4 steps on how to communicate with stakeholders successfully

By Robert Half on 27 June 2015

Climbing the career ladder inevitably means having greater contact with stakeholders – but with an estimated one in five business projects failing due to poor communication skills, it is essential to get your message across effectively.

In today’s business world none of us operate in isolation – more so as we hit senior ranks. Professionals working in specialist areas like finance and IT face the additional challenge of communicating complex technical issues to a broad range of stakeholders, many of whom may not share the same specialist knowledge.

In fact, research undertaken as part of the Robert Half Salary Guide found business leaders across Asia consistently call for top candidates to match strong technical skills with excellent communication skills.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at four steps on how to communicate with stakeholders successfully and improve your communication skills overall.

Step 1: Identify your stakeholders

First and foremost it pays to invest time working out who your main stakeholders are. The list may be extensive including equity owners, lenders, suppliers, customers, and of course, senior executives. Depending on the nature of your business you may even be able to add government bodies or non-profit organisations to your list of stakeholders.

Once you know who the stakeholders are, consider how the information you are sharing works from their individual perspectives. Different stakeholders may have opposing priorities, and the projects you are working on may impact each stakeholder quite differently.

This matters because if you can link your message to each stakeholder’s strategic context you are better placed to communicate in a way that is relevant, personal and above all, effective. That also means you’re more likely to get stakeholders on-side, and you could even find they become your strongest advocate.

Step 2: Communicate in the right format at the right time

One of the biggest issues we all face in the modern business environment is an overload of communication. You may have experienced it yourself – a rush of emails first thing in the morning, or that late night phone call that intrudes on your personal time.

Part of the art of effective communication is knowing how – and when – your stakeholders prefer to receive communications. It’s a simple but often overlooked step. Taking the time to learn if your stakeholders prefer telephone calls or emails, and working out the best days to get in touch can help to ensure your message is viewed in a positive light.

Achieving this step is easy. Simply ask stakeholders what they would prefer. Some may opt for regular, scheduled meetings, others may prefer updates on a more informal, ad-hoc basis. Accommodating the preferences of stakeholders – as much as practical – demonstrates how much you value their input.

Step 3: Time is money…less is more

The more senior your stakeholders, the less time they will have to read emails and other forms of communication. This makes it essential to make your communications short, to the point and very reader-friendly. And only send out information relevant to each stakeholder.

Critically, avoid technical jargon when you know a stakeholder doesn’t share the same skillset as yourself. Communications peppered with specialist terms may make perfect sense to you but jargon will simply confuse and frustrate stakeholders with a different background.

If you need to provide detail, include a bullet point summary at the top of your message. And finally, be quite clear about whether a response is required from any or all of your stakeholders.

Step 4 – Be prepared to customise

Achieving all of the above calls for an investment of your time. Crafting individual, customised messages – rather than sending out a one-size-fits-all communication – involves more effort, and yes, potentially greater cost.

But chances are you will be rewarded with improved responses and greater engagement, and after all, this is the whole point of communicating. Moreover you can expect feedback that is based on each stakeholder’s careful consideration, and this can make a significant contribution to the success of your project.

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