8 Ways to Make People Believe What You Tell Them

Get Straight to the TruthCredibility is one piece of the bedrock of trust. If people doubt what you say, all else is called into doubt, including competence and good intentions. If others don’t believe what you tell them, they won’t take your advice, they won’t buy from you, they won’t speak well of you, they won’t refer you on to others, and they will generally make it harder for you to deal with them.

Being believed is pretty important stuff. The most obvious way to be believed, most people would say, is to be right about what you’re saying. Unfortunately, being right and a dollar will get you a  cup of coffee.  First, people have to be willing to hear you. And no one likes a wise guy show-off – if all you’ve got is a right answer, you’ve not got much.

While each of these may sound simple, there are eight distinct things you can do to improve the odds that people believe what you say.  Are you firing on all eight cylinders?

1. Tell the truth. This is the obvious first point, of course – but it’s amazing how the concept gets watered down. For starters, telling the truth is not the same as just not lying. It requires saying something; you can’t tell the truth if you don’t speak it.

2. Tell the whole truth. Don’t be cutesie and technical. Don’t allow people to draw erroneous conclusions based on what you left out. By telling the whole truth, you show people that you have nothing to hide. (Most politicians continually flunk this point).

3. Don’t over-context the truth. The most believable way to say something is to be direct about it. Don’t muddy the issue with adjectives, excuses, mitigating circumstances, your preferred spin, and the like. We believe people who state the facts, and let us uncover the context for ourselves.

4. Freely confess ignorance. If someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, say, “I don’t know.” It’s one of the most credible things you can say. After all, technical knowledge can always be looked up; personal courage and integrity are in far shorter supply.

5. First, listen. Nothing makes people pay attention to you more than your having paid attention to them first. They will also be more generous in their interpretation of what you say, because you have shown them the grace and respect of carefully listening to them first. Reciprocity is big with human beings.

6. It’s not the words, it’s the intent. You could say, in a monotone voice, “I really care about the work you folks are doing here.” And you would be doubted. Or, you could listen, animatedly, leaning in, raising your eyebrows and bestowing the gift of your attention, saying nothing more than, “wow.” And people would believe that you care.

7. Use commonsense anchors. Most of us in business rely on cognitive tools: data, deductive logic, and references. They are not nearly as persuasive as we think. Focus instead more on metaphors, analogies, shared experiences, stories, song lyrics, movies, famous quotations. People are more inclined to believe something if it’s familiar, if it fits, or makes sense, within their world view.

8. Use the language of the other person. If they say “customer,” don’t you say “client.” And vice versa. If they don’t swear, don’t you dare. If they speak quietly one on one, adopt their style. That way, when you say something, they will not be distracted by your out-of-ordinary approach, and they will intuitively respect that you hear and understand them.

What’s not on this list?  Several things, actually. Deductive logic. Powerpoint. Cool graphics. Spreadsheet backup. Testimonials and references. Qualifications and credentials.

It’s not that these factors aren’t important; they are. But they are frequently used as blunt instruments to qualify or reject. We’d all prefer to be rejected or disbelieved “for cause,” rather than for some feeling. And so we come up with rational reasons for saying no, and justifying yes.  But the decision itself to believe you is far more likely driven by the more emotive factors listed above.



8 replies
  1. DesiBjorn
    DesiBjorn says:

    Good post. I really like that you spoke about credibility. So often people expect to be taken at “face value” and they never stop to realize how their past and their character affects how people view them. I also like your point about intent. I am always telling people that ‘Why’ is the most important question. This was helpful and really validated some of my instinctual feelings about trust.

    • Charles H. Green
      Charles H. Green says:


      I want to highlight one thing you said: that this “validated some of your instinctual feelings about trust.”

      When it comes to trust, we all vastly under-estimate how accurate and powerful our instinctual feelings really are. The more I think, watch, observe and read about it, the more I conclude that we all have very good instincts about trust – and that by comparison the “research” on it tends to simply confirm what we already knew.

      Two examples from the headlines of today. In one, scientists had figured out that the full moon has an effect on people’s sleep habits. That old wisdom goes back centuries.

      In another one, “research” showed that doing the right thing makes people happier. Um, doh!

      The trick, I think, is not in trusting our feelings – our feelings are very clear. The trick is in translating those feelings directly, clearly, objectively, without judgment. If we can learn to do that, then we can learn quite a bit about trust by just listening to our feelings.

      • Arsema
        Arsema says:

        Hello Charles,
        Could you tell me what I can do to be numb when i’m facing my head teacher.
        Today I was picked on and the girl decided to tell the head teacher a bunch of lies about how I was bullying her (I wasn’t) I am also a very emotional person and I don’t want to look like a wimp in her office. Please reply.

  2. diana swan
    diana swan says:

    Great Post, in a way so sad that we even have to talk about this it should be a given!! Sales, marketing and presentation sometimes get in the way of truth, transparency and integrity I am so glad we are on the journey back to where it once was..
    Many thanks


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  1. […] Sriram’s response to his prospective client took courage, above all else—something that’s in too short supply for most of us, myself included at times. Sriram’s big takeaway reminds me of one of my favorite pearls of Charlie Green wisdom: “Technical knowledge can always be looked up; personal courage and integrity are in far shorter suppl….” […]

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  3. […] about eight ways to make people believe what you tell them, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or brush up on all four variables of the trust […]

  4. […] My co-author Charlie Green’s version of this little piece of advice: freely confess ignorance. To quote Charlie, “After all, technical knowledge can always be looked up; personal courage and integrity are in far sh….” […]

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