Ethos: How to Build Credibility

How to Build Credibility

A Definition:

  1. credibility krɛdɪˈbɪlɪti / noun a) the quality of being trusted and believed in.  synonyms: trustworthiness, reliability, dependability, integrity, character;  b) the quality of being convincing or believable. synonyms: plausibility, believability, acceptability, tenability, probability, likelihood, authority, authoritativeness, impressiveness, cogency, weight, validity, soundness;

In this post, we will work through Aristotle’s 11 ingredients of a credible character, taken from from his work “Nicomachean Ethics”.

Where does Nicomachean come from?  It is from a name.  Aristotle’s grandfather, father and his son were each called Nicomachus.  It is generally believed that this work was dedicated to Nicomachus junior (his son).

Aristotle on Human Purpose

Aristotle’s most significant concept in this work is that of the purposefulness of all elements of nature.  Each part of nature has a specific purpose. The purpose of each element of nature is that for which it is uniquely capable.  In the case of human beings, Aristotle believes that our unique function in life is the ability to think rationally.  (Read this post for more on Aristotle’s analysis of humanity’s unique gift)

Before we go through the 11 elements that will develop your credibility, we will look at the danger of a lack of credibility.  Let’s begin with two individuals from Greek myth. The legend of Cassandra and the legend of Orpheus.  Cassandra was never believed, Orpheus was always trusted.

No Credibility: Mad Cassandra

Cassandra lived in the time of greek myth, before we put numbers to the years.  She was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of the city of Troy.  She was a strong willed, beautiful red head.  Her beauty was so great that she is considered the second most beautiful woman of all greek pre-history.

Her beauty and character brought her to the attention of the god Apollo.  Apollo fell in love with her.

In order to seduce Cassandra, Apollo tried several approaches.  Finally she made clear her demand: she would marry him in exchange for the gift of prophecy.  Apollo granted her this gift and Cassandra became able to see the future, to see all that was to come.

The wedding day came, Apollo was waiting…  but Cassandra did not come.  She broke the engagement. Apollo was angry.

The rules of greek gods were clear: what the god has given, he may not take away.  Apollo could not take away prophecy.  In his anger he cursed Cassandra with a cruelty that only greek gods could achieve.

Cassandra would never be believed.  No one would ever believe her words.

Cassandra saw that her brother would die in the fight with Hercules, she saw the arrival of the greek army, she saw the truth of the Trojan horse.  She tried and tried and tried to get her parents, her friends, the leaders of Troy to listen, but none would believe.

Whenever Cassandra spoke, nobody paid attention; nobody trusted her words.  Cassandra went insane, a fiery, frustrated, red-headed beauty.

Imagine Cassandra’s Frustration…

Imagine knowing the future and nobody believing you.  Imagine having a plan for a project and nobody will get involved.  Imagine trying to create a new business and nobody will invest, no client will buy and no supplier will agree to work with you.  It is a maddening agony.

Cassandra was cursed by Apollo, but some of us choose the curse by not paying attention to our reputation, our character and the impression we create when we meet other people.

Credibility: How to be Orpheus

Orpheus was always believed.  His word was trusted.  His plans were listened to.  His requests for help were met with attention, resources and committed people.  Orpheus even convinced Hades to allow his love Eurydice to return from death.

Nobody is born as Orpheus.  It is the fruit of choices about how you live your life. No matter what your role or position, Orpheus’ credibility is something that you have to earn. It takes time, patience, and consistency to build credibility.  Credibility most grows when you are helping others achieve personal success.

Aristotle’s 3 Categories of Credibility

According to Aristotle, there are three categories of ethical character.  (His exploration of character comes from an exploration of the Socratic question: “how should man best live?”)

  • phronesis – practical skills & wisdom
  • arete – virtue, goodness
  • eunoia – goodwill towards the audience

Aristotle’s 11 ingredients of A Credible Character

Aristotle separates the ingredients into two levels, the first level are two virtues that are the foundation of all the rest.  The foundational virtues are:

  1. Courage and
  2. Self-Restraint

The edifice of credible character is then built of the following lived virtues:

  1. Generosity
  2. Magnificence
  3. Greatness of Soul
  4. Balanced Ambition
  5. Gentleness (concerning Anger)
  6. Friendship
  7. Honesty
  8. Charm
  9. The Absence of Shame – Aristotle has a hard time with this idea, expressing that shame is a force that is necessary in youth to hold them back from overstepping bounds, but as wisdom develops with age an individual must remove the shackles of shame.

Aristotle’s deepest thinking on this theme is in his work Nicomachean Ethics.

Developing an Orpheus Character

Lets bring this down to practical steps.  Here are 5 practical guidelines:

  1. Spend time building relationships with mentors, role models and friends of credible character.  Find a way of having conversations about the tough choices that they have had to make in their lives (being Orpheus comes at a price).  It is also important to realise that you are a mentor to others and to take this role proactively.  Who are the people who you wish to inspire?  Let them know what you see in them.
  2. Show others that you care about their future.  Listen to other’s goals and help them clarify what is important to them.
  3. Do what you say you’re going to do. (and Don’t do what you don’t proactively decide to do.)
  4. Develop expertise – invest in becoming wiser.  I find that learning skills that I am not good at keeps a little bit of humility in me when I then work in areas where I am good.  (Ballroom dancing is a great source of humility for me)
  5. Be transparent about what you know and don’t know.  The more you share about your own experience, the more others will open up to you.  Self-disclosure, when you reveal information about yourself to others, is an important part of transparency.

Be careful of Cassandra

Even if you do all of the above, there are 3 true killers of Credibility that will bring upon you the curse that Apollo cast upon mad, mad Cassandra.

  1. Undeclared direct self-serving interests – be transparent about how you will benefit
  2. Undeclared vested interests – be transparent about your connections
  3. No expertise – don’t speak when you don’t know

In essence, don’t be Cassandra.


*The most beautiful woman in all greek myth?  Helen of Troy, the twin sister of Cassandra.


“Helen of Troy” by Evelyn de Morgan

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks