A Fast Track to Credibility

4 ways to demonstrate expertise or “borrow” it when you don’t have it.

By John Buelow, Executive Vice President, Shapiro Negotiations Institute

One of the first things a person considers when entering a new relationship is the question of whether the other person is trustworthy. Much is written about the importance of first impressions, but it takes a very short time before we begin testing the trustworthiness of our counterpart in the new relationship. We begin to look for evidence of the other person’s competence and character. Ordinarily, we observe whether he or she keeps commitments, adheres to deadlines, arrives on time, etc. Eventually, the question becomes more pointed:

Does this person have the necessary expertise—knowledge, skills, and abilities—to solve the issue at hand?

In many business cases, people’s expertise is presumed due to their education, credentials, job title, or experience. In many cases, expertise can be vetted by simply looking up a person’s resume or CV, or clicking on his or her LinkedIn page. In fact, most qualified practitioners in a specific field—doctors, attorneys, and college professors, for example—hang their diplomas and other certifications out in the open where people can see that they are, indeed, an expert.

Studies show that simply by wearing clothing that suggests authority—a suit and tie, for example —a person immediately can increase his or her perceived credibility. One experiment showed that people were more willing to walk across a busy street against a red light if a man wearing a suit started across the street than when the same man dressed in shabby, dirty clothes did so. The suit gave him increased credibility!

However, your credibility can erode quickly once a negotiation is underway, despite your tasteful attire. Once a point of disagreement arises, the other side may start questioning your business processes, your information sources, your strategy, or even your experience in an attempt to find a weakness that can be leveraged when the “real issues” (typically price, product, and services) come into play in the negotiation. If you find yourself in a negotiation where your credibility or competence comes into question, you will have to bolster your credibility in the moment, and quickly.

Expertise: A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words

To demonstrate expertise quickly and memorably, you should always try to show them instead of “telling” them. If you have expertise, then do a demonstration that shows you are an expert. If you are trying to train someone to perform a complex series of operations on a database, it’s usually better to show them in a hands-on manner than to sit behind them and attempt to talk them through it. If you are trying to demonstrate that your investment plan is the best approach for a client approaching retirement, using a visual aid, such as a graph or a table, to illustrate the available alternatives is more powerful than “talking them into it.”

Ultimately, the concept of establishing credibility through expertise means that people tend to believe “experts” and tend to be influenced by them. Most people respect the effort and time it takes to become an “expert,” and it’s faster and easier for these people to simply rely on the expert’s advice without having to invest their time and energy in becoming an expert themselves.

This is great when you are an expert in a particular area, but what about when you are NOT? It is common for attorneys in personal injury cases to bring expert witnesses to trial, such as physicians, to have them demonstrate an injury occurred. The marketing team at Nike and other sporting goods firms employ athletes to promote the advantages of their products in ads. Soft drink companies use “hidden camera” testimonials to borrow the “expertise” of the common consumer for television ads.

Here are four ways for you to demonstrate expertise or “borrow” it when you don’t have it:

Point to a strong track record. Use written or video testimonials whenever possible. Many authors borrow expertise from well-known experts by having them write the foreword or having their endorsement right there on the book cover for all to read. You always should have precedents, examples of success, and other proof of your expertise at the ready in a negotiation.

The power of the written word is strong. A sign prohibits smoking and most people adhere to the rule. Many salespeople return to their trusted presentation binders when they find themselves in a “rut” and need to refresh their selling skills. By showing the strengths of a product in writing—testimonials, reference letters, online comments, or in a professional marketing piece, you can use the written word to exercise influence.

Prepare more than the other side. This establishes you as the “initiator,” and the other side will be more likely to defer to your “expertise.” If you are able to articulate your credibility in terms of valid evidence supported by independent, verifiable sources, you’ll generally establish and maintain a higher level of credibility than your opponent.

Nothing convinces like conviction, and preparation is the power of confidence! The more you script, rehearse, revise, and re-prepare, the more likely it is that you will find yourself driving the conversation with passion and conviction. Aristotle wrote in his work, “On Rhetoric,” that it is the appearance of credibility that is most important when attempting to persuade someone in the moment. Your level of preparation will increase your confidence and the appearance of credibility substantially.

Promote your expertise, softly. Your qualifications, experience, credentials, and professional title confer credibility. Just be careful not to overdo it, as that can be perceived to be self-promotion, which is a turn-off for many audiences. Some people are reluctant to trumpet their accomplishments or expertise, but it’s usually possible to share a written biography, a resume, a short video clip, or simply to have your credentials listed on your business card to get the job done.

Align with credible allies. One of the social aspects of credibility is about identity and the membership in a group. Thus, when a speaker appears to be a member of the group to which the audience belongs, he can gain easier credibility in the group. Often, when I teach a negotiations program after conducting weeks of research in an organization, I begin by introducing the people I worked with during the research phase and talking about the experiences we shared. It makes me appear to be “one of them,” which increases my credibility at the start of class. The audience sees that I have done my homework, and I often call on my research colleagues throughout the class to make important points to further increase and maintain my credibility.

John Buelow is the executive vice president of Program Design and Delivery at the Shapiro Negotiations Institute. He is a master facilitator and has collaborated with Fortune 500 companies worldwide in the pharmaceutical, financial, entertainment, and professional services industries to deliver training on negotiations, sales optimization, and influence. Buelow is on the Advisory Board and adjunct faculty at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he teaches and advises graduate students pursuing careers in ISD and training delivery. 

Shapiro Negotiations Institute is a global performance improvement firm focused on the areas of sales, negotiation, and influencing. SNI focuses on maximizing its clients’ ability to create mutually beneficial and profitable long-term relationships with peers, vendors, and customers, both internal and external to the organization. SNI’s success is built on helping professionals at all levels use a systematic approach to get more accomplished, faster, and with a higher degree of effectiveness. By taking more than 30 years of lessons learned in real-life situations, SNI digs into specific industry and client challenges, so its tools and techniques can be used immediately and repeated with precision. Learn more at http://www.shapironegotiations.com.

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