Why Should I Listen to You?!

How do you convince somebody of your credibility? The author presents three tips to help you win influence in the workplace.

Did you know that most every professional conversation you have is some form of sales conversation?  Yep, even in government service, with every paper you write, every meeting you lead, every presentation you give, you are attempting to enroll another person into your idea, project, or perspective. That’s sales.

WHAT?!?  I know, right?

As an at-that-time-impending government grad, I was stunned to discover that when I developed sales and marketing skills in the creation of Greatness in Government™ (my business specializing in re-energizing burned-out government employees), I also became a more effective and influential leader in my government role.


According to Harvard Business Review, command-and-control leadership is largely irrelevant in the 21st Century as organizations — even government ones –find themselves forced into flatter management structures and more collaborative work cultures to gain the innovation and agility required to address modern challenges. Translation: More than ever before, your professional success depends on your ability to lead, inspire, and influence action without formal authority. (Now do you see the connection to sales?)

Clearly there are myriad tactical skills and mindset shifts that contribute to effective, benevolent influence, but today I want to focus on the aspect of credibility. How do you “convince” someone to believe you and take you seriously? Why, exactly, should they listen to you?

Traditionally in government service we’ve been taught that our credibility was inherent in our position, and in the command-and-control leadership model that is true to some degree. But, as you progress (or aspire) to higher levels, that inherent, assumed credibility falls away pretty quickly.

Now it’s up to you to position yourself such that you are easily recognized as the expert on the topic at hand. Let’s face it. If your audience doesn’t see you as credible, you can have the best idea in the world and they will NEVER be able to hear it. Even worse, they WILL be able to hear it from someone else!  That just stinks!

So how do you establish your credibility in the workplace?

When I work more closely with people, we take these concepts further, hone them to your specific situation, and build them naturally into your presentation, interview, or conversation. In the meantime, here are 3 quick tips to get you started.

3 Pillars

Think of your credibility as coming from 3 general pillars:

Pillar 1:  You!

This is not just your degrees, certifications, and job titles. It also comes from your past experiences…professional and otherwise. It includes your past successes (proven strategies that work) as well as your past failures (mistakes you made because you didn’t know something you know now).

But none of these things matter if no one knows about them! Whether in an interview, presentation, or conversation where you need to establish yourself as an expert, be sure to share where you are coming from. Tell your story.

Pillar 2:  Third Party Data and Statistics

Don’t make them take your word for it. Let a neutral third party speak for you. Promotion statistics for government staff officers across all agencies show that only 4% of government employees will ever make it to the executive level in government. So regardless of where you are in your government career, positioning yourself for credibility is critical to influencing action because you often don’t have the formal authority.

Did you catch that? Using third party data or statistics allows you to frame the importance of the problem and/or the validity of a solution. You see, in order for someone to believe you, they have to believe that what you are talking about is a problem worth solving or a solution worth implementing. Third Party data is like having a bigger kid on the playground back you up.

Pillar 3:  Prevailing Perspective

This one is the secret sauce that makes the other 2 pillars of credibility really stick. The prevailing perspective is the perspective your audience is listening from. Said another way, it is what they think they already know about the particular subject you are speaking on. Using their prevailing perspective as the starting point, address how your proposal either dovetails with their perspective, OR acknowledge that your proposal is counter to their perspective and explain why. Either way, you show that you understand what is important to them and meet them where they are.

Clearly owning and establishing your credibility is only one piece of expanding your influence in the workplace. Because if you start from the wrong leadership foundation, instead of showing up as “credible” you risk of showing up as incredibly arrogant. Not exactly what you’re going for!

About the Author

Martha Wilson is a retired CIA Operations Officer, leadership instructor, transformational coach and the founder of Greatness In Government, a leadership and personal development firm that specializes in re-energizing mid-career government employees. Organizations that are struggling with complaints about bad leaders, discrimination, bullying and other symptoms of employee dissatisfaction hire her when they are ready for a fresh approach to leadership training. She also provides private coaching to high-potential government employees who have decided to assume responsibility for their own personal and professional development.