Dealing with Difficult Project Stakeholders

Photo courtesy of Grumpy Cat 

Similar to my previous post on “Dealing with Difficult Vendors”, dealing with difficult project stakeholders has a common theme which is “patience”. Being in project management now for over ten years (has it been that long?!), I’ve had (and continue to have!) some interesting experiences as I’m sure you all have had as well. How do you maintain your composure during conversations and meetings with difficult project stakeholders? How do you manage the stress effectively so that it doesn’t boil over into your personal or family life? Here are a few tips that I’ve found helpful when dealing with these folks.

1) Read Crucial Conversations: Talking When the Stakes are High. This is a great book that is very good at outlining the steps needed when under heavy project stakeholder fire.

2) Breathe, Think and Listen. This is my own mantra that I like to use when difficult stakeholders are peppering me with insults or unkind comments. Breathe in slowly, think about what they’re saying and listen.

3) Take a walk around the building before you send that email! We’ve all gotten an email from a difficult stakeholder that is inflammatory or downright rude. Before sending your version of War and Peace to them, save it as a draft and go for a walk outside. If you can’t walk outside, take a break in the breakroom, talk to a friend at work or just find a quiet place. When you’re back at your desk, open the email and think about how your response to a petty email could hurt your credibility as a project manager or your project team.

4) Remember, the work day will end. You may be having one of your worst possible work days on record, but remember, the end of the day will come. Pretty soon you’ll be hitting the pavement like Fred Flintstone and heading out the door!

5) Don’t focus on the negative. This is very, very important. If you take the negativity from your morning meeting or conversation with a difficult stakeholder into your afternoon project team meeting with your developers, you’ll be cranky and will only focus on the negatives. Similarly, if you take the negativity home to your friends or family, you won’t enjoy the time you have with them as you’ll be focusing on your day. In the end, this doesn’t do anyone any favors.

6) Use logic. This is my favorite. I think of Spock on Star Trek when I use this technique. I think, “How would Spock react?” Typically, he would have no emotion. He would listen to their issues and speak rationally on the subjects. He’s unflappable, as you should be. Never let ’em see you sweat!

Hang in there and remember, we’ve all been there!


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