need new employees to contribute-now. You need customers you just met to buy-now. And you need clients you just encountered to engage-now. You don’t have time to build trust. That can come later. But you have time for credibility. Credibility always comes first.

The definition of credibility is “the quality of being believed.” And the origin of the word is credere–believe. You do have time to be believed. And once they believe you, you can be vulnerable. You can be authentic. And you can build that strong trust. But credibility always comes first.

Your focus should always be credibility. And you want to always be asking yourself “Am I credible?” “How can I be more credible?” “What can I do to build credibility here?” I can’t win my trials unless I am credible. And neither can you. Credibility always comes first.

Heather Hansen

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