IT Employment

Seven credibility blind spots and how they can derail your image

Whether you're meeting one-on-one or presenting to a packed audience, your credibility is immediately being assessed. While there are numerous behaviors to look for, here are seven blind spots that are most common.

Beware your credibility blind spots. These bad behaviors are unintentional, yet they can derail your image. What's more, they can be irritating and distracting to everyone ... but you.

The good news is that once you identify your blind spots, you can take steps to eliminate them. And in a high-speed, hypercompetitive business world, the time to do this is now.

Today your credentials may get you in the door. Yet to really succeed, you've got to look credible when it matters most: in face-to-face interactions. Whether you're meeting one-on-one or presenting to a packed audience, your credibility is immediately being assessed.

So how can you uncover your credibility blind spots? The surest way is to capture yourself on video in a typical business setting. (Smartphones make this easier than ever.) And while there are numerous behaviors to look for, seven blind spots are most common:

1. Using speech fillers

Speech fillers are superfluous sounds or words, like "um" and "you know." Today, such fillers are pervasive in our culture, including the business world. A smart, young technology CEO recently said to his team, "So, I actually sort of passionately believe that we have an opportunity to, uh, you know, sort of really take this platform to a new level. So we just kind of, uh, need to jump in, you know, with full force." He wanted to fire up his people, but his fillers extinguished his passion.

Fast Tip: Embrace the tactical pause. Instead of interjecting fillers, simply pause while your mind searches for the next word.

2. Making extraneous movements

Extraneous movements, such as jiggling your knee, bobbing your head, or shifting your weight, weaken your personal power. You might say, "I can't help myself. I just can't be still." Truth is, excessive fidgeting is a self-comforting behavior. Stillness sends a message that you're calm and confident.

Fast Tip: Test your ability to literally have a level head. Fold a thick pair of socks and balance it on your head. Try talking for several minutes without losing the socks.

3. Self-commenting

When you feel self-conscious, it's easy to overreact to your every mistake. If you trip over a word, you might apologize ("Sorry!"), make a joke ("No more coffee for me"), or resort to nonverbal reflexes, like shaking your head or shrugging your shoulders. The problem with this "self-commenting" is your external preoccupation with your internal criticism. Mistakes happen; simply correct them and move on.

Fast Tip: Fictionary is a game where players compose fake definitions of obscure words. Play it with your friends or family as a fun way to learn to ignore your inner critic.

4. Misplacing upward vocal inflections

You probably work with someone who speaks in "up talk": using upward inflections that sound like question marks at the end of sentences. This vocal pattern is widespread and contagious. Be vigilant in not picking it up.

Fast Tip: Read an article aloud with strong downward inflections. Begin each sentence at middle to high pitch and cascade downward at the end of each phrase.

5. Making yourself smaller

If you're like most people, when you feel intimidated, you make yourself smaller to avoid being an easy target. You might place your feet closer together, tuck your arms to your sides, dip your chin, or pull back on your volume. Any or all of these behaviors say, "I feel threatened."

Fast Tip: Practice optimal standing posture throughout the day, not just in important situations, to help make it habitual. Balance your weight over your feet, lengthen your spine, and elongate your neck.

6. Masking your face and hands

Masking behaviors can creep up when you feel uneasy or on the spot. This takes many different forms, including crossing your arms, clasping your hands, playing with your clothes or jewelry, or having a poker face -- cutting off any animation of your face or hands.

Fast Tip: The more comfortable you feel, the more animated you are with your face and hands. Open your posture and engage your gestures at the start of each conversation. Practice this at company gatherings or networking events, where you have the opportunity to talk to a lot of people in a short period of time.

7. Dropping eye contact

You don't see professional athletes dropping their eyes to the ground during play. In business settings, when you drop eye contact, you drop out of the game. Keep your eyes on the horizon and give your listeners the same respect you expect from them -- your full attention. It's all right to move your eyes to the side momentarily to gather your thoughts. Otherwise, if your mouth is moving, your eyes should be on your listeners.

Fast Tip: Train yourself to keep your eyes up while thinking and talking. One practice exercise: Place blank Post-it notes across a large wall in your home or office. Ask yourself questions and hold your eyes on a Post-it while answering. Let your sentence structure be your cue to move from Post-it to Post-it.

Cara Hale Alter is president of SpeechSkills, a San Francisco-based communication training company, and author of The Credibility Code: How to Project Confidence and Competence When It Matters Most (Meritus, 2012). For more information, visit thecredibilitycode.com.

