Beware your credibility blind spots. These bad behaviors may be unintentional, but they derail your professional image. They are off-putting to everyone … but you.
The good news is that once you uncover your blind spots, you can undo them. And in today’s highly competitive workplace, where even small stuff can make a big difference, the time to do this is now.
So how can you see your own blind spots? The surest way is to capture yourself on video in a typical business setting. (Smartphones now make this easier than ever.) And while there are numerous behaviors to look for, seven blind spots are most common.
1. Using speech fillers
Speech fillers are superfluous sounds or words, like “um” and “you know.” Today, such fillers are pervasive in our culture, including the business world. A smart, young technology CEO recently said to his team, “So, I actually sort of passionately believe that we have an opportunity to, uh, you know, sort of really take this platform to a new level. So we just kind of, uh, need to jump in, you know, with full force.” He wanted to fire up his people, but his fillers extinguished his passion.
2. Making extraneous movements
Extraneous movements—such as jiggling your knee, bobbing your head, or shifting your weight—weaken your personal power. You might say, “I can’t help myself. I just can’t be still.” Truth is, excessive fidgeting is a self-comforting behavior. Stillness sends a message that you’re calm and confident.
When you feel self-conscious, it’s easy to overreact to your every mistake. If you trip over a word, you might apologize (“Sorry!”), make a joke (“No more coffee for me”), or resort to nonverbal reflexes, like shaking your head or shrugging your shoulders. The problem with this “self-commenting” is your external preoccupation with your internal criticism. Mistakes happen; simply correct them and move on.
4. Misplacing upward vocal inflections
You probably work with someone who speaks in “up talk”: using upward inflections that sound like question marks at the end of sentences. This vocal pattern is widespread—and contagious. Be vigilant in not picking it up.
5. Making yourself smaller
If you’re like most people, when you feel intimidated, you make yourself smaller to avoid being an easy target. You might place your feet closer together, tuck your arms to your sides, dip your chin, or pull back on your volume. Any or all of these behaviors say, “I feel threatened.”
6. Masking your face and hands
Masking behaviors can creep up when you feel uneasy or on the spot. This takes many different forms, including crossing your arms, clasping your hands, playing with your clothes or jewelry, or having a poker face—cutting off any animation of your face or hands.
7. Dropping eye contact
You don’t see professional athletes dropping their eyes to the ground during play. In business settings, when you drop eye contact, you drop out of the game. Keep your eyes on the horizon and give your listeners the same respect you expect from them—your full attention. It’s all right to move your eyes to the side momentarily to gather your thoughts. Otherwise, if your mouth is moving, your eyes should be on your listeners.
Cara Hale Alter is president of SpeechSkills, a San Francisco–based communication training company, and author of The Credibility Code: How to Project Confidence and Competence When It Matters Most (Meritus, 2012). For more information, visit thecredibilitycode.com.