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

Last updated: August 8, 2018

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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

The Boott Cotton Mills and Eastern CanalThere Is No Rumor Mill
Rumors about organizational intentions or expectations can depress productivity. Even when they're factually false, rumors can be so powerful that they sometimes produce the results they predict. How can we manage organizational rumors?
An appealing plate of pasta (not what I ate that evening)If Only I Had Known: II
Ever had one of those forehead-slapping moments when someone explained something, or you suddenly realized something? They usually involve some idea or insight that would have saved you much pain, trouble, and heartache, if only you had known.
The Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rain ForestTeamwork Myths: I vs. We
In high performance teams, cooperative behavior is a given. But in the experience of many, truly cooperative behavior is so rare that they believe that something fundamental is at work — that cooperative behavior requires surrendering the self, which most people are unwilling to do. It's another teamwork myth.
Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting at the South PoleDeciding to Change: Choosing
When organizations decide to change what they do, the change sometimes requires that they change how they make decisions, too. That part of the change is sometimes overlooked, in part, because it affects most the people who make decisions. What can we do about this?
A forest pathThe Goal Is Not the Path
Sometimes, when reaching a goal is more difficult than we thought at first, instead of searching for another way to get there, we adjust the goal. There are alternatives.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An onion, sliced and dicedComing December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
Winston Churchill in the Canadian Parliament, December 30, 1941And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The
Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.