These are the stakeholders you are never quite sure about. They say one thing (usually they agree with you) and then do another. Their actions don’t quite back up their words. What you need to do is dig a little deeper into why they may be doing this, then you can decide on your best approach to engage with them.
Incidentally, Players rank behind Advocates and Critics in terms of general priorities for your time and effort. Enemies usually come last in your task list.
So, with one of your Players in mind, take a look at the different types of Player and see where they fit…
Game Player: These are the office politicians. They enjoy the game and seem to think it is okay to lie, deceive and manipulate others in order to get what they want. At the extreme, they delight in playing these games. Game Players tend to focus on small squabbles and deceits. The problem is that these slippery characters are very hard to engage with and need some quite assertive action to put them in their place and keep them away from your work, or at least knowing they can’t pull the wool over your eyes. If you have one of these on your hands, take a look at the section below on Managing the Politics or dip into the resources for some other great books that will help you deal with the Game Player.
Strategic Player: A more advanced and sophisticated version of the Game Player, Strategic Players have a bigger agenda they are working towards. It could be that they are carefully positioning themselves and their projects, and to be transparent about how your goal conflicts with them would be disadvantageous to them. Instead, they play their cards close to their chest, waiting for the right moment to play their trump card. Be careful with these, they have a plan and they probably have a stakeholder map too. Pay special attention to the earlier chapters on conflicting agendas and risk management. Work with your Advocates (and even your Enemies) to gain more political insight into what their plan might be – then decide how best to tackle them. A great question to ponder is what does their stakeholder map look like? A head-on forthright approach is unlikely to work with them because of their skill in martial arts – you’ll be on your back before you work out what’s happening! So match up to their sophistication and then work on the relationship.
Puppet Player: These are generally well meaning people who are genuinely in agreement, but are permitting other people to pull their strings. It could be that they have other people exerting powerful influence on them, so they genuinely mean that they agree, but for political reasons they are unable to deliver on that agreement. Their masters are able to control their actions. Trouble is, the poor quality of your relationship means that the truth is likely to be well hidden. With these, it is best to try to focus on building friendship within your relationship so they can gradually open up a little more.
Submissive Player: Not everyone likes or can handle conflict. Your impressive ability to assert your views can intimidate people if you are not careful, and some may find your approach insensitive. So rather than face up to you with their disagreement, they may want to avoid raising the issue because it appears to be the more palatable options. Long term we know that it’s best to get issues out on the table, but were talking about people here and logic is not as prominent as emotions in stakeholder engagement. If your stakeholder is this type of Player, go easy on them. Tone down your assertion and draw them out. Make them feel comfortable and, whatever you do, don’t immediately and loudly challenge their disagreement once they do build up the courage to say what’s on their mind. You could well be missing out on some valuable insights, so gently encourage them out of their shell.
With all types of Player, your focus should be on building the relationship. Whatever the reason, if they are not being honest and open with you – you’ll be left to guess, and I think that you’re probably the sort of person who prefers to be straightforward and deal with facts.