Why on earth would you want to keep your stakeholder in the dark? Well, that is my starting position because of my belief that to maximise success, you should proactively pursue open and honest communication, even with those who oppose you.
This topic arose on a workshop a few weeks ago. The group were reviewing their experience of using my Stakeholder Influence Process (see Chapter 13 of Advocates & Enemies. When we analyse stakeholders, one of the dimensions under consideration is “agreement”. Between the positive and the negative there is what I call the grey zone, or rather those people whom you are unsure about ― you don’t quite know if they have bought into your idea or not. The general strategy is to work with those stakeholders to move them out of the grey zone; even if this is into the negative agreement space ― at least then you know what you have to deal with.
However, one delegate suggested that his strategy is often to keep some of his stakeholders in the dark ― not knowing what it is he is aiming to achieve. After the discussion I started to understand that this could indeed be a good strategy, yet it still needs careful consideration because of the serious impact this could have on you, your brand and the level of trust within your relationships.
Here are some of the reasons why you may want to keep a stakeholder in the dark…
- When you suspect that a powerful stakeholder would oppose you if they knew what you were trying to achieve. Beware, if they are really powerful and find out later, you could fare even worse!
- Other things need to slot into place before it is prudent to reveal your intentions. In politics, timing is a critically important skill to learn.
- There will be a strong and negative emotional reaction. But, when you achieve your outcome, there is still likely to be a strong and negative emotional reaction! Get used to dealing with strong reactions.
- You are not permitted to fully disclose for legal reasons (e.g. because of Non-Disclosure Agreements of Stock Market rules).
- It is not your job to communicate what you know. Sometimes the messages need to come from the right person for them to have the right impact.
- Your revelation could precipitate legal action on their part ― i.e. they may file a lawsuit against you, or one of your friends.
- You really don’t need their support. You haven’t got time to manage every person who has a stake in your success, so you have to leave some behind unmanaged.
Please don’t use this list as an excuse to be secretive. Instead, use it as a way of pressure testing your own decisions about secrecy. In my mind, being dishonest is unwise for long-term relationships (including lying by omission), however tempting it may be. If you hide things, somewhere along the line you may get challenged, so clear thinking will help. It will also help you to work with closer colleagues so they understand your rationale too ― otherwise there is a risk they may undermine your approach (tell tales!) or it could damage their trust in you because they can see you lying to someone else ― perhaps you lie to them too?
There are several chapters in Political Dilemmas at Work which talk directly to this topic, including Spin Doctor and Victoria’s Secrets, and probably more besides!
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