When managing Stakeholder Dialogues, never forget that the core of every cooperation process is made out of people and the way they interact. Seen like this, a Stakeholder Dialogue can only be as fruitful as are the relationships between the people that participate in them. In my eyes the most powerful and yet quite simple tool for raising the quality of relationships in a cooperation process is: Listening.
Why? Because the way people voice their ideas, concerns or doubts is often dependent on the way people listen. Picture this: You give a little presentation on an interesting idea you had. But instead of looking into attentive faces you see your co-workers looking out of the window, checking their smartphones or even writing emails. For you, that means a constant double attention. On the one hand you are tring to get your point across, but in addition to this you are thinking about why the others don´t listen. Is the idea not of interest to them? Are they not appreciating your input? Settings like these stiffle engagement and motivation – two major factors that contribute to good cooperation processes.
In a German fairy tale by Michael Ende (1973) the main character “Momo” has a real gift. She can listen in a way that makes people “bigger” and more proud of themselves as they were before.
Momo was able to listen in such a way that stupid people suddenly had wise insights. And this came not from her saying something or asking questions that provokes wise answers, no, she simply sat there and listened with deep attention and empathy. When she looked at someone with her big, dark eyes as she listened, that person felt all at once thoughts rise up from deep within, thoughts which even their owner had never suspected of being in there.
She could listen in a way that confused and wavering people suddenly knew precisely what they wanted. Or so that shy ones suddenly felt free and brave. Unhappy and depressed ones would suddenly become confident and joyful. And when someone thought that his life was all amiss and insignificant, that he himself was merely one among millions, totally unimportant and replaceable like a broken dish, when such a one went and told all this to little Momo, it happened that while he was still speaking he realized in some mysterious way clearly that he was mistaken: there was, in fact, no one quite like him among all other human beings; he was unique, and therefore in a special way important for the world. And all this came from the way Momo was able to listen.
Let´s be inspired by her! Next time someone presents a project to you or you are meeting someone over a coffee, keep this in mind and try giving that person your full attention. The ability to truly listen will help you a lot in keeping up engagement levels during all phases of your Stakeholder Dialogue.