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Updated: 14 Dec 2020

Credibility: 5 Ways To Make People Believe You



Five valuable tips of persuasion you can use in a negotiation, advertising and in any sale. Avoid common negotiation mistakes while enhancing your credibility by using a relevant style with all business people.

by Roger Dawson

Negotiation Credibility

The absolute cornerstone of your ability to persuade, rests largely upon the level of negotiation credibility that you achieve with your negotiating counterpart. When you talk, do they really believe what you’re telling them? Unless they do, there is simply no way that you can persuade them to do what you want them to do in a negotiation.

People might listen to you, but they won’t act until they believe you. Let me emphasize this again. People won’t act unless they believe you. So if you’re a salesperson trying to get an order, you should always be thinking, “Do they believe me?” Because, if you haven’t established enough negotiation credibility they will not place the order.

If you’re a manager, and you’re trying to persuade your people to accept a new program, you should always be thinking, “Do they believe me?” Because, if you haven’t created enough credibility, they’ll give lip service to your program, but they won’t enthusiastically endorse it.

If you’re a parent, does your son really believe you when you say to him, “Don’t do it son, I tried it once and lived to regret it”? Or does he sense you’re trying to manipulate him, and are being less than truthful?

Fortunately, you can create credibility with just a few simple techniques. In my book, “Secrets of Power Persuasion”, I teach fifteen tips to enhance your level of credibility with other people. Here are the first 5 tips:


Power Persuaders always have three “never assumes” that are always primary in their thoughts.

  1. Never assume poverty: that they just can’t afford what you’re selling.
  2. Never assume they understand what you tell them.
  3. Never assume they believe you what you say to them. The final “never assume” is the most important one. Don’t ever assume they believe you.

Let’s face it, we get very upset if someone questions our credibility. We dislike it when a bartender cards us, or when a bank teller asks for our identification. So when we’re persuading people, we don’t like to admit that the other person is sitting there thinking, “Prove it to me.”

If you’re a salesperson, you can present a wonderful list of benefits that will descend upon the buyer when they have the common sense to make an investment. But it doesn’t mean a thing unless you’ve established the credibility needed to convince them to believe it.

You may be a manager whose persuasion challenge is to persuade a key employee out of quitting. You can speak until you’re blue in the face about the wonderful future that awaits them just around the corner, if they remain with your company. But it won’t mean anything until you’ve persuaded them you’re sincere, and that you really do have the power to make it happen.

Don’t be upset by people’s natural unwillingness to find you credible. Remember that we exist in a world where a thousand advertising messages are screaming at us everyday. We can’t possibly believe everything we hear. To take everything at face value in today’s world would be a shortcut to disaster. So Power Persuaders instinctively learn to build credibility into their presentations. Never assume they believe you.


I was visiting my son John, when he was a student at Menlo College in Atherton, California. He’d just finished a final exam and another student asked him how he did on it. “I think I may have aced it,” John said to him. “I did well!” the other boy said, and gave him a high five. A few moments later another boy came by and asked John how he performed on the test. “It was really tough,” John said, “but I hope to get a B.”

“What’s going on here,” I asked John, “you told the first boy that you got an A, and the second that you got a B.” He replied “The first guy was the best student on campus, so he’d believe I got an A. The second guy would never have believed what I said.”

Haven’t you learned that you should never disclose to anyone more than you think they’ll believe? Now that’s smart! I don’t think a thousand psychologists with an unlimited research budget could come up with a greater truth than this. Even if you are telling the truth, and the other person begins to doubt it, your chance of persuading them is falling like a rock.

Many years ago, I was the merchandise manager for a huge department store. Our store was very promotional, which means that our business went up dramatically when we advertised a sale and business died when we didn’t. So we’d run a big Sunday, Monday, Tuesday sale, and then come back with a Thursday, Friday, Saturday sale.

The problem was, how could we run the biggest sale of the year, twice a week, year round. After awhile, we’d lost all credibility with our customers. The salespeople would try to close a sale by saying, “Get it now, while it’s on sale.” only to have the customer tell us , “Yes, but you’ll have another sale next week.” You’ll recall that Sears ran into a similar problem. And eventually made the switch to year round low pricing.

There’s a law of diminishing returns that’s directly linked to diminishing credibility. Of course you need to be excited and enthusiastic in making your case, but the moment your claims pass the point of credibility, your chance of persuading them reduces abruptly. The principle of “never tell them more than you think they’ll believe,” may sound folksy and cute. But it’s backed up by a great deal of sound research.

For example, for decades, psychologists have conducted studies to discover the impact of fear, as a persuasion tool. To their surprise, early studies suggested that people were just as persuaded by mild threats as they were by more powerful threats. Curious, they continued to conduct studies that nearly always produced the same conclusion. Finally, they understood that fear is a powerful persuader, but only up to the point where people feel genuinely threatened by it. The moment they begin to doubt that the threat is as great as it is being made out to be, the power of fear as a persuader diminishes.

So a basic rule for building credibility is, “Never tell them more than you think they’ll believe.” You may actually have a product or service that will surpass their expectations. However, if you can’t make them believe it, you’re better off to temper your claims.


