Many of us know that our personal work style is an important factor in our workplace effectiveness. Yet we may not fully appreciate the far-reaching ways it manifests. Some of these can be inconspicuous, yet directly and massively help or hinder our ability to thrive and flourish in the workplace, and in our long-term careers.

How we portray ourselves and our approach to the key human dynamics at play are a big part of this, especially our relationships with stakeholders across the organisation.

Here are some insights and tips, taken from Sweet Stakeholder Love, that will help you find your groove and orchestrate success in this regard:

###

Rather than viewing stakeholder relationship management as an add-on to the job, something that detracts from your “real” job, or something that only needs attention when things are not smooth, it should be an integral part of your modus operandi. Whatever your job role is, devoting a proportion of your day or week to relationship-building will be one of the best investments you’ll make in your career growth.

***

Stakeholder management is a challenge for many of us. Challenges are often opportunities for growth – because they entail stretching yourself and learning something new. And what you learn from such challenges becomes a gift, an added bonus to your capabilities.

***

Politics, self-interests, hidden agendas and overinflated egos are often part of the executive terrain in many organisations. Learning to steer your way through all this, while nurturing interpersonal relationships and retaining focus on your work goals, is a vital requirement to manage senior-level stakeholders successfully. It’s a sensible investment in your work success.

***

When office politics is rife, dealing with the manoeuvres of some senior managers can feel like swimming through shark-infested waters. Understanding the behaviours of senior-level stakeholders – some of whom are the biggest and baddest sharks – makes it less taxing to manage relationships with them. If you’re clueless about a shark’s behaviour or habits, you’ll also be clueless about its next move; a chunk of your flesh could be in its jaws before you know it.

***

First impressions can have strong, lasting impacts on how stakeholders perceive you and relate to you. Effective stakeholder management entails shaping their perceptions of you, your work, your style and your value-add. Shifting negative first impressions can be difficult. So starting out with the impression you want to give is imperative, as is preserving a superb image. It’s part of cultivating your personal brand.

***

Flexibility is strength. Being able to fluidly adapt your style and approach helps you deal with a broader range of stakeholder circumstances and individual personalities; a bit like the flexible trees that are more able to withstand the storms because they can bend and sway with the wind.

***

Growing your likeability and trust capital with stakeholders are two things you should value deeply. Like two precious condiments that bring nourishment, good flavour and everything desirable to the essence of your relationships. If people like you, they’re more likely to develop positive notions of your personal brand, and they’re more likely to want to work with you harmoniously and productively. And if people trust you, that likelihood increases exponentially. Because trust is the unspoken bond that is foundational to all healthy relationships, a priceless asset that isn’t always easy to acquire yet is so easy to lose.

***

Avoid the tempting seeds of problems. E.g., when we gloat over stakeholders’ misfortunes, call them out publicly when it’s inappropriate or make them feel cornered, all we’re doing is causing umbrage and sowing fertile seeds of resentment, malice and enmity. Those seeds will sprout; when you least expect. They’ll catch you unawares with unwelcome consequences like the bite of a cornered animal.

***

When faced with harsh stakeholder difficulties, it’s easy to fall prey to feelings of vulnerability. But you’re never truly, completely powerless in such situations. Remind yourself of this; and that the human spirit in you has unparalleled strength and fortitude within it. You may need to look inside to tap this power.

***

Rather than driving yourself insane with the forlorn hope that a “difficult stakeholder” will change and become who, what or how you think they should be, it may be more effective to focus your energies on learning to accept them as they are, being assertive (assertiveness ≠ aggressiveness!) and nourishing the relationship as best you can.

***

The irksome foibles you see in others can act as a mirror or a beam of light to help you learn to face up to your “Shadow Self”, which provides an unparalleled depth of self-awareness and helps you manage yourself better. This self-management is priceless when dealing with troublesome stakeholders.

***

When grappling with stakeholder challenges, don’t rely exclusively or excessively on the rationality that goes hand in hand with your five senses. What you perceive inside – your sixth sense, intuition, gut instinct, your inner “silent knowledge” or call it what you will – can be indicating valuable truths that your rational faculties can’t detect or fathom.

***

Humour is a powerful weapon of the human soul, a bequest from the gods which we receive at birth. It’s one of the richest and freshest ingredients in the alchemy of healthy human interactions. Injecting appropriate doses of humour into your stakeholder relationships – whether to break the ice initially, to smoothen ruffled feathers or to keep the vibe sweet – is one of the easiest ways to get in your groove at work.

***

Managing expectations – yours and others’ – is an important element of workplace effectiveness and success. Failing to properly manage stakeholders’ expectations causes dissatisfaction, and can make people become unaccommodating, combative or intransigent. Whereas when you pay attention to their opinions and expectations, and ensure appropriate calibration of those expectations and yours to secure mutual alignment, you’re engendering a greater chance for smoother engagements and a higher likelihood of your work success.

***

The more information you share with a stakeholder about the work you’re doing, and the more relevant that information is, the more likely they are to gain deeper and more valuable insights into your agenda and how meaningful it is to their own activities. Making stakeholders feel that you and your work bring value and sweetness to their work life is a fabulous way to avoid or reduce organisational resistance.

***

When your stakeholder management efforts are not producing the results you want, clearly you must review your modus operandi to see what alterations you need to make. But sometimes your efforts need no adjustments and it’s simply a case of staying persistent. In such situations, it’s worth remembering that your stakeholders are really no different from the general population in a sense – they are people, not farm animals or pets in training; and people don’t always embrace change right away or welcome new ideas, perspectives or learning with open arms.

***

We can all learn a lot from the marketing efforts of successful consumer brands. They target significant efforts at developing a deep understanding of their markets and their customers, then exploit this insight to shape and sustain positive perceptions of their brands and create enduring customer loyalty. To earn the loyalty and commitment of our stakeholders, and maximise their faith in us, we too must develop similar deep organisational insights and create a strong brand positioning for ourselves and our work.

***

Always remember that every touchpoint you have with your stakeholders can tarnish or burnish your brand. Because everything you do and say, and what your stakeholders think, feel and say about you or your agenda, impacts your brand reputation. And remember, too, that your brand-building efforts must be backed up with meaningful results. Otherwise you create dissonance between your brand promise and the reality, causing stakeholder dissatisfaction and damaging your brand reputation.

###

If your stakeholder relationships are proving detrimental to your progress and success at work, the onus is on you to change the status quo. When you take responsibility for the status of your work life, you create a positive psychological shift – shifting from being a victim of the situation to becoming a shaper of the world you desire. Talk to anyone who has triumphed over great challenges to create lasting success in any realm of life and you’ll hear the same message: making an effort to take control of the situation greatly amplifies your chances of creating the outcomes you want.

Don’t doubt your ability to do this; trust yourself.

Lack of self-trust impairs the flourish of the human spirit. But no man-made challenge is greater than the fire of your spirit.

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