Development Cooperation Handbook/Communication Skills/Communicating Credibility

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A communicator’s ability to influence is largely determined by the credibility assigned her/him by an audience. In terms of communicating orally or in written form to external stakeholders, the preceding discussions of audience, organizing ideas and using evidence are instrumental in establishing one’s credibility. For example, using good evidence and explaining it to an audience will enhance your perceived competence. Furthermore, by speaking and writing well, your message will be taken more seriously. Your trustworthiness will be assigned based on how honest you are when you speak and write and how well you communicate sincerity in relation to your audiences. Demonstrating a genuine concern for your audiences will also increase this element of credibility. When you speak confidently and assertively and inspire others with your energy and words, you will be perceived as dynamic. How well you put messages together and how well you communicate ideas will be assessed carefully, particularly by external audience who may need to rely on the information you provide for their well being or livelihood.

Credibility is the key to successfully influencing others, whether your audience is internal or external stakeholders. In order to successfully influence team members, potential investors or your supervisors, each audience must believe that you are knowledgeable, worthy of their trust and energetic. The more volatile a change environment, the more credibility plays a factor in calming and assuring stakeholders.

Commonly, credibility breaks into three general dimensions, namely competence, trustworthiness and dynamism:

  • Competence is assigned to a leader based on her/his knowledge, expertise, intelligence, skills and good judgment. In order for a leader to be perceived as competent, s/he needs to provide a specific set of skills that an organizational group needs at a given point in time. All the knowledge in the world will not be perceived as valuable unless a group needs the information and unless it is communicated skillfully. 
  • Trustworthiness is assigned based on a leader’s character. A leader must be perceived as honest and consistent in order to engender trust. Furthermore, trustworthiness is measured by a leader’s sincerity in relation to team members and organizational outcomes.
  • Dynamism is comprised of a leader’s perceived confidence, activity and assertiveness. Dynamic leaders communicate confidence, inspire others to work harder and make sacrifices for the group (including working hard themselves).

Optimally, a leader will exhibit qualities that elicit the perception of credibility along all three dimensions; however, a leader can be perceived as highly competent, yet untrustworthy. One’s credibility might change over time, depending upon work performance and based on the interactions s/he has with co-workers.

Organizational members and external stakeholders need to perceive leaders as competent and legitimate authorities so that their messages are believed by internal and external stakeholders. Understanding credibility is essential for optimal leader performance.