Stakeholder Sympathy is Not Enough

There are words in the English language that we commonly misuse out of habit – sympathy being one of them. It sounds similar to empathy, so which word do we use and when? Knowing the difference between the two will make a difference when dealing with internal stakeholders. So, it’s important to use them appropriately!

According to a synonym study in the Random House Dictionary (2013), sympathy signifies “a general kinship with another’s feelings”, while empathy refers to “a vicarious participation in the emotions, ideas, or opinions of others, the ability to imagine oneself in the condition or predicament of another”.

Is it fair to assume that most procurement professionals experience sympathy for their stakeholders? Stakeholders have a strong desire to keep their current supplier instead of experiencing the frustration of a long sourcing process of a new supplier. But these realizations are not enough to put us in our stakeholder’s shoes or alter our approach in interacting with our leaders.

Empathizing with stakeholders requires “vicarious participation” in the challenges they face. Whenever possible, the best way to relate to your stakeholder’s situation is to be physically present with them, particularly while they handle the outcomes of a supplier transition. Work through these challenges and realize the decisions your stakeholders make impact many people. Use the tough situations as an opportunity to help out and learn how to prevent a similar issue in the future. Who knows – you might be in their shoes one day soon!

As long as a stakeholder is willing to collaborate, you can:

  • Help them explain the process and potential changes to their customers
  • Document problems for resolution with suppliers
  • Identify possible solutions and take an active role in helping implement change

Stakeholders will often experience frustration during a transition, but it is important to remind them of the goal and long term benefits of good supplier relationships.

Interested in learning more about managing supplier relationships? Check out our eSourcing Wiki series on Supplier Performance Management.

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