Some brilliant advertising people have taken advantage of this. Remember the old Volkswagen sedan, the one with the round top that didn’t see a change design for twenty years or so? It was one of the ugliest cars ever made. Nor did it have any extra features which an advertising person could boast about. Only in later years did it even have a gas gage: you could get so many miles per gallon of gas, and you simply drove it until it ran out of gas. Then you switched to a small reserve tank, which was more than enough to get you to the next gas station.

When the Doyle, Dane, Bernbach Advertising Agency won this account they must have groaned! What could you say about this car? It only had two features. It was cheap to run and dependable, but everybody knew that. What more could they say about it? Then they hit upon a brilliant flash of inspiration. They decided to tell the truth! I can imagine what every advertising person in America, coming off their chairs crying aloud, “You’re going to what!!??”

They ran a whole series of ads that proclaimed, “This car is ugly, it looks like a bug-a beetle.””This car is slow-you’ll be lucky if you ever get a ticket.” The results were extraordinary. People loved the campaign, and sales dramatically increased.

The truth, simple pure truth, is an astounding force. Doyle and Dane went on to use the same principle with Avis rental cars. In a world where everyone was scrambling for some excuse to say they were the largest and the best, the new Avis campaign proudly shouted “We’re number two!” And followed it up with the sub line, “So we try harder.”

It had an interesting influence on the employees of Avis and the number one company, Hertz. A survey showed that the Avis employees really were trying harder, but the Hertz people were taking it easy on Avis. Even they were sympathetic to Avis’ underdog positioning!

These two campaigns revolutionised American advertising. They were startling in their effect. Everybody was running around Madison Avenue exclaiming, “Why don’t we try a Doyle and Dane ad.” Meaning, “Why don’t we try telling the truth?” Nobody had ever pointed out the disadvantages of the product before. Nobody had ever paid millions to let the public know that the competition was more successful.

To Tell the truth, even when it is painful, is an astounding force.


Many years ago, Benson and Hedges came out with a campaign for their new, longer cigarettes that bluntly stated, “Oh the disadvantages!” Mary Wells, at the ad agency, showed scenes of people smoking in elevators and getting their cigarette caught in the closing doors; and other tongue in cheek situations where a long cigarette would be a disadvantage. These advertising people had hit upon a very important key to persuasion. If you point out the disadvantages, it makes everything else you say much more believable. Research has revealed that there are four sound reasons for also presenting the other side of the argument:

  1. It causes the other side to suppose that you have objectivity.
  2. It flatters the listener that you believe them smart enough to understand the disadvantages, and still be persuaded in favor of your proposal.
  3. It allows you to anticipate objections, and rehearse counter arguments. And….
  4. It provides credibility to everything else you proclaim.

Remember the retail chain that had based their line of appliances so the salesperson could sell down, off the most expensive one? They’d really structured the profit margins so they made more profit on the middle of the line, than they did on the high end. Not only were they generating more money that way, they were building a powerful plus. The salespeople achieved so much credibility doing it, that when they recommended the service contract for one of their most profitable items, they met with very little resistance.


People believe exact numbers more so than they believe rounded numbers. The Ivory Soap people learned this out decades ago when they started claiming “Ivory Soap is 99.44 percent pure.” Obviously we wouldn’t challenge them if they told us that Ivory Soap was 100 percent pure; but the precise figure is subliminally more plausible.

We assume that somebody went to a lot of effort to figure out that the soap wasn’t 99.43 percent pure, or 99.45 percent pure. Why bother to say that Taster’s Choice Decaffeinated Coffee is “99.7 percent” caffeine free. They could probably get away by simply saying, “Caffeine free.” The reason is that we believe specific numbers far more than we believe rounded numbers.

We can use the believability of the odd figure syndrome as a persuasion technique. Let’s say you’re purchasing a piece of property. They’re asking $220,000. If you offer $200,00, it doesn’t sound as firm a figure as if you say, “We’ve done a thorough research on the property, and after running all the numbers, we feel that a realistic price would be $198,700.” Studies have revealed that when you take that approach, the seller will respond with a counter offer that is, on average, $4722 less than if you start at $200,000. No! I have no idea what the real number is, but it sure sounds more believable, doesn’t it?

I once purchased a hundred acres of land in the State of Washington. They were asking $185,000 for the price of the land, and I asked Marge Winebrenner, the real estate agent, to make an offer at $115,050. She said, “Roger, what’s this fifty dollars? Where did that come from?” “Marge,” I told her, “I’ve just been buying land for a long time now, that I have a formula that I use. I punched in the numbers and that’s what came out.” In fact I knew that I was less likely to get a counter offer for a specific number like that. Marge did a fantastic job of presenting the offer, and the seller accepted it. So to build credibility, use precise numbers. Strangely enough, you’re better off to claim that your new word processing machine will increase the productivity of their secretary’s output by 87 percent, than to claim it will double his or her productivity.

Roger Dawson is a negotiation consultant and a sales and management speaker.

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