Emphasizing your credentials in business communications is a losing strategy.
Even so, we see it everywhere. Just look at online bios and “About Me” pages.
We’ve been duped.
We’ve all been told credentials —degrees, titles, years of experience— are what get us noticed.
After all, people need to know you can do the job.
Credentials are supposed to demonstrate that you can.
But, emphasizing credentials in business communication will usually backfire, especially if your audience is hearing from you for the first time.
Here’s what your audience really cares about — trust
Your audience makes one important decision before they care about your credentials.
They decide if they trust you.
Need some scientific proof?
Dr. Amy Cuddy is perhaps best known for her research on the psychology of first impressions.
Dr. Cuddy found that we judge people using two criteria: trust (she calls it warmth) and competence.
We universally evaluate trust first — and only care about someone’s competence if we decide they are trustworthy.
Emphasizing credentials can erode trust
Until trust is gained, demonstrating competence (like when we focus on credentials) can actually backfire and make us less trustworthy.
So put those credentials on the back burner
They don’t matter and will even get in the way with first impressions.
Instead, focus on building trust.
After you’ve gained trust, then people will want to know if you’re competent.
That’s where your credentials come in.
Are you over-emphasizing credentials?
Five danger signs that you are emphasizing credentials over trust in your communications (e.g., in your Linkedin profile, business presentations, web presence, written proposals and reports, etc.):
1. Starting self-introductions with degrees & accomplishments
This is just a bad idea. Tell a story, show your audience how you understand and will solve a problem for them, or tell them something interesting that makes you human. Just stay away from those degrees and letters after your name!
2. Introducing and describing yourself in third-person
This is (hopefully) a problem mostly with written communication. You wouldn’t have a warm, intimate conversation with a friend this way would you? ‘nuff said. Adopt a conversational tone. You’ll be surprised how much more engaged your audience is.
3. Focusing on years of service
Your audience really doesn’t care about how long you’ve been doing things (and it can easily make you seem dated). They care about what problem you can solve for them today.
4. Using industry buzzwords & jargon
People can’t trust you if they can’t understand you. Use everyday words and vivid metaphors instead.
5. Announcing yourself through a fancy title
Whether “President,” “CEO,” or “king,” a fancy title is the quickest and easiest way to focus on credentials before trust. Try using a less flashy title like just “owner” or “founder.” Or, if the introduction is in-person, try just explaining what you do: “I’m the finance guy” as opposed to “I’m Chief Financial Officer.” No one will ever fault you for being understated.
Want some more concrete, actionable ways to build trust with your audience? Stay tuned for my next blog post on the science of audience trust — and how to hack it.
Did you find this post useful? If so, here’s what to do next. First, please share this post with your friends. Sharing is caring! Second, come say hi on our facebook page (we love putting names to faces) and let us know what steps you will be taking to emphasize trust over credentials. After all, writing goals down is a great way to make sure you follow through!
If you disagree or think any of the danger signs aren’t so dangerous, I’d love to hear from you too!
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P.S., if you’d like to read Dr. Cuddy’s study, you can find it here.
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