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Career ROI

10 Credibility-Building Tactics


Nancy McGuire

November/December 2008, eSide Supply Management Vol. 1, No. 6

At any professional level, it doesn’t take much to undermine your credibility in the workplace — and more often than not, you won’t even realize you’re doing it. In this article, you’ll learn 10 behavioral changes you can make immediately to re-establish your credibility among your peers and executives.

How to Stop Undermining Your Authority at Work

We all expect to be treated as equals in the workplace, but we often exhibit behaviors that weaken our positions. These behaviors can be debilitating. However, with focused effort, you can re-establish your credibility among your peers.

There are 10 behavioral changes you can make right now:

  1. Use "think" in your language. When advocating your position, use "think" instead of "feel." Decision-making in business should center on facts and trade-offs. Using the word "think" communicates a view of using rational judgment, whereas "feel" suggests you're relying on emotion or instinct. When voicing your views, explain your rationale: "I think we should purchase from supplier A versus supplier B" instead of, "I feel we should buy from supplier A."

  2. Sit at the table (literally). For whatever reason — it's early in your career, you don't think you have the right title, or you believe you're only there to listen — you might choose to sit at the chairs along the wall of the room. However, you must be sitting at the table if you want to be recognized as an equal.

    Metaphorically, the phrase "having a seat at the table" is meant to convey that one has equal voice on the team. Those at the table are listened to and regarded more highly than those on the periphery. So, whether it's a formal negotiation or an internal supply meeting, seize the opportunity to sit at the table.

  3. Don't apologize for everything. You might not even be aware you're doing it, but this mistake can be as simple as apologizing at the start of a presentation. Don't open with, "I'm sorry if the font is too small," or, "This chart has too much information, but let me make the key point" — change the chart instead. Move on if it's too late for that, but don't apologize: It weakens your presentation. An audience often remembers the first thing a speaker says, if anything at all. You don't want it to be, "I'm sorry."

  4. Avoid being the hired help. Most businesspeople want to be perceived as helpful and supportive of their teams. Unfortunately, the temptation to be seen as "extra helpful" inspires them to do all of the miscellaneous work — typing up notes or even cleaning up the tables after a meeting, for example. This isn't to imply you shouldn't be a team player. If, however, it means you'll be relegated to the position of typist or refreshments coordinator, think twice.

  5. Attack the issue, not the person. We face a lot of conflict at work, so manage it by focusing on the problem and not on the person. Calling someone's idea "stupid" or "silly" isn't a persuasive argument and will only put the other person on the defensive. You also run the risk of being perceived as immature. If you disagree with something, identify the issue or the behavior without labeling an individual or group as responsible for it. For example, state that the sales team repeatedly delivers erroneous reports to the purchasing team instead of insinuating they are careless or haphazard.

  6. Use unequivocal language. Many of us try to use softening terms when we present our ideas: "I think it might be a good idea if maybe we would change suppliers." Clear, unequivocal language goes like this: "We should change suppliers."

    Don't tell team members, "I'd like you to think about changing suppliers," or worse, ask, "Will you think about changing suppliers for me?" Both statements leave employees thinking they have a choice.

    Stronger language is, "I need you to prepare alternatives for changing suppliers" or, "You must complete this analysis by the next department meeting." It's unequivocal and doesn't imply choice. You're clearly communicating your authority.

    Also, be mindful of the inflection of your voice. Many people have a habit of transforming their statements into questions by ending them with their voice trailing upwards: "John, you must have that analysis by the next department meeting?" If you speak this way, you'll appear worried and unsure of yourself.

  7. Don't worry out loud. Although it's constructive to be mindful of all of the risks posed in various solutions to a business problem, it isn't helpful to wear everyone down with constant fretting. If you need to vent your concerns, save it for someone outside the workplace. Continuously verbalizing your fears and worries weakens your credibility.

  8. Don't be disruptive on top of being late. Everyone is late for a meeting from time to time. Don't add to the disruption by busting in with an explanation for your tardiness. Worse, don't ask to be brought up to speed at the expense of everyone else's time.

  9. Avoid filler words and phrases. We all have annoying words or phrases we use to fill the pauses in our sentences — "so," "you know," "anyway," "um" and "er," for example. And some of them aren't even words! Or, maybe you've even gotten sophisticated and overuse a particular phrase such as, "at the end of the day." Whatever your crutch, audience members will quit listening to what you're saying and begin counting how many times you use your filler words and phrases.

  10. If you don't know, ask. There's no harm in not knowing something. Ask. But be careful not to offer extended explanations of why you don't know, and never try to compensate with all the other things you do know. Just ask. Doing so demonstrates self-confidence and conveys you're not afraid to be seen as someone who needs to learn and is willing to make the effort.

  11. These are 10 changes you can implement immediately. Try them yourself, and suggest them to your mentees. There are enough barriers to break through in your career; eliminating some of your own making will make the journey a lot smoother.

Nancy McGuireNancy McGuire is the president and founder of McGuire Consulting Group in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She has also led professionals and managers at IBM in indirect and direct procurement, materials planning, engineering and operations. To contact this author, please send an e-mail to

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