Can credibility be recovered?

This is an interesting question, one on which I have had many conversations with clients, friends, and academics alike. It is an issue that is central to many commentators and academics.

It is a conundrum in itself. I want to believe people, all people, can change. Yet I also believe in not wasting time and instead, channelling my energy into the areas where I can create effective change.

Can perceptions of tarnished or fractured credibility be turned around?

As a mediator and a communication and conflict coach, I see people whose credibility (according to the other party) had walked out the door long ago. In my work I continue to be amazed as I observe two parties in conflict start learn more about each other’s intentions and consequently create a path forward that previously seemed impossible.

And in some cases build or rebuild genuine relationships.

However, rebuilding someone’s reputation, assuming it can be done, is a slow process. To understand how to rebuild credibility I think it is important to remember credibility is a ‘perception’ based on a combination of aligned values (or non-offending values) and positive personal experiences. So when credibility is tarnished or fractured is it because there appears to be a new values ‘gap’ - or is it that the ‘observer’s’ personal experience has changed and the other individual has failed to meet new expectations?

Within my work it is easier for credibility to be recovered when the reason for the breakdown is that personal experience has changed. It is much harder when the reason is values based, significantly harder - I’ll talk more on that later - and there are times when the door will be totally closed.

While pondering these questions can keep me engrossed for hours at a time, I think the important question to ask oneself is;

What role am I playing in either tarnishing or fracturing my own or others credibility?

By far, the best information I have found to date to answer this questions is based on the work of John Gottman and made popular in the Malcolm Gladwell book Blink.

John Gottman, a well-known marital expert, describes how, within an hour of observing a couple, he can gather with 95% accuracy if the couple will be together within 15 years. His accuracy goes down to 90% if he observes the couples for 15 minutes, supporting the phenomenon of thin-slicing.

Thin-slicing is a term used in psychology and philosophy to describe the ability to find patterns in events based only on "thin slices," or narrow windows, of experience.

While Gottman’s work is set in the marital context the principles apply in every day communication.

Gottman's theory states that there are four major emotional reactions that are destructive and thus are the four predictors to a divorce: criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt. Among these four Gottman considers contempt the most important of them all.

In the corporate context I would say that there are four communication behaviours that are destructive and thus are the four predictors to a break down in a professional working relationship and an individuals credibility: criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt. With contempt being the worst as it comes from a position of superiority.

So the takeaways from Gottman to apply in every day work life are:

  • Criticism – turn it around and be constructive
  • Defensiveness – avoid being defensive and move towards comprehending the others position and why they hold the view they have about your action.
  • Stonewalling - connect back to the overall goal and seek to understand what others need and why they need it. Share, within the limits of your role and authority.
  • Contempt – this is harder. You rarely wake up with contempt for someone. It builds over time. To avoid being in this position attempt to proactively address (either directly with the individual to via support with you HR personnel) the actions and behaviours that are an issue for you.

I would like to expand on the takeaway for contempt. The problem with having contempt for someone it is very hard to hide (and I have been in environments where there has been no attempt to do so which has its own set of issues). So here’s a secondary issue, others will see your contempt and it may impact your reputation. It may appear as you are judging them and putting them down and that you are putting yourself on high moral ground. And some off you may be thinking  ‘hey that’s not fair, I am not the one that did… that’s unacceptable and I am being judged for it. I did not do any wrong’.

So my question here is why change how you behave, because of others. Address the actions and behaviours that are an issue and move on.

So, to answer the original question I believe credibility can be recovered in most situations.

If you have a situation you need help in turning around and cannot find the words to do it, call or drop me a line. Life will be better the sooner you address it.

I look forward to your feedback.

Live life,



Where does your credibility come from?

What has earned you your right to:

  • Be on the board?
  • Charge your consulting fee?
  • Lead a project, company or team?
  •  Step on to a stage?

Do you know the answers? More than likely your answers will be totally different to your clients, peers and staff - if they were asked. It can be surprising what the responses could be. Perhaps you are too busy to ask, uncomfortable about asking or think people will be socially polite to you. I understand.

In preparation for this posting I was thinking about some of my clients and what gives them their credibility? I have an interesting array of characters as clients. Here are a couple with what gives them their credibility.

The Polished CEO who is very comfortable in front of the spot light. The media loves her.

The camera loves her. She hates that aspect of her role but she sees it as necessary. She learnt a while ago that when people saw she was busy rushing through the office in her high heels, more often the not with the phone to her ear, they thought she was unapproachable. She was horrified to discover this. She has since mastered the ability to stop, be in the moment (despite being consistently busy) and listen. People in her presence feel as if they are heard and their contribution is important. This opens the way for others to listen to her ideas. Her credibility begins with how she makes people feel and how she leads the company - and the results? They do their own talking.

One crusty character, a Managing Partner is a creative out of the box thinker who delivers financial strategies for the company's clients. 

Not your typical accountant - he is a straight shooter, strongly opinionated and will tell you what he thinks. He is not polished and is often asked to apologise for upsetting someone with his frankness. He would rather apologise than change his style. I am not advocating this approach for everybody. However going back to the question ‘what gives him his credibility’? People know he is a straight shooting (it is part of the package) and innovative thinker with a history of results and an enviable list of clients who consistently provide him with referrals. They buy his innovative thinking and his personality.

