Working Remotely? Build Credibility Through Leadership Storytelling
This article by Esther Choy originally appeared in Home Business Magazine.
Recently, Legal Zoom listed “credibility issues” as the top disadvantage of running an LLC from home. What they had in mind was the physical office space. And it’s true that it can be hard to reestablish authority after your friendly golden retriever has jumped up and licked a potential client’s face, or your children have just busted into a video interview, as happened in a viral clip of Professor Robert E. Kelly’s interview with the BBC.
Home business owners have unique challenges for establishing credibility. And while it’s not too hard to improve the physical environment, many credibility issues still linger. For instance, many who are “leading from home” have fewer face-to-face interactions with clients, colleagues and potential customers—so what is communicated in each interaction will leave a big impression. As a business leader who frequently works from home, I have found ways to build credibility with each interaction.
1. Know your audience and define what credibility looks like to them.
Sometimes you are communicating with cross-functional colleagues or intelligent outsiders. At other times, you must convey information to fellow experts. Each type of audience wants a different level of detail, and knowing that level of detail makes all the difference in establishing credibility. For audiences of fellow experts, being too simplistic will make them question your value, while for others, getting too in-depth will feel like you are wasting their time.
2. Acknowledge your audience’s situation.
No matter who your audience is, there’s method for showing that you do understand the complexities they face: the AIA (“Acknowledge-Inspire-Aspire”) model.
One of my clients, Glenn Hollister, a principal of sales and marketing consultancy ZS Associates, used this model when he had to present to hundreds of frontline sales executives at a top US airline.
Before saying anything about the technology his company was rolling out, he described a day in the life of an airline sales executive, literally minute by minute. The executives not only paid close attention, they giggled, clapped and even cheered. They knew that Glenn could not have come up with such detail about their daily work without taking great care to study their processes, procedures and pain points. This acknowledgement of what their work lives were like was a vital first step that made his audience listen to what he had to offer.
From there, Glenn inspired his audience to envision a more efficient way to spend their work days—namely, by using his technology—and then got them to aspire to perform at a higher level by having more time to spend with their customers.
3. Choose the right story for the right audience.
Because every type of story creates a distinct mood, it’s important to choose a plot that your particular audience will find motivating. If you lose your audience’s attention, you lose their trust, an essential ingredient of credibility. So select a plot that resonates. Here are three plots, each with a different emotional impact:
Origin Stories narrate the beginning of your business. They inspire your audience as they see the familiar present connect back to your past.
Overcoming the Monster plots cause righteous anger. Immediately, the listener wants to ward off a threat of a “monster” (a.k.a. anything that threatens survival or thwarts goals).
Quests provoke restlessness. These stories start with a protagonist who has a pretty good life, yet wants to travel outside his or her comfort zone for a prize of immeasurable value.
4. Hone your personal story.
When customers and clients know the person behind the business, your business gains credibility. Thankfully, you are sure to encounter one frequent question that gives you a chance to tell your story. That question is, “Tell me about yourself.”
Psychologist Robert Cialdini’s research on social influence indicates that this question really means, “tell me something about yourself that reminds me of me.” Cialdini has shown that we not only tend to like people we perceive as being like us, but we’re also more likely to form a stronger connection with them and find their ideas persuasive. In other words, we find others credible when we think they are just like us.
So, answer “tell me about yourself” by telling a story that is universal enough to make your audience think about how it intersects with their own story.
5. Test your credibility by getting feedback.
Sitting alone in our home offices with the doors shut, it is easy to imagine how others view us—whether we picture ourselves in the red or in the black when it comes to our credibility balance. But how do we know these perceptions are true unless we ask those who are like our target audience? Seek out trusted colleagues who can critique your key business communications. Ask:
What facts can they recall? If people can remember the information you convey, they will think of you as an expert.
How does the communication make them feel? If they feel confused, you may need to clarify or reorganize your presentation. How they feel can also tell you about the “intangibles”—those nuances of communication like body language, tone of voice and ease of manner that affect the way your message comes across.
What action, if any, would they be likely to take after listening? This speaks to the reason for credibility. You don’t just want people to trust you—you want them to act on that trust.
Whether you invite clients and coworkers to your home or seek out a coffee shop, library study room or shared workspace, these principles will make every interaction count.
If you need coaching on using stories to boost your credibility, give us a shout! Schedule a complimentary communication training consultation today. For more tips and insights on storytelling, sign up for our monthly guide.
Esther’s book, Let the Story Do the Work (published by HarperCollins Leadership), is now available!
Photo credit: Kari Shea via Unsplash