Industrial Utility Efficiency

17 Credibility Busters That Are Ruining Your Career

Do you have what it takes to be a viable member of the 21st century business community? Are you sure? Globalization, virtual collaboration, and the rise of the project-based workforce have changed all the rules. These days you must be able to influence others, communicate clearly, and—most important of all—elicit trust. If people don’t trust you, they won’t work with you. It’s really that simple. But according to Sandy Allgeier, there is one sure way to gain the trustworthiness you need to succeed: Improve your personal credibility factor.

“Whether you’re an employee, a leader, or an entrepreneur, personal credibility is truly a ‘magic bullet’ for success,” says Allgeier, author of The Personal Credibility Factor: How to Get It, Keep It, and Get It Back (If You’ve Lost It). “It forms other people’s opinions of you, shapes their interactions with you, and helps them decide whether to trust and respect you. In other words, it leads to healthy, productive relationships—and relationships are the vehicles through which business happens.”

It’s like this: If you have no credibility, people won’t trust you. If they don’t trust you, you won’t persuade them. And if you can’t persuade, you’ll never be able to problem solve, innovate, or lead. You’ll become increasingly irrelevant—and vulnerable to the staggering numbers of others, worldwide, who are vying for your spot. To make it simpler to understand, Allgeier says we should aim to avoid what she calls “credibility busters.” Here are some of the most common:

The 16 Credibility Busters

1. Failing to do what you say you will do.

The number one way to bust your personal credibility? Just fail to deliver on the promises or commitments you make. We’re all guilty of committing this sin from time to time, but when we do it more often than not, we’ve got a credibility problem.

“How often do you say, ‘I’ll get that to you today’…and then you don’t?” asks Allgeier. “Or ‘I’ll call you back in a few minutes’…and then you don’t? Most people are forgiving when this happens—to a point. But when you make a regular habit of this, well, you quickly become labeled as a promise-breaker. If you’re not sure you can follow through on your promises, don’t make them. Period!”

“Yes, life can be hectic and sometimes you have no choice but to reschedule,” says Allgeier. “That’s precisely why you must do everything in your power to keep your appointments most of the time. Then, when you have to make an exception, it will be just that—an exception.”

2. Constantly showing up late.

You say you will meet a client at 11:30. You call her on your cell phone and say, “I’ll be right there—I’m caught in traffic,” and then you arrive at 11:45. It’s bad enough to do this to a friend. But in the business arena, where people tend to be less forgiving, it can be the kiss of death. And if lateness becomes the norm, you have taken a virtual hammer to your personal credibility and it is busted.

“Plan ahead and arrive a little early—consistently,” suggests Allgeier. “Not only is your credibility protected, your stress level is reduced by avoiding that last-minute rush!”

3. Being messy and/or disorganized.

Is your desk overflowing with papers that should have been filed (or trashed) months ago? Are you always losing documents or leaving them at home? Do you go to meetings looking disheveled and bearing wrinkled, dog-eared reports? If so, your credibility is almost certainly called into question—and with good reason, says Allgeier.

“Sometimes creative people, in particular, think they’re exempt from the ‘neatness counts’ rule,” she notes. “They’re not. When you’re disorganized, important things will fall through the cracks. And if you’re sloppily dressed, people assume you’re equally sloppy in your work. Allow enough time at both ends of the day to look neatly put together and to file away your papers. It makes a world of difference!”

4. Bringing too much “personal life” into your workday.

Do you get lots of personal calls at work? Is your e-mail inbox cluttered with letters from friends and receipts from Internet shopping you’ve done on company time? If so, you’re losing credibility.“Rest assured, your boss notices when your friends, spouse, and kids call 10 times a day,” says Allgeier. “And even if you think she never looks at your inbox, the day may come when she does. What if you’re out of the office and your boss needs to access an e-mail a client sent you? When she can’t find what she needs in the deluge of ‘forwards,’ she’ll assume you’re barely working at all!

“We all take the random personal call or order the occasional birthday gift for our spouse during working hours,” she adds. “That’s fine. But when personal matters start to interfere with your job—or even appear to do so—you’ve got a credibility problem.”

5. Speaking first, thinking second.

Consider this scenari On Monday, your boss asks you if you can have a project done by Thursday. Wanting to please him, you immediately answer “yes.” But as you get into the project, you realize there’s a lot more involved than you had originally thought. You toil on it for a couple of days, then late on Wednesday, you sheepishly approach your boss and tell him, “Sorry, I didn’t know it was going to be this complicated. I’m not going to be able to have it done tomorrow after all.”

