How to manage difficult stakeholders

By Adam Blanch

Resolve problems with difficult business stakeholders and they can become some of your best assets.

Everyone in business is a stakeholder. That includes, staff, customers, suppliers, management, credit providers and even the cleaners. Difficult stakeholders that are resistant, demanding or just plain obstructive can be a major headache. Fortunately, there are ways to resolve these problems and, once resolved, difficult stakeholders can become some of your best assets.

Firstly, there are some questions you need to ask.

1. Why?

The first step in disarming a difficult stakeholder is finding out why they are being difficult. It's not usually just because they are a difficult person. They believe they actually have a reason, and to them it's a valid one, so you need to take it seriously. The best place to start is at home. Have we failed to communicate properly or understand what their expectations are, or have we not considered their needs in the matter? The next step is to simply ask them and be willing to listen. Even if you think you know what the problem is, they will need to tell you in their own words.

2. Who?

Who are they, as a person, and who do you need to be to deal with them? No matter how unreasonable their demand may seem, it is important to them, and your willingness to find out what it is and what you can do to meet it will make all the difference. The most difficult of stakeholders don't have the ability to see things from your perspective, so it becomes doubly important that you can appreciate their point of view.

3. What?

What needs to happen so that they will be satisfied? A couple of hours spent researching when the problem first arises can save hundreds of hours dealing with the fallout from letting it linger. It can also turn your 'problem' into your greatest ally.

4. When?

Some conflicts just can't be resolved and some needs can never be met. If you have truly done your best and still can't get through, you either need to call for professional mediation or walk away from the relationship before it drains your resources. The time to do that is when everything else has really failed - never before. Disgruntled former stakeholders can still cause problems. If you have to walk away, ensure you do it in a professional manner, expressing regret about the failure to resolve the issue and not leaving them with an easy target on which to focus their resentment.

The most important thing to remember is that using 'power' to make the other person comply will not solve the problem (but it may be what caused it). For stakeholder relationships to work, both parties must have their own 'power' and come to a genuine agreement.

Are you empowering your stakeholders with communication, consultation, negotiation and an open door?


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