Many of us often fail to fully appreciate and leverage the power of human-to-human dynamics when we’re caught up in the demands of everyday life at work. For change leaders in particular and other folks involved in change management, this intangible factor can often be the critical ingredient in the alchemy of change that sticks.

Savvy change managers, those alchemists who are well versed in delivering successful change, know that the psychology of interpersonal dynamics sits at the heart of effective stakeholder management.

It’s nigh on impossible to win over stakeholders, or get results through them, without taking the time and effort to “connect” with them.

I’ve learned that walking a mile in their shoes is always a great doorway to get into their heads and hearts; especially when dealing with employees in the trenches. It’s a fantastic conduit to really grasp their take on one’s work agenda and what they truly think and feel about it – these are critical factors which are often overlooked or given inadequate priority yet have a major impact on the ease and success of any initiative that significantly affects people’s work.

Even if your work doesn’t entail introducing changes to your stakeholders’ responsibilities or job activities, it’s still absolutely crucial to appreciate others’ perspectives at work – especially when you consider that someone in a different position or job role from you could likely have a different point of view from yours.

A house with different rooms

In some senses, an organisation with different departments is a bit like a house with different rooms. Two people standing in different positions in the same room are unlikely to have exactly the same views due to their differing vantage points. Those differing viewpoints get even more varied if the two people are standing in different rooms.

Sometimes we can be so resolutely locked into our own viewpoints or blinkered by our self-importance that we lose the ability to recognise that there just might be other views; our way may not always be the best way nor the only way.

It’s an important issue that I’ve found myself highlighting many times with coaching and mentoring clients, employees in client organisations and delegates at my talks. And I’ve found that one of the simplest ways to illustrate the power of appreciating others’ perspectives is with the simple business card. If I hold a normal business card up to you and ask you what you see, you will probably describe it as “a business card” and, maybe, read out what the card says – the name, job title, company, and so on. But I, on the other side of the card, will see something different: a blank card on the reverse side. Yet we’d both be looking at the same card.

Of course, if we swap positions each of us will be able to see what the other had seen.

As I explain in Sweet Stakeholder Love, keeping your mind open to the possibility and discernment of “other views” when dealing with your stakeholders will help you recognise that you may only ever be noticing or considering “one side of the business card”, or one or two aspects of what is often a multifaceted work issue, task or situation.

The ability to acknowledge such possible alternative points of view that others may hold is one of the strands of emotional intelligence, a vital requirement for healthy intra- and inter-personal relationships. It’s an extremely powerful mechanism that’ll aid your personal effectiveness, particularly your ability to get a fix on your stakeholders first before pushing your own game plan.

Big stick vs sweet vibes

Ineffective managers and change agents often rely solely or excessively on the big stick to make stakeholders toe the line. But the more experienced alchemists of change know that the big-stick approach must always be a last resort; and that if you understand your stakeholders’ perspectives, drives and motivations, you’ll be much more able to shape your agenda to address their fears and their needs, and hence make your work more meaningful and relevant to them.

The change alchemists also know that building interpersonal chemistry with individual stakeholders always helps. Stop for a minute and think about one of your difficult stakeholders – what do you actually know about them as a person?

Building interpersonal chemistry means showing an interest in them and getting to know them a bit on a personal level – perhaps, how long they’ve been in their job, a little about their career history, a bit about their home lives, how many kids they have, their personal interests outside work, where they went on their last vacation, the name of their pet orangutan, and so on.

As long as your interest isn’t driven by a desire for titbits of gossip, or your attention doesn’t make you come across as a prying and intrusive busybody, you’ll find that people in general appreciate others showing an interest in them or making an effort to know them. It’s one of the verities of life, and somewhat part of being human. We all like to feel valued, treasured, acknowledged, esteemed or loved. We want to feel that we matter.

