How to deal with difficult situations involving stakeholders

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Christine Unterhitzenberger contributed this guest article.
Christine UnterhitzenbergerMost project managers will have experienced a situation where they have found a stakeholder to be really difficult. This can cause stress and it can be difficult for project managers to find solutions.
Recent research by Clara Cheung and her colleagues revealed that project managers are particularly stressed about their working relationships. We were therefore interested in finding out why this is so and how project managers can better manage these situations.
A comprehensive research study was conducted by me and my colleagues (which can be found right here). Here are some of the key findings.

There is no such thing “difficult stakeholder”
The structural environment is a source of difficult situations
The social environment
Stakeholder characteristics

The impact of difficult situations
Learn from difficult situations
How to deal with the impact of difficult situations on projectsProblem-focused strategies
Strategies for emotional coping

What is the best way to do it?
Project managers rate the health of their projects higher than their own.
To conclude…
Takeaways
About the author
Acknowledgement

There is no such thing “difficult stakeholder”
We found that there is no such thing a “difficult stakeholder”. Sometimes, stakeholders are simply labeled as being “difficult” and their status as a “difficult stakeholder” is accepted by project team.
We found that this is not often the case.
Instead, they create challenging situations for project managers. These situations include:
Governance issues (e.g. Lack of responsiveness, lack of working relationships and other governance issues (e.g.
A lack of technical expertise
Attitudes towards the project and members of the project team
Expectations and understanding (e.g. Lack of understanding of the project work
The working environment (e.g. Communication

More importantly, there is often a reason why these difficult situations occur. Project managers can identify and understand the source and determine how to best deal with them.
Quelles for challenging situations
We found that the project environment is a key factor in creating difficult situations for project managers. Project managers can take active steps to improve it.
The structural environment
The first is the structure environment. The organizational environment, i.e. the participants, the objectives, and governance, can create difficult situations.
Example: A stakeholder who is not included in the initial analysis but becomes involved too late can make them appear difficult. The requests they make or the way they try and become part of the project team could lead to their perception as difficult. They are not. The late involvement in the project creates a difficult situation that must be addressed.
The social environment
Second, the social environment can lead to difficult situations. The social environment is the network and interactions that project participants have with one another.
It’s about how inter-personal relationships are formed and how communication is tailored for different stakeholder groups.
Stakeholder characteristics
Stakeholder characteristics and personality traits may create difficult situations. This source is not directly related to the project environment, and the one that the project manager has the least influence.
Sometimes, there are clashes between people, their positions and importance as stakeholder. It is important to recognize this.
The impact of difficult situations
These are the most difficult situations

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