5 Easy Rules to Keep if You Want to Protect Your Credibility in Business
George* was in talks with another business owner, Mary*. Mary was a woman who acted like she knew what she was doing. George didn’t know what he was doing and didn’t act like he did. When it came time for the two of them to make an agreement to do business together, the question was how to formalize the agreement. Mary argued that, “Contracts just make the lawyers rich,” she said. “We don’t really need one.”
George complied. Her authoritative tone and position on the subject made him believe that a contract in this instance was simply not necessary; a person’s word was the same as law.
*George and Mary are made-up names
So they did not sign a contract.
Not long after the deal was made, Mary changed the terms. Not because they had agreed to do so, or that George approved any changes – she just changed them. Mary said the deal went one way. George thought it went another. It didn’t take long for the transaction to collapse and the parties to start talking to lawyers.
By the time I became involved, I had already heard stories of Mary’s dishonesty in other business deals. These stories came from people I knew and trusted. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, this time, but already knew how the problem between George and Mary happened and why.
My job now would be to resolve the situation and then focus on educating George for future protection. The latter was a task that was far more complicated than the former.
WHY PROTECTING YOUR CREDIBILITY MATTERS
Credibility is a slippery issue: it’s essential for business life, difficult to build, easy to lose, and even harder to regain after you lose it. The foundation of credibility is trust. To “trust” someone means that there is a level of confidence, earned over time and as rapport is built through experience. Without trust, there can be no credibility.
While a legal agreement cements two entities together, trust is the glue that keeps goodwill, harmony, and loyalty strong. Trust gets destroyed and credibility along with it. When there’s no credibility, deals disappear and partnerships (potential or established) crumble.
After decades of consulting business leaders, I have identified a few solutions to safeguard your credibility. Here are five easy ways to protect it (or destroy it, if you are doing the opposite). I’d love to hear your feedback on other solutions too! Reach out on Facebook and start a positive conversation about credibility.
Give Me Those Rules…
Rule #1: Don’t Make Promises You Don’t Intend to Keep
Contracts memorialize terms, and they can be used as reference points when a dispute arises. However, no contract in the history of contracts can preserve your credibility if you make promises you do not intend to keep.
A credible reputation in business begins and ends with honesty. If you promise to do something, do it – even if the contract is silent on the subject.
In my years as an attorney and consultant, I’ve seen hundreds of situations when a person promised something that wasn’t in the contract. Eventually, the promise became the relevant subject, and the person who made it said something like, “well, it’s not in the contract, so I don’t have to do that.”
When you make a promise you don’t intend to keep, you destroy your integrity, reputation, and - you guessed it- credibility.
Rule #2: Don’t Take Advantage of People with Less Experience
I remember watching an old war movie where the soldiers lined up, waiting to engage in a “fair” battle with the other side. I also remember thinking, “why not ambush them – war isn’t fair!” It’s true, war isn’t fair and perhaps shouldn’t be. Business, however, isn’t war, despite what you’ve heard.
In business, when you take advantage of a person with less experience, you demonstrate a frightening character trait. Sure, you may win the deal or negotiation, but you will lose credibility with your colleagues and competitors. It’s kind of like taking candy from a baby – it’s easy, but it’s pathetic.
If you find yourself engaging in a business deal with a person with far less experience than you, and you see an opportunity to take advantage of them, consider an alternative. Encouraging them to seek input from a more experienced colleague, for example, will show that you are a person of integrity and that will lend to your credibility, not undermine it.
Rule #3: Don’t Value Your Ego Above Logic
I once watched a person incur millions of dollars in legal expenses because they couldn’t “let the other side win.” The other side did, in fact, win, and this person lost all credibility with colleagues, family, and friends. They also became essentially destitute.
We’ve all seen it – the battle that is based on principle, even when it’s clear the battle is unwise, imprudent, or even downright stupid. In nearly all circumstances, it can be traced back to an inflated ego.
If you are placing a higher value on your ego than you are on a prudent course of action, you are already failing. People will no longer trust your judgment because they recognize it is motivated by self-preservation and not wisdom. In some instances, credibility is lost forever.
Rule #4: Don’t Favor Winning Over Integrity
Sometimes the right choice is the one in which you lose some money. I represent an organization that received an offer to host an event. The event had been previously hosted by a competing organization that was suffering financially. My client knew that taking the offer would kill the competitor’s business, so my client declined to take the event and asked that the organizers give it to the competitor again. Contrary to what you may be thinking, my client did not lose money and opportunity.
Instead, word spread that my client had made the decision to protect a competitor, which encouraged other event organizers to reach out and offer new opportunities. After all, why type of business would choose to help out a competitor? I’ll tell you - a business with integrity. Likewise, the competitor reached out to my client to form bonds of cooperation that resulted in new products and other opportunities.
By valuing integrity over money, my client’s credibility skyrocketed, which resulted in more opportunities than ever. The alternative would have been to put a company out of business and be named the “reigning champ” of the space. Great for the bottom line, but horrible for credibility.
Rule #5: Don’t View Business as a Zero-Sum Game
For every winner, there is also a loser. Actually, that’s how sports work, but not how business should work.
In business, the paradigm is not about winning and losing, but about growing, learning, and succeeding. People on both sides of a transaction can almost always benefit, and the more you focus on longevity of relationships and wins for both sides, the more you will see that the “zero sum” game is a sham. You can absolutely have 2 winners and no losers!
Most business people also eventually hate to do deals with a person who can only see one winner and one loser. As I’ve said before, a zero-sum game only exists to people with no vision or ingenuity. If you want to lose credibility forever, attempt to make a loser out of every opponent in your business dealings. I don’t recommend it.
SUMMING IT UP
What’s the alternative to destroying your credibility? Improving and nurturing it. There are many more wins available for a business person with unshakeable credibility. Don’t believe me? Try it on for size. Print this post out and highlight the headers. Pin it to the wall next to your desk and let it operate as a guidepost for a week. See what happens.