For more than 30 years, Rob Jolles has trained, coached, and consulted with tens of thousands of individuals whose success depends on their ability to be believed. It’s the topic of Jolles’ new book, Why People Don’t Believe You…Building Credibility from the Inside Out.
We sat down recently to talk about why so many of us struggle with credibility, how the “tune” we use drives how people perceive us, and some simple communication tips that even the professionals use. Here is some of our conversation:
Why do so many of us struggle with being believed?
There are a couple of reasons. The first, and most prevalent, is that we often don’t believe ourselves. Whether this lack of faith is due to a lifetime of being told we lack credibility, or the result of a series of negative events, when we lose our confidence we lose our ability to tell the truth. And when that happens, what we say sounds inauthentic.
The second reason deals with not being taught some essential skills, and one of the top culprits is the name we give these skills. We call them “soft skills”—a name I personally detest. The name makes people discount their importance. Because no one takes the phrase “soft skills” seriously, this type of training is usually the first to be cut. Soft skills sounds like some sort of education that requires little work.
Yet the actual definition of soft skills is “learning to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” By definition alone, these are critical skills everyone needs to master. I’d like to rename these skills “performance skills,” and, if I had my way, I’d make them a mandatory part of our basic education.
In your book you write, “it’s not the words, it’s the tune” that makes us credible. Could you expand on that?
We have been taught to focus heavily on the words we say. But when we struggle to be believed, it’s not the words that betray us; it’s the way we say the words. That’s what I call the “tune.” Like hearing the notes of a song, the right tune comes naturally for some of us, but for others, it’s anything but.
However, there are process behaviors and drills that can teach us how to tap into that tune with a series of tactics, including what I call the “Three Ps.” These include pitch, to add emphasis; pace, to draw people in or focus their attention; and pause, to strategically intensify your message.
When someone doesn’t believe us, our internal default is to think, “Let me show you how much I know. I’m an expert.” But you explain this approach only undermines us further. Why?
There are many factors that go into getting someone to believe us, and one of them is trust. It’s a classic case of instinct versus logic. Our instinct is to impress others with our knowledge and the words we use to back up that knowledge. However, if you are truly looking to gain trust, it’s clearly far more logical to ask questions and listen.
When someone is given the opportunity to speak, they trust and like the person they are talking to. I’ve met some of the most talented communicators, and although it feels like they are speaking about 50 percent of the time, if you actually kept a timer on the conversation, you’d see they ask many thoughtful, open-ended questions and do very little talking. And when they do talk, it’s from a position of strength, confidence, and believability.
You talk about keeping people’s attention with a “shot clock.” How does this work?
We have a shot clock in most sports now, and we do that because it makes the game more interesting. In business, a “communication shot clock” keeps you focused on your goal, just like in sports. When we’re asked a question, our minds jump to formulate all sorts of different responses. Rather than offering them all, or going too deep into a response, I believe we should pick the best response and support it with the best information we can offer.
Instead of going on and on hoping you may get to the answer someone is looking for, give yourself a maximum of 45 seconds to present a concise response. Let the listener decide what he or she wants to hear more about. If someone wants more information, reset your shot clock and repeat the process.
Once we come across as credible, how can we keep it going for the long haul?
That’s the tough part! Having worked for six years mentoring, coaching, and teaching programs to help those who struggle with coming across as believable, I noticed that the individuals who found success were having difficulty sustaining it. Sometimes that “tune” we speak about relates to how we interact with others: our bosses, our co-workers, our clients, and even our friends.
Things like how we interact with the teams we work on, how we manage a difficult boss, or even how we agree or disagree with others all factor into whether we are believed—or whether we’re not. When we get our “tune” in tune with others, we maintain and strengthen our credibility.
Who would benefit most from your book?
The book was inspired by years of volunteer work with people who struggle with chronic unemployment — and the hurdles these individuals face. Can you imagine what happens to your tune when you’re told you are no longer wanted? Can you picture how you’d feel after knocking on door after door and coming away empty-handed?
As I began working with this subject matter, it was clear that performance skills aren’t just for the unemployed. They’re vital skills for people in business and sales, especially for people who have lost a deal or two and are particularly vulnerable to losing their tune.
The fact is, almost all of us are only two or three brutal rejections away from unconsciously losing our tune as well. Exactly who wouldn’t benefit from looking at the tune behind the words they use? We all can.
To learn more about Rob Jolles and his new book, Why People Don’t Believe You…, visit his website.