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Bad Communication Habits Can Undermine Your Credibility

03/02/2016 03:25 EST | Updated 03/03/2017 05:12 EST
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Help Me Rhonda: I just had my annual performance review, and my supervisor said I have to work on my credibility in the workplace. I dress professionally, show up on time and I get my work done. I don't even socialize with co-workers outside work or on social media. How have I lost credibility when I think I'm doing all the right things?

Signed,

Not Sure Why...

Dear Not Sure Why...

Credibility is one of those invisible skills that we have quite a bit of control over. It can affect every aspect of your life including your professional life. Luckily there are many ways you can control your credibility.

And, as you pointed out, credibility is much more than what you look like or the quality of your work. Yes, those things are major contributors to your credibility, so if you can truly say that they are not part of your problem, let's take a look at some of the less obvious components of credibility.

Your overall behaviour

Are you potentially losing credibility because of the way you conduct yourself in the hallways, lunchroom or meeting rooms at work? Do you sound like the professional you want to be? We absolutely need to be aware of how we look and sound at all times at work.

Having a conversation in the lunchroom about how drunk you were on the weekend or how much you hate your job is a sure-fire way to lose credibility. I agree that lunch is your own time, but credibility doesn't punch the clock. Complaining about the boss or the company is a very dangerous thing to do. Start really paying attention to the conversations you are having that you think are "on your own time."

I see that you have been good about watching your socializing outside of work and on social media. Many people assume that their private life is just that -- private. Sadly, it is not.

Having those boundaries is a good idea if you want to keep your private life as private as possible. (But just for good measure, do check your privacy settings on Facebook, and remember that Twitter is not private at all, so be very careful what you post.)

Be aware that if a work colleague sees/hears/knows you outside of work, she or he can easily share that information with others, potentially affecting your credibility. It's not fair, so if this is what your supervisor is alluding to, try to find out, if you can.

Your verbal credibility

When you use words like "always" and "never," you are using absolutes. You will probably lose some credibility by using absolutes. It almost sounds like a child having a temper tantrum: "You never take me to McDonald's!" something that isn't, in fact, true.

Using absolutes can make the receiver become defensive. It tends to put up barriers in the conversation. You end up not listening properly and, without realizing it, can begin to sound aggressive.

While you were having your performance review, did you use statements like, "I never get the benefit of the doubt" or "You always accuse me of such-and-such"? You will be surprised to find out how often we use words such as never and always. Start by catching yourself, and then changing your language to be more accurate and professional.

Powerful language doesn't mean reading the dictionary

Words that are monosyllabic (have one syllable) are the most forceful words in the English language. Think about some of the great speeches of our time:

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country..." (John F. Kennedy), or "I have a dream..." (Martin Luther King).

This is powerful stuff, and most of it said with one-syllable words. Don't confuse the issue with big, fancy words. Professional communication skills require that the person you are speaking to understands the meaning of the words you are using.

Using fancy words from the darkest depths of the dictionary can make your message sound aggressive, or at least pompous. Simple, one-syllable words are easy to understand, easy to remember and have an assertive, powerful feeling to them.

Weak language is just that.... weak

You want to be assertive, not aggressive or egotistical. Weak language can make you look incompetent, which affects your credibility.

Do you over-apologize at work? Is "I'm sorry" a common phrase you use, even when it is not appropriate? When you've done something wrong, and when you have the ability to fix it, then apologizing is powerful. But when you apologize just to be polite, it takes away your credibility.

Do you apologize when your boss isn't in the office? "I'm sorry, she isn't here right now." Do you apologize when things aren't on schedule? "I'm sorry you have to wait. It won't be much longer." Do you apologize for the weather, the traffic and the fact that the printer was jammed? Are those things really your fault?

Stop voluntarily giving away your credibility when you could just say "She isn't in the office right now, can I take a message?" or "She will be with you in five minutes."

Sound confident and you'll sound credible. Sound apologetic, and I'll assume you've done something wrong.

Other weak words include maybe, little, okay, try, wish, problem and but. If you can imagine the word being said in a teenaged voice (whatever), then it is too weak for the workplace.

Overusing junk words

We all have favourite phrases that we use over and over again. Often we aren't even aware that we're using--and overusing--them. But you can be sure that the people who work in the cubicles next to you know exactly what yours are, in the same way that you know what theirs are.

A great example of a repetitive, junk word is "uh" in every sentence. With "uh," most of the time the speaker is unaware she has used it. It becomes a vocal habit.

Many people use okay to transition from one thought to the next, as well as um or ah. Many trendy phrases such as my bad, no worries or 24-7 tend to be used repetitively. You will find that some people use these types of phrases excessively, even in situations in which they don't apply.

The danger is the appearance or flavour they give your message. They're usually not the types of things you hear from CEOs or senior level managers (or at least, they shouldn't be heard at that level). These types of habits take away our credibility.

Not pausing, or over-pausing

Pausing can have great impact on your message as well, in both a positive and negative sense. If you pause too much, it looks like you don't know what you are going to say, and you will lose impact.

But pausing appropriately can make you seem very deliberate and strategic in your choice of words and, therefore, lend you some credibility. Rushing through your words with few pauses, on the other hand, can make you sound scatterbrained, overly excitable, and wound-up like a top.

So, where is the perfect balance? In the one-two dance step. Any place in a sentence where there would normally be a comma, a semicolon, a period or other punctuation, say to yourself one-two (at the same speed as a waltz dance step: speak one-two, speak one-two).

There are so many things that can take away our credibility. Fortunately, there are many things we can do to increase our credibility. What you say and how you speak is always up to you.

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