Whether you’re focused on stakeholder engagement risk management, meeting regulatory requirements, or working on developing positive stakeholder relationships, stakeholder trust is a vital part of it all. We’ve compiled this list to help you learn how to build stakeholder trust.
Seven Ways To Build Stakeholder Trust:
1. Research Your Stakeholders
Building stakeholder trust starts with researching your stakeholders so you have a strong foundation of information to work with to ensure your interactions with them are sincere. This is important because by coming to your engagement sessions having done research on them, you can show your stakeholders you've taken the time to learn about them, are invested in them and are willing to listen.
2. Seek To Understand Your Stakeholder’s History with Engagement
The more you seek to understand your stakeholders and their unique perspectives, the more you’ll be able to engage in ways that are more relevant and meaningful for everyone. You need to find out if they have an earlier history with your organization and if possible, find out if they have ever been involved in an engagement process like yours.
You Need To Understand When Trust Has Been Broken In The Past
You may identify places where trust has been broken in the past, either by your organization, a similar organization, or a similar process. You’ll want to understand those pain points affecting your stakeholders and be mindful that those negative past experiences will need to be accounted for and considered.
You’re Building Trust And Relationships On Behalf Of Your Organization
Remember, it is not just about building a relationship for the duration of this one project. You’re building trust for years to come, so you need to seek to understand your stakeholder’s history with your organization as it can impact your ability to build trusting relationships now and in the future.
3. Ask Questions To Learn What’s Important To Your Stakeholders
When researching and working to understand your stakeholder’s history with engagement, you’ll inevitably need to ask some questions. It’s worthwhile to start by asking your internal team(s) about your stakeholders if there’s a history, as this can provide some crucial insights into what your stakeholders might care about and how they may already feel about your organization.
Beyond asking your team(s), make sure to ask your stakeholders for information about what’s important to them. By asking your stakeholders for their perspectives instead of making assumptions, you’ll help show them that you care about what’s important to them, which will go a long way towards building trust.
4. Be Honest About What Your Stakeholders Can Expect From You
From the start, be honest and clear with your stakeholders about what they can expect from you and this entire process (and communicate with them if anything changes). Stakeholders don’t want to come into a process and expect that they have a say in whether a project moves forward or not, only to discover that the project has already been decided, and they don’t have a say.
Learn from the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation
In the Spectrum of Public Participation developed by the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), there are five levels of participation (i.e., inform, consult, involve, collaborate, and empower). To help build trust, you’ll want to make it clear from the start where your engagement with stakeholders lies on that spectrum. Don't tell somebody that they're going to be able to directly inform the "yes or no" decisions of a project if they're actually at the "inform-level" and not the "empower-level."
Remember, your stakeholders have taken the time to join the conversation and the process, so be respectful of their time by being honest about what they can expect and what you’ll do with the information and feedback they share with you.
5. Follow-Through On All Your Stakeholder Commitments And Promises
An important way to build trust is by following through on every commitment or promise you’ve made to your stakeholders. For example, if you’ve agreed to email a stakeholder once a month or to send them a document after a meeting, then make sure you follow through accordingly. In trusting relationships, it's not enough to just say you'll do something; your words and actions must be consistent.
Pro-tip for following through on stakeholder commitments: Following through on commitments doesn't just help build trust; it's also a crucial stakeholder engagement risk management tool. To make sure you never miss a commitment, you need to be aware of every promise made to your stakeholders and have the means for tracking the progress of them all. Stakeholder Relationship Management (SRM) software can help you stay on top of your stakeholder commitments.
6. Acknowledge And Communicate With Your Stakeholders When You Make A Mistake
How you communicate with your stakeholders during and after a mistake can affect your project’s level of risk and how much your stakeholders trust your organization moving forward. So, what do you do when you make a mistake? If you happen to forget about a commitment or if something goes wrong, be honest with your stakeholders and be ready to acknowledge the mistake and apologize if necessary. By owning up to any mistakes, you’re showing your commitment to your stakeholder relationships and showing your dedication to making things right.
Once your stakeholders see your willingness to do better and remedy your mistakes, they’ll likely see your commitment to honesty and transparency, which are key pillars to trusting relationships. Often, this honesty and transparency (that we don't always see from all organizations) can even strengthen trust over time and help mitigate any risks that arose with the mistake.
Don’t Try To Hide Mistakes
It’s important to acknowledge your mistakes and not play them off as “nothing” or blame them on someone else. Stakeholders will know if you’re trying to hide something from them, so you’re much better off being honest with them and explaining what has happened right away.
When You Communicate About A Mistake, Lead With The Facts
When you communicate with a stakeholder about a mistake, lead with the facts, and make sure to give them time, space, and opportunities to communicate how they’re feeling about the situation. While this isn’t always easy, keep communication channels open and navigate this with support from leadership in your organization so that everyone is working together in an aligned, factual, and honest manner.
7. Be Proactive Within Your Stakeholder Relationships
When we describe someone as being proactive, they’re often someone we can count on to “get things done.” Being proactive in stakeholder engagement means your stakeholders can count on you to take responsibility for what’s happening in your project(s) and to seek out the best possible solutions productively and honestly.
People will support what they help create and build, so your stakeholders mustn’t feel burned by your choices and actions. They'll need continuous honesty and transparency about what they can expect from you, the process, and the project to build trust. They’ll need a clear understanding of where their opportunities for influence are and an understanding that you'll communicate as things occur; that you'll stand by your word and will make things right if there are any missteps along the way.
Building Stakeholder Trust Takes Effort, Time, And Commitment
Everything we’ve shared here today will take a commitment on your end, but the trust you’ll earn in return is well worth the time and effort you’ll invest.
Next Steps: Beginner’s Guide To Stakeholder Engagement
For those new to stakeholder engagement and looking for more information, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Stakeholder Engagement. This 27-page eBook, helps you learn how to get organized, build better relationships, and move forward with purpose.