30 comments
hacker_jack
hacker_jack

You don???t see professional athletes dropping their eyes to the ground during play. In business settings, when you drop eye contact, you drop out of the game. -------------- Such a BS comparison. Whilst I agree that regular eye contact is important it has far more to do with giving the other party the impression that you are focusing on them that with anything that relates to why sports people do it. Athletes are doing it purely for the visual input, the information they can gleam from it that might make them perform better. Next time don't over-reach for a metaphor, it really weakens the point you are trying to make. Which is ironically also another tip that can be added to the list in this article (over-selling ones self with verbose and ultimately pretty meaningless word play).

jsargent
jsargent

Don't use too many details. If other people aren't interested, they won't be bothered to understand any overly detailed explanations. Every time someone "thinks" they didn't understand you, you will lose credibility.

syntax_error
syntax_error

Some nice tips I have not heard before, as an it manager in education I used to dread the meetings with senior staff who had years of practice speaking to an audience, I decided to start filming the demo/training sessions we provided as additional reference material but also to see what I looked liked, I very quickly changed a number of "bad habits".

heuristic
heuristic

Some people are so desparate to avoid "Up Talk" that they overcompensate: They not only lower their pitch at the end of a phrase or a sentance, they lower their volume as well. They become much more difficult to hear when they do this. It is as if they "swallow" the ends of their sentences. Sometimes it's not a bad thing to maintain the pitch of your voice at the end of a phrase or sentence; if you complete the sentence with another phrase or follow a sentence with another, the idea of which builds on what just came before, and you maintain your pitch or raise it slightly after the transition, it can act as an aural clue to your audience that there is a flow or connection between the first and the second thought. Speakers who are well-practiced in this technique can actually "make" the audience want to hear what's coming next. Yes, it's good practice to avoid using "Up Talk" at the end of every sentence. But, like many rules, "Don't Up Talk" has its exceptions.

Matthew G. Davidson
Matthew G. Davidson

I have come across many co-workers and superiors that exhibit all of these behaviors. I could never find a polite way to tell them. Maybe from now on I will anonymously send them the link to this article. I tend to be very animated when I talk and having a thick pair of socks on my head might give the other person an uncomfortable feeling. Not sure how I would feel if I was talking to someone with socks on their head ;-} . Talking too loud is another issue I suffer from. I think it is due to the overwhelming supply of youth challenged clients I deal with. They seem to be fine with it, but it becomes difficult to stop talking so loud when not necessary.

macmanjim
macmanjim

Actually, once I was told to make myself smaller as some staff were threatened by my size. It happened with just one job, and I was taken aback. It's not my fault I am over 6'5. My boss told me to sit down when I talk to people.

sermic
sermic

8. Ever been at a lunch meeting where someone is talking and eating with their mouth open, lip smacking away. 9. What about gum chewing and cracking. Both certainly give an impression.

maj37
maj37

When I started reading the sample in #1 about speech fillers I thought it was going to be someone telling their team how not to talk. While I have known people that would talk like that none of them were CEOs.

sermic
sermic

The one thing that I really dislike in any discussion, conference, meeting, or interaction with people is the Up Talk. It really makes people sound immature and in some cases stupid. This is especially true in serious discussions and in interviews. If you're in to Up Talk, it's time to Grow Up! Overall, fantastic recommendations.

sparent
sparent

May I suggest Toastmasters? At club meetings, all speakers are provided immediate evaluation and feedback. These blind spots are typically covered. (The use of filler words, or crutches, are of particular attention.) Look up the nearest club at www.toastmasters.org and attend a club meeting as a guest. I've been in Toastmasters for over five years and am a member of two clubs. I still learn a lot about myself and my delivery. [i]Fast tip[/i]:Pay attention to words like "so," "basically" and "that." They are often superfluous.

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

I have seen at least one article, which espouses the opposite. Speech fillers let the listener know that the speaker hasn't finished speaking (so they don't try to interrupt speaker). Of course, if every second word is "umm" or "err", you do sound indecisive/uncertain.

jsargent
jsargent

If the other guy switches off before you finish what you are saying then you have a problem. If you do it too often then they will switch off every time you talk to them. If you want to manage then communication is the key. For good communication use K.I.S.S.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

That's a tough one for many of us who are used to finishing what we start, and are inherently proud of what we've learned. My mom used to say, "Don't ask my boy Karl what time it is; he'll tell you how to build a watch....". But you're right; and people often aren't even as interested in something they asked you as YOU are! They didn't really want to learn anything---they just wanted their little gizmo to work again (silly me to think they wanted to know why it broke, and how to actually fix it themselves the next time; they must already have decided that they'll just bring it back again each time until I lose patience with their refusal to learn about *their* own gizmo). So I agree: people want a simple answer to a detail-ridden question---and their eyes start to glaze over in the presence of the relevant details...or of some action *they* need to perform to solve their problem. "Oh, no! Here come the DETAILS! "