An introverted Project Manager who leads massive construction projects.

Interestingly, he has not stepped into this construction management role through the traditional paths of engineering, project management or construction management.So where does his credibility come from? It has been through is ability to lead people and lead them to think as proactive problem solving teams. Being a proactive problem solver is important to his clients. They request him as the project manager for their next job.

I have some many more insights I could share.

However, more importantly - where does your credibility come from?

Is it the way you lead, the way you make people feel, or perhaps its your considered thorough thinking that provides reassurance that all angles are covered? may be you are like Helen Clark (Former Prime Minister of New Zealand) who now holds the position of Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the third highest UN position.

She was asked to apply for the role. During the interview process she asked why they were interested in her for the role? They replied that they wanted someone who could cut through red tape, drive change and make things happen. Helen’s reputation and credibility from past work provided her with this opportunity.

Think about it, what gives you your credibility?

Let’s have a chat about this. You may be surprised at what we discover…

Cheers Tess

Examining, Building or Fracturing Credibility part 1

What does ‘Credibility’ mean to you? Does it hold the same meaning for others?

For now let us agree that:

Credibility is the quality of being believed or trusted.

More often then not credibility in our work environment is interpreted in different ways. Action - and consequently the outcomes - tell their own story.

In this article we will explore:

  • What skills you need to present to be seen to be credible, and
  • What impact you need to create.

In our next two articles we will explore:

  • The conundrum; why it is so difficult to build credibility in daily life?
  • Whether lost credibility can be recovered.

In reality

How many times have you chosen to do something yourself rather then delegate to someone who has let you down? Perhaps it was failing to deliver on the promised date, or to the standard you expected, or both? Their credibility is tarnished.

Perhaps you have experienced stonewalling, a situation where someone appears to be deliberately withholding information. Instantly, the question arises ‘what else are they not telling me? Can I trust them’? Their credibility is fractured.

Some relationships recover, many do not.

Credibility is the one quality almost everyone claims to possess. Most people are defensive when they feel their credibility is called into question.

What skills do you need to present to be seen to be credible?


It is not just the words we communicate with, our associated tone and gestures may tell their own story. This story often exists outside our conscious awareness and in juxtaposition, to our words.

To be seen to be credible it is imperative to have congruency between the three components of communication; our words (the technical component), our tone (the formal component), our gestures (the informal component).


Be real: being authentic is paramount.

In a world of constant meetings, mobiles, email, busy schedules, and constant deadlines it is easy to stay in the headspace of the task or issue dominating your time. So any genuine interest for the conversation topic you may actually be in could be perceived as non-existent.

Alternatively, a lack of genuine interest in the topic requires being authentically interested in different points of view that are presented, creating open dialogue focused on organisational outcomes. I like to think of the organisational outcome as another entity in the discussion. this approach permits real questions, honest contributions, reduces interruptions and prompts mutual listening, understanding and respect.

What impact do you need to create

To engender trust, you need

To be transparent. People trust what they can see. Leaders who talk clearly and openly about intentions and values inspire trust. The application of these parameters consistently reassures those who NEED to believe in you. Be accountable for decisions and actions and be prepared to step up and own a mistake. Nothing alienates more than someone who is renowned for finger pointing or harnessing the weasel words when things go wrong. Evasive manoeuvres scream non-credible. Studies examining what behaviours best define an honest person have nominated  “admitting mistakes” ranks second to “tells the truth”. An organisation’s culture and a leader’s credibility is at risk when you do not admit an error or quietly correct a mistake without acknowledging it.

Be there at the front when the bad news is to be delivered - credible leaders do so because those relying on them need to know that the person they have put their faith in will be available when times are troubled. Just as much as when times are good. It gives confidence in the administration and management even when the outcome may be unpleasant. Actions speak volumes in a crowded environment - take every possible opportunity to show your staff that you are willing to perform whatever tasks are necessary.

Belief in these who:

Do what they say - and say what they do. To be credible you need to demonstrate not only and understanding of an issue but also the experience of implementation so there is no gaps between intention and execution. Be honest and open about expectations.  Avoid the urge to guild the lily.  It’s okay not to know something – it’s far better to get back later with an answer than to fudge, defend or ignore.

Avoid turning disappointments into failure. Under sell and over deliver – managing expectations is part of building the credibility pyramid – and those who over promise and fail to deliver are consistently marked down. Disappointments – like acid - eat away at credibility eventually turning disappointments into a reputation for failure.

Ensure your message is understood. Make sure you’re sending the message you mean to send. The meaning of the message is processes and interpreted by the receiver. It may have no resemblance to the message you intended to send.

Ensure they have understood others. By clarifying their message and expectations of yourself and others it fosters the sense that their voice is heard. Thus managing expectations and potentially promoting positive outcomes to the culture and team.

The easy part is talking about credibility. Building it, protecting it, nurturing it and delivering it in the hurly burly of daily corporate life is tough. In the next two postings I will be examining how to be credible in daily life and how to recover from a ‘train crash’.

If you want to take a deep dive consider a one-on-one coaching programme and learn how do you build your credibility and make your message stand out in a world filled with chatter, ego's and the odd narcissist (or two).

Live life, Cheers Tess