Duct tape was originally invented to tightly bind together two objects. This tape was made differently from the standard scotch tape or masking tape. Developed to be durable, stronger and more reliable. You just couldn't break this tape. Did you know as a Public Involvement facilitator you may need to use duct tape to accomplish your job?
I recently heard a local elected official share advice to aspiring candidates. She said, the most essential tool on the campaign trail was duct tape. She passionately made the point that your job as a candidate was to listen. She went on to say duct tape was needed to ensure you kept your mouth closed and your ears facing forward. I looked over my shoulder wondering if all eyes were on me. Was she talking to me?
I will admit I am a recovering extrovert. I say recovering because I understand the impact my extroverted nature can have on introverts nearby. I recognize extroverts just can't help themselves. So many ideas to share, so little time. Extroverts talk to think while introverts think to talk. Extroverts "throw up" words on unsuspecting introverts who may need a few minutes (or hours) to recover after an extrovert event. Therefore, it's no surprise introverts struggle to enter an extroverts monologue.
In the world of public involvement and stakeholder outreach, skilled public involvement facilitators must be both extroverts and introverts. In front of a room facilitating an open house, an extrovert's strength shines. However, in a one-on-one setting an extrovert must become an introvert and shut up! You may think that's just not possible but in fact, it's essential to building relationships. If you are a strong extrovert that just cannot help yourself, then you must take duct tape with you to stakeholder meetings to ensure you listen!
1) When you are talking, your stakeholder isn't. The purpose of meeting with a stakeholder is to hear their thoughts not espouse yours.
2) Exercise W.A.I.T. WA.I.T. stands for "Why Am I Talking?" If you can't come up with a compelling reason why you are talking, then stop!
3) Be present. Stakeholder meetings should never be a box you check off on your to-do list. Each stakeholder is different and unique. Therefore, your message should be unique to the stakeholder you are meeting with. Stakeholders can see through a "line," especially when it's not reflective of the comments they are making.
4) Follow up. I have said this before and will continue to emphasize the need to do what you say you are going to do. Stakeholders are suspect. They don't often believe you will follow up with them. Make them believers in the public process. Do what you say you will do.
Public involvement facilitators have the greatest job! They get to listen and connect with their community. To understand their neighbor's perspective and to translate that perspective back to a technical team that can affect design changes in order to balance the project goals with the public's needs. Take this job seriously and remember you may need to shut up in order to truly listen.
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