How to deal with hostile and difficult stakeholders?

It is a well-known fact that one of the most crucial aspects of project management is stakeholder management. The success or failure of a project is massively dependent on its stakeholders. If there is one thing that project managers fear, it is resistance. Keeping stakeholders satisfied is a challenge in itself and this challenge becomes monumental if stakeholders prove to be difficult or hostile.

You can sign up for Training Creatively’s Stakeholder Engagement course to be able to identify and influence key groups and people. But, until you have mastered the course and gained a certificate, the following stakeholder management tips should help you when dealing with difficult stakeholders.

Identify your stakeholders and rank their influence

Each stakeholder is different. Some hold more influence than others; each potentially has different interests in your project. So, identifying the different categories of stakeholders will help you determine your best move to satisfy them or reduce their resistance.

Typically, you can separate stakeholders into the following categories:

  • Primary stakeholders – These people are directly affected by the project or work. They are the project beneficiaries. Customers and users usually fall into this category.
  • Secondary stakeholders – These people are indirectly affected and include teams supporting the project or impacted by the outcome of the project e.g. regulators, governmental agencies.
  • Key stakeholders – These people have a strong influence over the project and a vested interest in its success. Executives belong to this category of stakeholders.

Identify and deal with the influence of the stakeholders

It is never a good idea to declare war when dealing with stakeholders. Of course, there will be times when you do not agree with them, but such times should be very few. A good idea is to give in on the small stuff because some stakeholders are in a position of authority. It will not do you any good if you do not accept that hierarchical structure. By acknowledging their authority, you will be planting seeds of trust. In the future, the stakeholders might even pull back from their argumentative ways and give you space to branch out. Such stakeholders usually need to be convinced on the net benefits that will come from what you are doing and on how you are going about the work.

Do not take things personally

Stakeholders might criticise you for the way you’ve been handling the project. They might even pass remarks that might be hurtful. But, it is best to not take such things personally. Do not think that the stakeholder is personally attacking you. He/she might be genuinely frustrated with the features of the product or the direction that the project is progressing toward. In situations like this, you need to analyse why the stakeholder is behaving in such a way. Once you understand the reason, you may be in a better position to solve the problem. If you start to take every comment or criticism personally, you will be unable to see what lies beneath.

Listen to what the stakeholders have to say

It is not wise to close communication channels because you do not like what your stakeholders have to say. You need to put yourself in the shoes of your stakeholders and analyse where hostile stakeholders are coming from. Understand their goals and motivation. Find out if what they are saying align with the objectives of the project or they just want things to be done differently. Make an effort to find a common ground.

Meet them one-on-one

Schedule a one-on-one meeting with key hostile stakeholders individually. Meeting them without the prying eyes of other stakeholders is usually known to take the pressure off. Also, it leads to calmer and clearer conversations. You can take this opportunity to explore their preferred solutions and viewpoints. Ask open-ended questions and try to understand their feelings on how the project is progressing. Also, a one-on-one meeting prevents opinions from being negatively influenced by the opinions of other stakeholders.

Tailor your modes of communication

As we have already mentioned, all stakeholders are not the same. It is important to know your stakeholders since they will be influencing your business decisions. At the very beginning of the project, you should understand who they are, what information they need and when, and their preferred mode of communication. Some might prefer emails and texts whilst others might prefer phone calls or even face-to-face meetings. If you want to get more support from them, tailor your communication to fit their personalities and needs.

Do you need to boost your stakeholder management and engagement skills? Contact Training Creatively and enrol for our Stakeholder Engagement certification programme.

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