“Always, always do your research before you make a promise,” advises Allgeier. “There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Let me think about it and get back to you.’ It’s far better than undermining your own credibility.”

6. Making decisions while keeping others in the dark.


Trust and credibility are built when others feel valued. It is broken when others feel like they don’t matter to us. Let’s say you head a project team, and after gathering the team’s input you have reached a consensus agreement about a key decision. Then you learn additional information and change your decision. As the leader you have the authority to do that, right? Yes—but the team needs to understand your thought process. Otherwise, they won’t believe you really ever wanted their input, and your credibility as a leader is busted. “It really doesn’t matter whether others have the authority to impact the final decision or not,” says Allgeier. “What matters is keeping them informed of your thoughts as you work through the process.”

7. Telling little white lies that morph into Big Hairy Lies.

You’re supposed to be preparing an important presentation for a client, but hit an internal snag and miss your deadline. Rather than admit you dropped the ball, you blame your tardiness on a vendor: “Sorry, the printer had trouble getting the color exactly right on the cover and made us a day late!” It turns out that your client had built a few extra days into her deadline, so she’s not upset at all (in fact, you get kudos for being such a perfectionist about the color). No harm done, right? Wrong! Over the weekend, your client runs into the owner of the print shop at a party and mentions how nice the cover looks, adding, “…so even though it took a day to get the problem straightened out, the end result was worth it!” Puzzled, the printer asks, “What do you mean? We turned that job around in record time!” With that single chance encounter, your credibility is busted—not only with your client but also with the printer who now knows you sold him down the river. “It would have been so much better to take the blame for the missed deadline, apologize, and possibly offer a discount on the project,” says Allgeier. “Admitting to a mistake is far better than being forever branded a liar and backstabber. When you lose someone’s trust in this way, you can never get it back.”

8. Trying to do everything—but ending up doing it all in a half-a**ed way.

Let’s say your manager asks you to help him write a critical marketing proposal. Then, a few hours later, an outside client asks you to do an “emergency” project. You agree to both. Problem is, you are also trying to prepare for a speaking engagement just a few short days away. You don’t want to let anyone down, so you cross your fingers, vow to go without sleep for the next 48 hours, and try to do it all. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that at least one of these commitments is going to suffer—and probably all of them. “Overextend yourself like this and you’re sure to make mistakes,” says Allgeier. “You’ll let down your boss, your outside client, and the audience you’re speaking to. It’s far better to say no to some things than do a poor job at everything.”

9. Putting others down to pull yourself up.

Suppose one of your coworkers has recently received a promotion to a position that you wanted. You congratulate this person, but then proceed to have a few “private” conversations with other employees about how unqualified the promoted person is. As you enumerate the areas the promoted employee is “deficient” in (from your perspective), you are also enumerating your own qualifications. Do you convince them? Not a bit, says Allgeier. “With each put-down you are actually demonstrating your own lack of credibility,” she says. “Everyone who hears you talk about this thinks ‘hmmm…sour grapes’—and this forms doubts about your ability to be believable and trustworthy.”

10. Putting yourself down rather than learning from mistakes.

Surprising as it may seem, self-deprecation is a credibility buster. We’re not talking about true humility, but rather the tendency to continually beat ourselves up over past mistakes. We increase our personal credibility when we acknowledge and admit mistakes, both to ourselves and others. We derail it when we continue to rake ourselves over the coals—either mentally or verbally—and fail to learn the lesson and just move on.

“It’s important to accept ourselves as the real, fallible, and imperfect human beings that we all are,” says Allgeier. “Others just respond better to people who cheerfully admit that they’re not perfect, but are trying to learn and grow from their mistakes.”

11. Making too many excuses—even if they’re legit.

Maybe the dog actually did eat the expense report. Or maybe the check really is in the mail. Perhaps you really cannot finish the project due to someone else failing to do her part on time. All of these things can happen and can be legitimate excuses. We destroy our personal credibility, however, when we frequently offer the same excuses to the same people. It doesn’t matter how real these excuses are—when repeated, our personal credibility is down the drain. So what’s the remedy? Simple, says Allgeier: Don’t focus on the excuse part—rather, focus on what it will take to keep the problem from occurring in the first place! “Ask yourself, What should I do to keep the expense report away from the dog?” she advises. “Or, How can I ensure that payments get made early? In the first case, it’s probably just a matter of keeping your work papers out of Rover’s reach. In the second, electronic check paying may be the key. Avoid those situations that create excuses—even those that are legit!”

