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7 tips to transform difficult stakeholders into project partners

Moira Alexander | July 2, 2015
Business projects almost always create change, which can also bring about significant disruption, stress and fear. That anxiety can translate into difficult project stakeholders – not to mention at-risk projects and unmet goals. Knowing how to turn these problematic partners into committed collaborators is essential skill all project managers should master. Here’s how.

These may be just a few of the stakeholder behaviors that can be encountered within various stages of the project lifecycle.

Types of stakeholder behaviors

  • The passive aggressive stakeholder may say they are in support of the project, yet object or create obstacles to derail or delay it at every opportunity. They may consistently and unnecessarily find issue with other stakeholder's input or contributions; creating additional unnecessary work all the while verbalizing their commitment to the project.
  • The antagonist or intimidator may initiate arguments with other stakeholders or subtly or overtly put down their contributions, creating an environment of animosity and mistrust among team members.
  • The saboteur can be just as devastating, if not more because the damage is done behind the scenes and it's harder to isolate and resolve. Stakeholders can be quietly manipulated long before the effects are noticed and identified.
  • The victim of circumstance may look to blame others for work not completed or missed deadlines and unsuccessful outcomes. It is important to note, that there may be times where missed outcomes can be due to the fault of others, but it's important to know when this is really the case.

You may have encountered other non-productive behaviors -- or even been guilty of some of these yourself at one time or another. It's important to note that stakeholders often bring valuable knowledge and experience to the table. Some opposition can be a great thing, if the purpose is to offer up different perspectives, present alternatives and mitigate risks for the good of the project. The difficult part is being able to determine the stakeholder's true intent.

5. Determine the root cause

Identify stakeholder motivations for the difficult behavior. It's also important to identify the root cause of the issue, discuss it with the stakeholder directly and gain their feedback. Sometimes the cause may be something that impacts only one stakeholder, or it may impact other stakeholders.

Work on a resolution with the stakeholder that does not negatively impact others or impede the success of the project. It is important to note, there will not always be a solution that meets with the approval of a difficult stakeholder, and during those situations it's critical to respectfully convey the reason for another decision in order to enlist their continued support and commitment to the overall business objectives.

6. Deal with it now, be direct

Ignoring difficult stakeholder behavior is not a strategy that will work; this is not the time to be indirect either. The behavior may be a sign of bigger underlying issues may have existed from the beginning and may snowball later. Take the time to immediately and directly determine the cause with the stakeholder, find an appropriate resolution and move ahead. Remain fair, respectful, objective, and professional, and remember to keep the project objectives within focus.


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