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Speech becomes less distinct towards the end of utterances. Some people just overdo it, and that goes back way further than up speak.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Unfortunately, sitting down is not an option for me. I've learned that taking an oblique stance rather than standing face-to-face makes others more comfortable.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Try to find factual examples where an honest-to-God question ends with a rising inflection. I dare you! I dare you? Yes, I dare you! The general (universal trend) is for the the beginning of sentences to have high tones (and high tone variations), with both baseline tone and variation depth slacking off towards the end of the sentence. With long sentences you can see "resets" where the baseline tone jumps back up a notch (never to 100% though), to keep the tone from becoming hard to keep up. In actual questions, the end of the sentence may be less low than in other sentences (because the end is the focal point of what is being asked:e.g. "What are you ...? = What are you eating? What are you saying?)... but that doesn't make it an up. It just means that the dropoff in intonation is less articulated throughout the utterance. The up talk referred to here is the "Valley-girl" dialect of the 80s gone international. These are just ways people make their talk different, in order to belong (and to exclude). When Margaret Thatcher became the British PM, she had to unlearn her sociolect; women of her class had a dialect which demands they speak in very high tones, all the time. Chittering, as it were. Obviously, a chittering PM was a no go.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

...patronizing to the listener(s). They're effectively asking you--every phrase or so--whether a moron (or morons) such as yourself (or selves) is/are still following along with the topic, details, and such. Read the following text (a generic small-talk sample) with---and then without--- the ubiquitous rising vocal inflection: "You know the other coffee shop. It always has that thing in the window. I heard it was part of a promotion they were running. Now there's one at the courthouse. Without the 'UpTalk' it's, through a series of simple and specific statements, a reference to something one has noticed.With UpTalk anywhere or throughout, the listener is being at each instance *grilled* (with the implicit question-mark's subtext) as to whether they are still following the extremely simple (however noteworthy or not) topic or concept. I feel condescended to in the presence of UpTalk, and while I wouldn't advocate pimp-slapping its practitioners I wouldn't judge too harshly anyone who did so. ;) Other than condescension, only self-doubt informs UpTalk; in the foregoing mini-monologe the speaker sounds unable to believe his eyes ("Now there's one at the courthouse." with rising inflection), and is asking for some confirmation from YOU of something they saw themselves.... Maybe some therapeutic smacks ARE in order; I've never gotten a positive response (or result) from mentioning someone's UpTalk to them as they use it, but sometimes mocking it as I speak back gets them to drop it (at least for the duration of our conversation), so who knows? Fast Tip: If you want to slap, please try zealously mocking it back first. Then just lay the dialogue down where it is, turn, unclench your fists, and walk away.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

That's just bad coding. Fillers are for cognitive buffering. A person can say "not done yet" with intonation alone, or by keeping their cognitive buffering in place where the turn can't well end (and no, not by raising the intonation). Linguistic turn-taking is fun to watch.

caraalter
caraalter

Yes, it's definitely a matter of frequency. Saying a filler word once in the course of a paragraph or occasionally shifting in your chair is not going to lower your credibility. Exhibiting these same behaviors two or three times within a single sentence sends a different message. If you are afraid of being interrupted, better to up the level of other streams of communication - eye contact, body language, energy level - to let the listener know you're still actively delivering your message.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Relevance and Economy apply to this ;)

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Can't be my height though, 6'2" is only tall-ish :^0 But it's usually from people who have a need for attention, so I count it as "their problem" :D

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

receives the upward emphasis at the end: "What are YOU eating?" (Everyone else has ordered) "What are you EATING?" (That doesn't even look like food, buddy!) The 'tune' matters at least as much as the lyrics in conversational speech.

jsargent
jsargent

You know? There was this one time ? At band camp? ....... (recognise it) Nice tip guys.

dogknees
dogknees

Australians tend to uptalk a lot of the time. As one, I know!

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

to emit the word 'is' in single-servings.....Put it on the list! You'll like yourself better (and we won't think you're as stupid as we do now)! ;)

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

in conversation, the upward vocal register continually seeks, and receives, *confirmation* from the listener; agreement (like a 'unifying metaphor') confers 'us-hood' and 'community'---exactly the thing that would provide social comfort amongst 'Europeans' in a far land, girt with Aborigines and Asians....Over time, I can see the speech pattern that was so comforting to pioneers having become 'normal' via familiarity. The 'UpTalk' IS, BTW, the vocal equivalent of "eh?" (Canadian) and "wot?" (British) at the end of every sentence: literally "Don't you agree, mate?" all along the way. The speaker uses a real-time barometer to keep tabs on the agreement/conformity level of what they're saying as they go. Though I understand the cultural aspect intellectually, it still bugs the hell out of me to hear it here in the Colonies, where our cultural identity is 'rugged individualists', rather than 'Fortress Albion' or 'Euro-minority in a Far Land'. In the USA, anything you *tell* me that has a *question mark* on the end(!) loses most of its veracity to your uncertain-sounding delivery....