12. Being a rigid rule enforcer rather than a flexible problem solver. (Think Dwight on The Office.)

Rules and policies are helpful; they set guidelines and boundaries so things can get done in an orderly way. However, our personal credibility suffers when we rely only on rules and policies—instead of trying to be flexible enough to help others solve problems. “It’s easy to say, ‘That’s against the rules!’” says Allgeier. “But it’s no way to win friends and influence people. It’s usually better to say, ‘Let’s figure out what the problem is and see if there is a way to solve it!’ People trust problem solvers. They don’t trust rule mongers and bureaucrats—people who are hung up on following procedure at the expense of common sense.”

13. Losing the balance between accomplishing tasks and maintaining constructive relationships.

Yes, delivering on results is critical for personal credibility—but nothing is more critical than keeping relationships positive while also delivering on results. If you force an employee to cancel her honeymoon in order to meet a deadline for a client, you’re probably damaging that relationship beyond repair. “If you must choose between meeting your commitments and damaging your relationships with valuable people in your life, it’s probably better to break the commitment and keep the relationship,” says Allgeier.

14. Casting blame when you should be solving problems.

Let’s say your sales department makes commitments to customers that your operations department can’t realistically meet. Operations works long and hard to try to deliver on Sales’ commitments and tempers begin to flare. What happens next? Often a power struggle ensues, whereby Sales blames Operations for being rigid and failing to meet customer needs, and Operations blames Sales for sacrificing them on the altar of incentive bonuses. Meanwhile, no one is solving the problem. Everyone loses credibility with each other—and the company loses credibility with its customers. “In situations like this, someone must care enough to stop the squabbling, determine the cause of the problem, and work toward developing the solutions,” says Allgeier. “Ending the blame game is the only way to restore credibility.”

15. Coming across as “all knowing” when you’re really just thinking out loud.

Allgeier points out that many of us are extroverts, which means we tend to express ourselves verbally as we are thinking. (If you’re one, you know what she means.) But other people, some of whom may be introverts who like to ponder ideas carefully before they speak, assume your “thinking out loud” moments represent firm and definite conclusions. Then, when you do make a final decision, they think, Well, here he is flaking out on what he said yesterday—again!…and you lose credibility. “If you have a tendency to think out loud, be sure to tell others that’s what you’re doing,” advises Allgeier. “When they realize that this verbal mulling is just part of your decision making process, they won’t assume you’re constantly changing your mind.”

16. Exhibiting body language and vocal tone that doesn’t match your words.

Are you guilty of this? You become a little bored or distracted when someone is talking to you…and your eyes wander around the room. Or, maybe you stifle a yawn while you are attempting to look interested and engaged. Maybe you say “nice things” to someone, but your vocal tone is flat or disinterested. Your credibility is dramatically reduced when your body and tone are not in sync with the words you’re saying. “As humans, we react much more quickly to tone and body language than we do to words,” notes Allgeier. “Be conscious of your body language and your tone and make sure you’re sending the message you mean to send. Work on genuinely staying in the moment when you talk to someone. This way you won’t have to ‘give the impression’ that you’re engaged—because you really will be.”

Does this list seem overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be. Allgeier suggests you focus on one “credibility buster” at a time and work to eliminate it from your life. The results you see will spur you on to keep improving yourself. “Make a conscious effort to stop committing these sins and your life will change in ways you could never have foreseen,” she says. “When people feel they can trust you, a seismic shift happens in your relationships. Everything improves: your marriage, your relationship with your kids, your relationship with colleagues and coworkers. “Yes, some of these changes may seem small—for instance, showing up on time instead of always being late—but they all work together organically,” she adds. “You’re removing roadblocks, one by one, and once they’re gone, you’ll be amazed at the abundance that flows into your life.”

  "When people feel they can trust you, a seismic shift happens in your relationships. Everything improves: your marriage, your relationship with your kids, your relationship with colleagues and coworkers." - Sandy Allgeier    

About the Author:

Sandy Allgeier is a consultant, trainer, and facilitator who assists organizations in maximizing their human potential.

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