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Credibility Is A Matter Of Perception, Not Competence

“All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses.”

— Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900)

When I posted the above on LinkedIn, someone said:

“Senses are easily manipulated and can be used to passionately motivate people to either buy products or even vote for president.”

This person's comment is absolutely correct.

First, let me say that I'm not a Nietzche connoisseur by any stretch. But I did study some of his work. This quote and many others like it stem from Nietzche's take on perspectivism, which I like.

It's the concept that there is no truth, only interpretations of the truth. What Nietzsche's quote seems to convey, at least to me, is that things are only true if we feel they are true, that is if we perceive them to be true.

Truth is subjective, in other words.

As the saying goes: “Perceived truth is more powerful than truth itself.”

Shaping perception is a fundamental concept in marketing. It's a “battle of perceptions,” to quote Trout and Ries. And we can only impassion, embolden, and motivate others to take action if others perceive we're credible.

Or as one professor put it:

“We have a tendency to perceive something as the truth when there is a close match between our assumptions and ‘so-called' reality. In other words, when our assumptions have been verified and we have confidence in their validity.”

The point is this.

Credibility is based on perception, not credentials.

As a marketing consultant specializing in professionals, I get pushback on this all the time. Some clients think that their credentials alone are enough to convey credibility when that's far from being the truth. (Pardon the pun.)

in social psychology, there are three critical components of credibility:

Trustworthiness, caring, and competence.

Trustworthiness is the degree to which you are perceived as honest by others. Credentials don't convey trustworthiness. They may convey competence to some degree, but that's largely subjective, too. You convey trust through:

  • Your clarity, such as with your thought leadership and POV.
  • Your passion for the topic or field on which you're an expert.
  • Your authenticity, such as admitting mistakes and limitations.
  • And above all, your consistency in everything you do and say.

When you're able to show empathy, you show more than the fact that you're sensitive to your audience's needs. You develop a genuine interest in them and their problems.

There's a difference between being cocky and being credible. The former communicates how perfect you are for the client while the latter communicates how perfect their problem is for your solution.

So be problem-focused.

Focusing on your clients' problems says more about your ability to solve them than your ability to solve them. In fact, studies show that your ability to appear competent often leads to greater perceptions of competence.

All this to say, demonstrating competence is not so much about your skills or abilities, but about the way you communicate them.

Sometimes, it's verbal and direct.

Other times, it's non-verbal and subtle.

So be cognizant of your message and particularly your meta-message, the message beyond the message, which can support, emphasize, or contradict your message.

Here's the thing.

Credibility is not something you possess. It's something you communicate. How you choose to communicate and interact with others contributes greatly to your credibility — or better said, to the perception of your credibility.

There's a reason why a doctor's bedside manner — which includes, in addition to what they say, their vocal tones, body language, presence, etc — can significantly impact their professional reputation and career, as well as their patient's results.

So be credible, not cocky.

Often, it's only a matter of perception.

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