Outside the saloon bar, footsteps could be heard. Approaching slowly, spurs clattering on the boards as each step brought the intimidating presence of the stakeholder closer. The shadowy silhouette, complete with Stetson, paused briefly, the steaming sunlight concealing the set of his face, and the weapons he carried.
Violently swinging the doors open, taking a step inside the room, he boomed…
“So, we’re here to talk about the figures are we?”
Or at least, this is how it appeared to Aisha, a client of mine who had been dreading this particular showdown.
The problem was that this stakeholder was on the warpath, and had been gunning for Aisha for a few weeks. That all Aisha wanted to do was to help him seemed to matter little.
Luckily, we had a little time to talk it though a few hours before the meeting that helped her to prepare.
The key points of her approach included:
- Keep the bigger picture in mind and be ready to bring the focus back to it.
- Prepare points and arguments well, and make sure data is accurate.
- Focus on adding value and trying to find collaborative ways to reach agreement.
- Remain calm and measured, whatever happens.
- Maintain and adult to adult dialogue regardless of how the stakeholder behaves.
- Take someone else along for moral support.
And the result?
Well, Aisha didn’t win the argument, at least at that meeting. However, the stakeholder in fact made fool of himself because all he could throw was tantrums. Acting like a child for all to see. Yet Aisha did not exploit that. She remained measured, on course, and working towards the bigger picture.
Yes, she had a lot of rocks thrown at her, but the preparation paid off. In fact, she stood true to her purpose and at the end, quietly, received praise from her colleague and to her surprise, from two people “on the other side.” They revealed that this stakeholder had been in a bad mood for weeks and it had nothing really to do with the issue at hand.
Quite often this is the case. When we are in the firing line it is easy to think it is because we have done something wrong. Most of the time it is actually nothing personal and we just happen to be in the way between the stakeholder and their real adversary.
I asked Aisha what she had learned from the event. Here is what she said:
“It was a tough and stressful meeting, however I realized that I can hold my ground without losing my cool – a new thing! It also reminded me that you can’t engage someone who is determined not to. You have to state the facts based on the information you have and give them a chance to think about it.”
“I guess it also helped me to realize that because I am trying to change things, there is a high chance that it will make me unpopular. But it will be worth it, for generations to come. One thing for sure, handling this meeting well has boosted my confidence and also my determination to continue pushing for the change. I think I also gained the respect of the others at the meeting too, which bodes well for the future.”
The only way to get good at handling difficult stakeholders, is to practice handling difficult stakeholders. So, whenever you are up against it, your back is to the wall and someone is gunning for you, make the most of this golden opportunity to learn and develop your skills.
Colin Gautrey is becoming the most sought-after expert in power and influence by ambitious and talented professionals who are serious about accelerating their careers and their results. But, Colin is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
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Other articles by Colin:
Diagnosing Your Opposition
One of my favourite phrases relating to Stakeholder Management is, “if you don’t have any opposition, you aren’t trying hard enough” (refer to Chapter 7 of Influential Leadership). While I am not suggesting that you should go looking for opposition, if you are ambitious, it is important that your plans and ideas are strong enough to provoke disagreement, or at least vigorous debate.
When disagreement arrives, it is often veiled in a cloak of assumptions and faulty communications. So, it is important when deciding how to respond to pause for a moment to check out what could be going on. Even if you cannot figure out the root cause, going through the process will highlight the gaps in your information.
If someone is opposing you, it could be due to one or more of the following…
Engaging and Influencing Stakeholders
Stakeholders are important people who share an interest in your success. You need to engage with them at the right time so that you can influence them as easily as possible. Stakeholder influence doesn’t just happen; you have to make it happen.
By engaging with your stakeholders early, you stand a much better chance of being able to help them to understand what you want to achieve. Critically, you need to develop a clear appreciation for their stance in order that you can pitch your goals in the most favourable light.
Developing Tenacity when Facing Opposition
Everyone should have opposition. It is natural and to be encouraged. If you don’t have opposition, you are not trying hard enough, or you are deluded. Developing appropriate tenacity and displaying the right level of resolve may not win the day, but it should earn the respect of those you are attempting to influence.
The definition of tenacity, which seems most appropriate when it comes to influence in the workplace, is “persistence of purpose”. Tenacity is the ability to display commitment to what you believe in. You keep picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and quickly get going again having learned a little more.
At its best, tenacity…