For stakeholder engagement to work, you have to roll-up your sleeves and really get stuck into it, and that means being prepared to have some uncomfortable conversations.
Whether it's new working practices you're introducing that are going to affect 400 people working in your factory, or a new housing development you're proposing to build on the edge of a tranquil village, you're asking people to accept change.
And if there's one thing most of us feel naturally inclined to resist, it's change.
To effect change of any kind among large populations or constituencies, you need to be able to do four things:
1. Clearly articulate the need for and anticipated benefits of the change
2. Understand how people perceive the change, and what they fear about it, and show that you're taking those views and concerns into account
3. Explain people's role in the change and how they can influence it
4. Modify your approach in response to feedback
In order to be able to do any of this successfully, you're going to have to engage with people and actually talk to them.
Some of that will necessarily have to be more of a one-way transmission of information, but dialogue is key. You need to find a way of holding effective, two-way conversations with people that will be affected by your change.
However, some of the people you need to engage with will already have become upset with your plans and proposals as soon as they hear about them, some may even have become angry (not really understanding them or what they mean, and therefore fearing the worst).
You need to wade-in and talk to them nonetheless. Adopting a 'bunker mentality' for self-protection may feel comfortable, but will ultimately prove fatal to your relationship with the audiences that matter to you and therefore undermine your chances of success.
A failure to engage openly, even if that means accepting a bit of flak from time-to-time, will lead to a lack of trust and build resentment, when what you want to achieve is a sense of mutual understanding and respect because, from there, it's easier to build acceptance for the change your plans or proposals will introduce.