Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 29;   July 21, 2010: Why Don't They Believe Me?

Why Don't They Believe Me?

by

When we want people to believe us, and they don't, it just might be a result of our own actions or demeanor. How does this happen?
The Boy Who Cried Wolf, illustrated by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthology

The Boy Who Cried Wolf, illustrated by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthology. This fable, attributed to Aesop, tells the story of a shepherd boy who repeatedly — and falsely — alerted villagers that a wolf was attacking his flock. He did this as an entertainment. Finally, when a wolf actually did attack his flock, the villagers didn't believe him. He had lost all credibility. In this case, the loss of credibility was due not to any of the behavioral factors described here, but to deliberate disinformation. Disinformation does occur in organizations, but it is much less common than the other factors, and it falls outside the realm of factors that degrade credibility without your actually being wrong. Other similar factors include deceits of various types, baseless accusations, ethical transgressions, and associations with others similarly inclined. Photo courtesy Project Gutenberg.

Whether you want to advance your career, or just keep your job, credibility matters. It's a basis for trust. It determines what assignments come your way. And when things go wrong, credibility can protect you from accusations, real or false.

If you have credibility, it's easy to forget that you do. But after you've lost credibility, you notice its absence almost everywhere you turn.

Sometimes it's easy to understand why you lost credibility. Mistakes, for example, can do it. One or two spectacularly avoidable blunders can pretty much finish you off. But a string of less-than-spectacular errors can erode credibility too, if there are so many of them that they become predictable.

More interesting are the behaviors that erode credibility without your actually being wrong about anything. Here are some attitudes we project that erode credibility.

Desperation
Sometimes being believed — about almost anything — becomes so important to us that anxiety and desperation become evident. This can arouse suspicions that being believed is more important than being right. Others believe that we might even lie to ourselves and thus become incapable of knowing the truth.
Arrogance
Nobody likes — or more to the point — nobody believes a know-it-all. People generally have difficulty accepting that someone can know it all, perhaps because it reflects on their own limitations. But even if we actually do know it all, others can become determined to demonstrate that there are limits to any one person's knowledge. They can do that through disbelief.
Nonchalance
An attitude of disrespect for truth projects a disregard for the difference between truth and fiction. Nonchalance about being mistaken can give others cause to doubt that we care about the truth of what we say.
Uncertainty
Uncertainty and confidence are linked to credibility in a paradoxical way. The more uncertain we are, the less credible we are. The more confident, the more credible. This seems only sensible. But paradoxically, the more competent we are, the less confident we seem. The less competent we are, the more confident we seem. Read more about this in "The Paradox of Confidence," Point Lookout for January 7, 2009.
Ulterior motives
When others Sometimes being believed
— about almost anything —
becomes so important to us
that anxiety and desperation
become evident
believe we have motives other than surfacing Truth, they tend to question our claims even when those claims are true. For example, if we have contempt for some of the people involved in the topic at hand, or if others suspect that we wish them to fail, our questions, skepticism, and words of warning will likely be ineffective, or even anti-effective.

If you think that any of these factors might be limiting your credibility, talking about them with others might help, but it could enhance the risk of appearing desperate, as described above. You have little or no control over what other people believe. Instead, focus on eliminating them from your own behavior. Be the best You that you can be. Go to top Top  Next issue: Exploiting Failed Ideas  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

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Tuckman's stages of group developmentComing December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
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The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.

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