Here is a distinction that might help you next time when doing stakeholder or issue management analysis.
Positions versus Interests
- What they say
- Where they stand
- How they feel
- Why they say it
- How they got there
- Why they care
It is important to make this distinction in decision- making and stakeholder prioritisation in an issue. NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) competency would come in handy here, so you could carefully analyse the language being used.
The Perceptual Position is another technique that I have found particularly useful. It comes from the brilliant book – NLP at Work by Sue Knight. NLP at Work is frequently described as one of the classics in NLP. It was the book that pioneered the application of NLP into business and made what had been previously a ‘dark art’ into an accessible practical concept that translated totally into the everyday world of influence, OD & Stakeholder Management.
She describes Perceptual positions are a way of appreciating situations from different standpoints.
Perceptual positions provide a balanced approach to thinking, not only about outcomes but about any other situation. In situations where you feel there is little or no understanding or progress, perceptual positions can provide a way of developing understanding and creating new choices.
This is a very powerful technique for finding congruent solutions especially during engagement periods.
There are many different ways of thinking about situations.
To begin with it is useful to consider the three primary positions.
The 1st Position is seeing, hearing and feeling the situation through your own eyes, ears and emotions. You think in terms of what is important to you, what you want to achieve. Your language contains words such as ‘I feel”, “I want”, ‘I hear”, “I see”. The ‘I’ refers to your own way of perceiving the situation. Essentially you are experiencing the situation as you in your own shoes.
The 2nd Position is like stepping into the shoes of the other person and experiencing the situation as if you are them. When you are really in the other person’s shoes and not just intellectualising about them, then what you (the other person) are doing and saying makes sense. No matter how bizarre someone’s behaviour may seem, in their shoes it is normal. It is the best choice they have. When you are really in 2nd position you use ‘I’ meaning the other person because for this moment you are them. The ‘walk a mile in another man’s moccasins’ position.
The 3rd Position is the ability to stand back from a situation and experience it as if you are a detached observer. In your mind, you are able to see and hear yourself and the other person as if you are a third person. It is rather like being a fly on the wall. You are unlikely to have emotions in this position.
Imbalanced positions occur when the above method is not followed and it is often followed by resistance to change and stalling.
Skilful Stakeholder Managers instinctively use all three positions as a way of taking a balanced approach to a situation.
Most course delegates say that it is someone who has an interest in you. But, that is only partially correct. Yes, they might be interested, but what are they going to do with that “interest”?
Many definitions exist with probably the one that says it best – A Stakeholder is an individual or group that can impact the organization or be impacted upon by the organization.
However, few people ever stop to define the word – stake.
Maslow said if the only thing you have is a hammer you tend to treat everything as a nail. This is why definitions to me is a vital tool in ensuring common understanding.
The word stake refers to a rational or emotional stake. Thus a stake can be financial/economic in nature(ownership), it could be an interest stake, a legal one, a moral stake, an emotional one or in the case of the media – a public interest stake i.e. the public has the right to know..
Understanding a stakeholder’s stake or positioning on an issue is vital. Just because an issue is financial in nature does not mean that it does not have emotional issues attached.
For instance when companies offer stakeholders like the community money to move away from an area where they want to mine or build a dam, they often find the resistance by the community – frustrating.
The reason – Land has memories attached to it. I was sitting on my lawn the other day, when in my mind’s eye I saw my 2 kids who are now both in their late 20’s running and playing on the lawn.
Then I realised why this lawn means so much to me. It’s the memories, the emotional connection that counts.
My advice. Think carefully about what stakes are involved in an issue. If you do not know and understand your stakeholders needs, wants, desires and expectations, you could err in making value judgements about their positioning.
Or to say it succinctly – Think twice who you are going to get into bed with.