4 Effective Tips to deal with Tough Stakeholders

Ann P
3 min read
11/11/21 12:00 AM

A smooth relationship or a process never catches anyone’s attention. In the same way, no one ever discusses an approachable or supportive stakeholder.

A stakeholder is an individual or a group who has an interest in the project or the enterprise.

All of us deal with stakeholders in all spheres of life, easy ones, tough ones, influential ones, and silent ones. But the tough ones consume most of the energy of a project, and one must arm themselves with well-thought-out strategies to deal with them.

It takes a team’s effort, great planning, and diligent execution to make the project a success, and it can take just one tough stakeholder to make it go off track and become a complete disaster.

As a business analyst/project manager/scrum master, one needs to use their leadership skills and influencing ability to balance between the stakeholder’s expectation and the project goals.

Why take stakeholders into confidence –

Stakeholders in a project are like members of a family. If there is a harmonious relationship in the family, there is peace at home.

Similarly, for a team to achieve its goals, it is essential to have a positive relationship with the stakeholders. A good understanding of the stakeholders and their needs can avoid delays, minimize risks, and deliver solutions as planned.

How to sense and identify potential tough stakeholders –

A few signs can help one detect a potential tough stakeholder:

  • Lack of proper communication – Don’t take/return calls, no response to emails, no feedback/review on acceptance criteria, no sign-off/review on the requirements documents
  • Silent stakeholders – Don’t participate in project meetings, share their feedback or requirements
  • Showing a lack of involvement or urgency
  • Sharing of negative comments on the proposed solution
  • Unfortunately, many times they are influential in the organization

Here are 4 tips on how to manage tough stakeholders:

1. Early identification and influencing

Watch out for the signs given above and identify them early in the project. Watch them closely to see their influence on the project and what motivates them.

A stakeholder is anyone who is impacted by your project and has an influence that can impact your project's success.

Ex – Sponsor of the project, Group heads (IT, HR, Admin, Legal, Travel, Training, Sales, Marketing), a key team member in the project/critical resource, senior Executives, government body, supplier, customer, local community, etc.

Classify them as per their interest and influence in the project in a 2X2 matrix, as shown above.

Spend more time and energy with the top 2 stakeholder categories in the matrix –

  • High-influence and low-interest Stakeholders are the most critical ones for you since they have high influence and are people of power in the organization. Seek their opinion on important decisions and show them the value your project will create for them. Understand their needs well and try to meet them.
  • High influence and high interest – Keep these people in close confidence since they are highly influential as well as have a high interest in your work and the project.

2. Be Patient and Listen to find out their needs

Be proactive in establishing a positive relationship with them. Go that extra mile to try to meet them and understand what they have to say.

Try to see their need and where they are coming from.

If there are minor differences, then try to find common ground.

If not, try to influence them on how the current project and its features are a priority, and the other needs can be taken up in further releases.

Try to win their confidence by-

  • Listening to them with a genuine intent of understanding
  • Treating them with respect despite differences in opinions
  • Providing them with opportunities to share their opinions and thoughts.

3. Meet and take them into confidence

Most people like it when they are given attention.

Make an effort to schedule a time to meet them.

Use that opportunity to better understand their viewpoint, preferred features, motivation for the same, and goal for their function.

Given the extra time and attention, most people turn their resentment to the neutral position.

4. Find out their interest and motivation

Try to find out the reason for the resistance of your stakeholder. The key to managing them is to understand their underlying motivation, the features they want, and what they are trying to achieve with those features.

Try to find out:

  • Their problem/need/goal for their dept
  • What motivates them?
  • What do they envision for their function?
  • What are they responsible for?
  • What additional responsibility do they have?

Keep your stakeholders engaged and in your sphere of influence

Listen to your stakeholders, talk to them formally and informally, keep them informed on the progress, and appreciate their valuable contributions.

Building a relationship requires extra effort and takes time, but it goes a long way in making your job easier and faster.

Projects and Initiatives are far more successful when the goals are aligned and in sync.

A great relationship with your stakeholders will reward you in many ways.

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