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Managing difficult stakeholders – helping you develop better relationships

I’ve worked for over 20 years in small and large organisations. I’ve worked with a variety of stakeholders, from the most senior to those who were contracting or consulting in the firms, as well as front line customers and clients. I know what it’s like to work with difficult stakeholders, especially those that you have to work closely with and those who you have to rely on to help you deliver your objectives.

Stakeholder engagement is one of the most sought after skills in all organisations, work is all about people and when you can build relationships, with even the most difficult of people, you’re more likely to excel in your professional life. In my coaching sessions and workshops with clients, we go through a range of tools and techniques to help them, here’s a few that might help you:


Understand their motivation

No matter how much we’d all like to think we don’t have any self interest, we all do. So when you’re interacting with a key stakeholder, ask yourself “what’s in it for them?”  How do you create a win/win for the both of you from that interaction?  Why would they prioritise what you want over others or themselves? 


Take an interest in them as a person

Building relationships is about knowing someone as a person, a human being. Be curious about them, what are their interests, what do they do in their spare time, do they have a family? It shapes the stakeholder into a person and not a title. People like people. Think of the stakeholders you’ve interacted well with before, what do they all have in common? How have you developed those relationships? 


Be objective

Take the emotion out of the situation, focus on the task at hand, what are you both trying to achieve and build this into the conversation. However much we want to leave our personal lives at home and be our “work self”, that’s not realistic, so don’t take a bad interaction with your stakeholder as personal or label them as that behaviour.  Someone may be difficult for a moment, but that doesn’t make them an “difficult person”.  Take each interaction one at a time and walk into the next situation with a blank canvas on your thoughts and feelings about the stakeholder. If your internal thoughts are already geared up for a negative outcome, that’s what it will be.


Tune into your listening skills

Consider what your stakeholder is saying, be open minded, are you really hearing what they’re saying or are you hearing what you want to hear. Replay back what you’ve heard, your understanding of their point of view, so you know you’re both on the same page. Agree next steps, actions and timelines, so you both have a good understanding of your roles and responsibilities.


Pause and stay calm

It can be so easy to get frustrated and angry when you’re faced with a difficult stakeholder, but there are ways for you to turn those situations around. Firstly, pause, take a breath, and stay calm. There can be a lot of things said in the heat of the moment. It’s best to “respond” and not “react”. Consider the situation you’re in, does your stakeholder look busy, stressed, distracted? Is this interaction needed now or would it be best to revisit it at another time? Is the location right? Have you caught them in a middle of a corridor or about to rush out? Is there a better place? Do you have your stakeholder in the right frame of mind in the right environment? Now ask these questions of yourself.  Are you in the right frame of mind? Are you rushing, stressed or busy?  If you pause and take a breath, it helps you bring down your levels of frustration, you’ll be able to think clearer about what’s the best way to handle the situation.  Maybe it’s a “I’ll come back and speak to you later” or “I’ll set up a meeting for us tomorrow”.  However you handle the situation, at least you didn’t just react in anger or frustration, which would make your working relationship with the stakeholder even more volatile.

Finally, you can’t dismiss difficult stakeholders, you have to find a way to work with (or around) them.  Don’t burn your bridges, as that will have a detrimental impact on your future career success.  You never know who you’ll meet again or where they’ll be.

If you’ve found these hits and tips helpful and if you or your company would benefit from learning more about managing stakeholders, I run group workshops or 121 sessions to help improve employee emotional and mental wellbeing.  Book a FREE discovery call via my website to discuss your company’s needs.

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