3 Ways To Effectively Manage Difficult Stakeholders
It was good to get away as I could focus on my work without the 'new baby' distractions. And I'd left my wife with everything she needed, so we both weren’t worried.
Now I was left wondering whether I need to book a flight back home (Because who's looking after my daughter if my wife's been admitted?). But this was also the day where I was most needed on the project. And it was too early in the morning to call my boss.
So now it was a toss up, because with a lack of communication from my wife, I couldn’t make a decision. I was blindsided.
When we’re on projects, we are sometimes blindsided by our stakeholders because they aren’t communicating. One reason can be because they are resistant to the project for various reasons. When this happens, we are a bit stuck and unsure how to proceed.
In this article we’ll explore 3 ideas for how to deal with stakeholder resistance so that you can get the engagement back that you really need:
- Step 1 - Build a trusting relationship
- Step 2 - Understand their world
- Step 3 - Create management support
Building a Trust-based Relationship
All relationships are built on trust. And the reason that you’ve got a non-communicative, resistant stakeholder is that they don’t trust you.
This is what it’s like when you’re working on projects, and so to mitigate this perception of threat, you can befriend them. When I have to do this, I find that finding a non-work subject you can both relate to really helps. It could be fishing, football, knitting. It helps break down barriers when done genuinely.
Understanding Their World
- It allows them to show their own personal pride in what they do, and share their achievements. It’s kind of ego stroking, and this dissolves barriers of defensiveness
- It creates an opening for you to ask questions about what they dislike in their area - in relationship to the project you’re on. And this creates an opportunity to start becoming a (non greasy) sales person where you can tell them how your project will solve their problems.
This is a highly empathic approach, and it works because it breaks down their barriers and gets them to meet you half way.
Create Management Support
Obviously this can be sensitive because it can undo all that good trust building you’ve put time into, so it needs to be done with sensitivity.
But The Stakeholder Simply Won’t Change
- Escalate this to your own project and to the stakeholders manager and explain the level of input you need and the risk to the project
- Let go, and leave it with them to deal with the fallout - because at this stage it’s beyond your control
Example Of A Manager Who Was My Worst Nightmare
Problem solved. I felt really empowered by my project management.
Make Sure You Don’t Escalate Too Early
I also notice they have a fear or reluctance to be personal with people, and that tends to burn bridges. Part of this whole experience is about learning to open up, to become more ‘human’.
And even from a professional level it’s vital, because it creates mutual respect, a friend for life, and a very healthy business network.
Let’s Do A Quick Summary
- Building a more personal relationship with difficult stakeholders can help break barriers
- To do this you need to find common interests which create an ‘emotional bond’
- The next thing is to understand their work, and allow them to express what they’re proud of
- This gives you ‘permission’ to start asking them about problems in their work which you can connect with the project
- It’s important to escalate stakeholder resistance when you realise your influence has run out
- But make sure you don’t do it too early before you’ve given the relationship a chance
- It’s not possible to convert every resistant stakeholder to get them on your side, and so knowing where to draw the line and hand the problem over to your project will relieve you of the stress
- Once you do escalate you’ll find that if it’s important, pretty soon it’ll get resolved and it will unblock your work
- Sometimes Business Analysts resist being personal with difficult stakeholders, and resolve that ‘we just need to get the job done’ - which can cause them to become political and then burns bridges
- Business Analysis is about building personal relationships, and this approach can grant unforeseen boons like increased respect, friendship, and a network of future opportunities
Can You Spot Someone Who’s Difficult?
Of course, they’ll also be reminded to deal with your email.
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James Compton is the Director of Professional Development for the IIBA. He is a Business Analyst Consultant and Trainer with over 20 years experience, and is on a mission to raise the profile of Business Analysts as highly valued members of any good project team.