MAKING YOUR POINT II: OPINION OR FACT?

In my initial posting about making your point, I referenced Chip and Dan Heath’s book “Made to Stick” and the characteristics the Heath’s believe make an idea memorable. Among the qualities the Heath’s and I believe are critical, is the credibility of the message’s source. As the Heath’s put it, unless you are an unquestioned expert source of the idea or position you are taking, in most cases your point of view has to “vouch for itself”.

For many years I sat in conference and board rooms participating in, and listening to, some fairly passionate discussions among my fellow managers focused on all matter of important issues. For the most part, we were a highly educated, experienced, and articulate collection of colleagues who knew how to make our point of view sound convincing. Yet when you paid close attention, it was fairly easy to discern whose perspective, often laced with broad generalizations and stereotypes, was strictly their opinion and whose points were actually backed by some facts. Moreover, the participants never seemed to change character.

Most managers become, over time, creatures of habit. So given the habit I referred to in the paragraph above, which type of manager would you pay most attention to when it matters? Whose point of view would you come to value and trust the most?

As managers it is sometimes easy to forget how smart our subordinates and colleagues are? They are quick to figure out when you know what you are talking about and when what lies beneath you statements is often nothing but thin air. Once subordinates and colleagues come to see a manager as an opinionated “blow hard”, that image sticks and their credibility as a source of the facts diminishes.

While being a boss generally means you can call folks together and deliver a message, it does not mean they will take that message to heart if you have weakened your credibility as a source in their eyes.  Most of us learned early on in school that homework and preparation generally resulted in better test marks. The same is true for managers. When you speak on matters of some importance, have something concrete, factual, and verifiable to back you up whenever possible. Smart listeners will usually check out what you have to say. If you are uncertain about some things, say so and withhold sounding certain until you are.

Credibility is like trust. It takes time to build and can be lost quickly. The best managers understand that being credible in the eyes of their subordinates and colleagues when they have something to say, is critical to their long-term success as a manager, authority figure, and leader who others are willing to follow and trust.

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