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By Brad Addison and Adrian Ryan - CoFactor Managing Partners

We’ve all been there. Working on a crucial project or trying to reach an important outcome where someone is being really challenging or standing in the way. Without the buy-in and commitment of key stakeholders, your chance of successful outcomes are at great risk. 

We’ve talked before about the importance of regularly engaging people and groups, and communicating with them to find mutually beneficial outcomes to achieve your objectives. But what if you’re just not getting through?

How to handle difficult stakeholders

Despite your efforts to avoid disputes with difficult stakeholders, there will be times when issues will crop up. Often the issue or the stakeholder is too important to your company, its goals or the project you’re leading to ignore. Here’s four tips to help you resolve issues, regain support and buy-in, and get positive outcomes.

1. Determine the root cause 

What could be the driver of the difficult behavior? What's causing your stakeholders' sudden resistance? Attempt to clearly identify and address your stakeholder’s motivation. This is often best achieved by asking them a simple question: “can you help me understand your concerns?” Get them to be specific. And listen intently to understand their point of view. You might find a resolution is more forthcoming than it first seemed, helping you identify compromises, create a win-win solution, and achieve your objectives. If not:

2. Give them some ownership

People want to feel valued and in control. Satisfy this by inviting them to assist you to resolve the roadblock. Give them a sense of control and confidence that they can influence the outcome(s).  Mutually identifying solutions will help you establish their buy-in and commitment - “Can you help me design a solution that will work for both of us?”

3. Address issues swiftly

Ignoring difficult stakeholder behavior rarely resolves an impasse, with the most serious and genuine issues requiring your close attention. Try to find an appropriate resolution. Be respectful, remain fair and objective, and keep the issue or project objectives in focus. If resolving the concern will take more time, communicate the current status and next steps with the stakeholder. 

And if necessary, don’t be afraid to ask for help

3. Get support

Some projects are simply too important and some stakeholders too influential to accept a major disagreement or breakdown in the relationship. In these cases, consider seeking external support including stakeholder engagement specialists like CoFactor.

So what happens when you’ve diligently applied the above steps but haven’t gotten the stakeholder onboard?

When nothing else works

There may be times where despite all efforts to resolve a stakeholder’s issues, they simply won’t budge or work cohesively on a resolution. In situations like this, difficult decisions need to be made. Decisions that don’t meet their needs but are essential to your objectives. 

When you make decisions without an important stakeholder’s support, respectfully convey the reason for the decision. Some stakeholders, having had their chance to communicate their concerns, may begrudgingly accept your initial requests. If they don’t, be prepared with next steps to manage the potential fallout.

Interested to learn more?

CoFactor helps businesses identify and map their stakeholders to determine those most influential to the company's strategic priorities. We provide targeted, effective engagement plans for you and your team and help you work through difficult and challenging stakeholder situations.