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Establishing your credibility

Sometimes we find ourselves in a new setting and want to let the group know that we belong or that we know what we are talking about. One tactic you can use is to name drop— talking about someone famous or well-known in the industry that will help you find common ground or make you look credible. The problem with name dropping is that it seldom works.

Russ Kathrein - LeadershipIn the past year I’ve interacted with three people—a salesperson, an industry veteran, and a consultant—who were prolific name droppers. These three all had a lot of experiences to share that would have made talking with them interesting. Instead, they continuously dropped names of people and companies I had never heard of, leaving me lost. Here is how one of their conversations might have sounded.

“When I worked for ABC company, the owner was John Smith, who came from Texas where his father was friends with Biff Carmichael who invented the left-handed monkey wrench while he was serving in the 82nd Airborne in WWII. John previously worked for Ted Snodgrass at Generic Distribution, who was the first successful importer of palm plywood to the indigenous people of the Falkland Islands. It was at ABC company that I first learned the lumber business.”

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I would sit there confused about the point he was trying to make, bored out of my mind, wondering if there really was a plywood product made from palm trees. Was he just trying to tell me in an interesting way about the company where he first learned the lumber business? If so, it achieved the opposite effect, leaving me uninterested. To avoid this, here are a few things to keep in mind when calling out names:

– If you’re going to drop names, make sure your audience would have heard of them. (Most of the people and companies those three individuals would talk about were way before my time, were now deceased, and their companies were no longer in business.)

– Make sure the name and the purpose behind sharing it add value to your story. Going off on a tangent about some famous individual not only makes you look like a narcissist, it confuses your listeners.

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– Be observant of your audience. If they start rolling their eyes or don’t seem interested, you’ve lost them because you made the story too much about you or what you think would make you sound good.

– If you’re new at a company and want to talk about something your previous company did, you can get away with calling them out by name for a day or two. After that, every time you start out a conversation with, “Well, at Warped Lumber, we did it this way,” your listeners will tune out as soon as they hear the company name. A better approach is to start out saying, “In a previous life, we tried doing it this way.” You will have better luck keeping people’s ear.

– If you really want to establish credibility with a new audience, ask questions of the people you are with and get them to lead the conversation. Then you can interject when you find common ground or experiences on a topic.

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They say God gave us one mouth and two ears for a reason. Use them in that proportion. Otherwise, you may end up feeling like I did early in my career when I took one of my important vendors out to lunch. He nodded and smiled as I spent the first 30 minutes talking about everything that was important to me and my business until our waiter came to take our order. The waiter asked the vendor a question, and the vendor held up his hand and responded with, “Hold on a second. Let me turn my hearing aids on.”

Russ Kathrein is with the LBM Division of Do it Best Corp. based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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