Nearly every workplace has its share of challenging and difficult to manage stakeholders. The trick is to know how to approach and manage these people without letting them get the best of you. When you can do that, the entire team will also be better off!
A challenging stakeholder is anyone who is difficult to work with and who regularly or occasionally makes your life difficult. They can be hard to deal with because of their personality, but often it's because of their situation.
As a manager or leader, you may have difficult stakeholders by their position or how long they have been in it. For example, senior managers who have been with the organization for a long time may be set in their ways. Some customers may bring complex problems requiring more research and understanding time. For example, if your business deals with industry-specific regulations, there is another layer of complexity.
Difficult stakeholders are not necessarily difficult people. Instead, they're individuals with different interests, opinions, and expectations than you. However, difficult stakeholders can be valuable if properly managed—and the key is managing their expectations.
Get things running smoothly
Setting up a meeting with them is your first step. Make sure you have everything you need to prepare for the meeting. If possible, set expectations with the stakeholder beforehand. If they know what to expect, they are likely to be more cooperative when it comes time for action items that may require participation.
Be flexible and understand any limitations of yourself and them (they may not have much control over their schedule). For example, if there is a close big project deadline, they may not be able to attend meetings. If there is someone else you can work with, ask if that would be all right. That way, you can get what you need while keeping them in the loop.
The best way to manage expectations is by clearly communicating your expectations from the start. When you're setting up a project, everyone involved must understand what's expected of them and when they should complete their tasks. This will allow you to avoid surprises and escalations due to missing deadlines or poor performance.
Be very clear about deadlines. For example, if there is a deadline for a project, make sure that everyone involved knows about it. If an employee asks if they need to submit something on Friday by 5 p.m., always respond with "yes." That way, no one will think they had more time than they did because they hadn't been told otherwise beforehand.
Asking questions is a great way to learn more about the stakeholder and their point of view, and it can also help you get them on board with your plans. Only ask questions that are relevant to their interests, however!
Here are some examples of questions you might want to ask:
- "How can I best manage your expectations?"
- "What would have made this project easier for you?"
- "Can I help answer any questions or concerns you have about our process or timeline?"
For some additional questions, be sure to check out our past article, 5 Superior Stakeholder Questions for Project Leaders to Ask.
Avoid surprises and escalations
Avoid surprises and escalations. It would be best if you were clear about your expectations upfront so that there are no misunderstandings or disappointments down the line. If you're going to be working with someone on a project, make sure everyone agrees on what success looks like and when it will happen—and hold each other accountable if anything falls through the cracks! If you know something is coming in your area of responsibility, let your manager know before they hear about it from someone else (or worse yet, after).
There's no magic formula that will make difficult stakeholders easy. Instead, the best approach is to focus on your behavior and how you manage the relationship, rather than hoping they will change theirs. Do you have any additional tips for managing difficult stakeholders? If so, please let us know in the comments below.
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