The need for attention and affection may be natural – we see it in so many places around us in nature. We see it in many animals where newborns instinctively seek out their mother’s presence, whether for warmth, protection, nourishment, comfort or reassurance. We see it in human infants who get unsettled or agitated when they temporarily lose maternal contact, but become less distressed or even tranquil when their mother returns. We see it in children in the garden or playground when they yell in delight, “Dad, Dad, look at me! Look what I can do!” We see it in our own adult behaviours at dinner parties and other events, where we gravitate towards people we know, almost on autopilot, or we warm to new faces who show an interest in us by smiling, talking or listening to us.

We humans are born with brains that are biologically hardwired to respond to positive strokes like care, kindness, interest or the warm acknowledgement of others. It’s in our groove. And we’re more likely to hold positive sentiments of people who evoke the sweet vibes that such positive strokes typically bring. It’s just the way we roll, part of the fabric of life, recognisable in your own orientation towards those work colleagues and stakeholders who show you some love.

Affinity and concurrence

When you’re genuinely solicitous about your individual stakeholders, or interested in their stories, and you make a little effort to get to know them, you’re like an alchemist propagating the chemistry of positive interpersonal connections – connections propagated through the ages, helping to keep humanity sane; connections which in your own work context can only benefit you and your cause.

It can be time-consuming, and just isn’t possible with every individual stakeholder in every situation. But it’s an endeavour worth its weight in gold.

You’ll be astonished how a little bit of effort to create connections at an individual or personal level can spawn enormous improvements in stakeholder engagement and alignment; because connecting with individual stakeholders on a personal level fosters affinity. It also enables you to tailor your engagement in order to create concurrence in individuals’ consciousness, especially the content, language and packaging of your communication.

Even basic things like learning to say “Hello”, “Thank you” or “Goodbye” in a foreign stakeholder’s local language can make all the difference to the chemistry of your interactions and how attuned they are to your agenda.

But using clever packaging for your communication isn’t just about what you say. As with your colleagues and stakeholders, your own non-verbal communication or body language – such as your facial expressions, posture, gesticulations, and so on – accounts for well over fifty percent of your communication. How you say it can be as important as, if not more important than, what you say.

When we speak, things like our tone of voice, our pace of speaking, the intonations in our speech and the volume of our voice convey more than we may be aware of, and may transmit what we don’t intend to communicate – as may our overall body language. Yet it can be far worse or better when we don’t speak at all.

Humans, not computers or light switches

Knowing when and how to speak and when and how to be silent is a key aspect of maintaining the right attitude when communicating with stakeholders.

Silence, at the right moments, even if just a brief pause, is a potent communication device that can sometimes achieve more than words. It also helps us listen better and retain more of what is being transmitted to us – whether the transmitter is a stakeholder at work, a loved one at home or the sage within us. So our chances of capturing and benefitting from every morsel of the communication to us increases significantly.

As the experienced change alchemists will attest, change management is a complex affair.

And it can often be complicated too.

More often than not, the complexity and complications are less to do with the technical elements of organisations – like processes, facilities, equipment or technology – and more to do with the people: the senior executives, colleagues and stakeholders who are the fundamental creators or destroyers of change success. It’s always worth remembering that they’re human. And humans are not like computers or light switches that one can simply turn on and turn off – we’re not wholly rational nor behave in reasonable ways; we’re complex beings, with attitudes and inclinations that can sometimes be idiosyncratic, induced by a blend of personal, psychological and environmental influences.

These factors shape and condition the dynamics in our everyday interactions with others.

Accomplished change managers recognise and draw on this, infusing it into their alchemy of success.

And so should you.

Leveraging the power of human-to-human dynamics in your stakeholder management efforts will always yield favourable outcomes for your change initiatives or routine work tasks, and for your personal brand.

Adapted excerpt from Sweet Stakeholder Love by Sigi Osagie © EPG Solutions Limited 2021. Image via

Published as “The Alchemists of Change Always Leverage Human-to-Human Dynamics” in Change Management Review, 20 May 2022 (Part 1) and 27 May 2022 (Part 2)