Dealing with difficult stakeholders and team members is a crucial aspect of achieving successful project outcomes. In this article, we will explore the importance of stakeholder and team member management and the challenges that can arise in dealing with difficult individuals. Here’s how to deal with difficult stakeholders and achieve project success.

Understanding Difficult Stakeholders

Stakeholders can be considered any individual or group who have an interest in the success or failure of any project and can influence the outcome of the project.

They could be managers, executives, investors, regulatory agencies, clients, etc.

A stakeholder becomes challenging to deal with when disputes become more common between them and other project team members or stakeholders. They give only negative reviews, project unrealistic expectations, communicate poorly, and non-supportive of project goals.

A statistic by Geneca discovered that project manager-stakeholder alignment is a big issue in project management, with only 23% of project leader-respondents saying that they’re in agreement with stakeholders when the project is done.

Impact of Difficult Stakeholders on Projects

Difficult Stakeholders can have negative impacts on a project; these impacts include:

  • if the project team is constantly dealing with conflicts, it can lead to low morale and decreased productivity.
  • if stakeholders are not aligned with specific components of the project plan, disagreements can result in delays and added costs.
  • A PMI study indicated that 35% of projects fail due to a lack of involvement from senior management.

Reasons some Stakeholders may be Difficult to Manage

Stakeholders can become difficult to manage due to a myriad of underlying reasons; we’ve outlined a few of those reasons.

  1. stakeholders may have different priorities and agendas, which can conflict with the goals of the project.
  2. there may be a lack of communication between the project team and the stakeholders, making it difficult to understand each other’s needs.
  3. – stakeholders may not trust the project team or the organization, which can lead to suspicion and conflict.
  4. some stakeholders may have more power or influence than others, which can override their sense of empathy given the Hubris Syndrome.
  5. some people are generally misunderstood or naturally difficult to deal with.


When faced with difficult stakeholders, implementing effective strategies can help navigate challenges and foster positive engagement and collaboration. We’ve outlined some effective strategies for dealing with difficult stakeholders to achieve project success.


Strategy #1 – Establish Effective Communication Channels and Maintain Contact Regularly

One of the key strategies for dealing with difficult stakeholders is to establish effective communication channels and maintain regular contact. Clear and open lines of communication are essential for building trust, managing expectations, and addressing any concerns or issues that may arise.

By establishing communication channels that are tailored to the stakeholders’ preferences, such as email, meetings, or project management software, you can ensure that information flows smoothly and efficiently. Regular contact allows you to stay informed about their needs, interests, and any changes in their expectations.

When communicating with difficult stakeholders, it is important to be proactive and responsive. Promptly address their inquiries, provide updates on project progress, and seek their input and feedback. This demonstrates your commitment to their involvement and shows that their opinions are valued.

Additionally, active listening plays a vital role in effective communication. Take the time to understand their perspectives, concerns, and motivations. Show empathy and validate their emotions to establish a positive rapport. This will help you deal with difficult stakeholders more effectively.

Strategy #2 – Identify And Address Underlying Concerns And Motivations

Another important strategy for dealing with difficult stakeholders is to identify and address their underlying concerns and motivations. Difficult stakeholders often exhibit challenging behaviour due to hidden issues or unmet needs that are not immediately apparent.

Taking the time to understand their concerns and motivations can help you develop targeted approaches to address their specific needs. Start by engaging in open and honest conversations to uncover any potential underlying issues that may be driving their difficult behaviour.

Once you have identified these concerns, it is crucial to address them directly. By addressing their underlying concerns, you can potentially turn them into more cooperative and supportive stakeholders.

It is also important to remember that difficult stakeholders may have different perspectives or priorities. Take the time to understand their point of view and find common ground. This can help build trust and foster a more collaborative relationship.

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Strategy #3 – Build Rapport and Trust Through Active Listening And Empathy

Building rapport and trust with difficult stakeholders is crucial for effective stakeholder management. One powerful strategy to achieve this is through active listening and empathy, as eluded to in strategy #1.

When engaging with difficult stakeholders, make a conscious effort to actively listen to their concerns, opinions, and feedback. Give them your undivided attention and show genuine interest in what they have to say. This demonstrates respect and validates their perspectives.

Additionally, practicing empathy is essential. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand their emotions and motivations. Show empathy by acknowledging their feelings and concerns and by responding with sensitivity and understanding.

By actively listening and showing empathy, you can create a safe and supportive environment for stakeholders to express themselves. This fosters trust and encourages open communication, paving the way for a more collaborative and positive working relationship, as revealed by a 2022 study.

Strategy #4 – Set Clear Expectations, Roles, And Responsibilities

Setting clear roles, responsibilities, and expectations is another important strategy for dealing with difficult stakeholders. By doing this, you can make sure that everyone is on the same page and understands what is expected of them.

Clearly define the project objectives, timelines, and desired outcomes. Communicate these expectations to all stakeholders involved, ensuring everyone understands their role and responsibilities. This clarity helps manage expectations and minimizes the chances of disagreements.

Regularly communicate progress updates, milestones, and any changes that may affect stakeholders. This keeps everyone informed and reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings.

By setting clear expectations, roles, and responsibilities, you create a framework for accountability and ensure that everyone is working towards a common goal. This strategy promotes transparency, minimizes conflicts, and fosters a more harmonious working relationship with difficult stakeholders.

Strategy #5 – Seek Alignment And Compromise Through Negotiation And Collaboration

When dealing with difficult stakeholders, negotiation and collaboration are powerful strategies to find common ground and achieve alignment.

Start by identifying shared goals and interests. Look for areas where both parties can benefit and emphasize the mutual benefits of working together. This helps create a foundation for productive discussions.


During negotiations, be open to compromise. Understand that not all demands can be met, but seek alternative solutions that address the concerns of both parties. Find win-win solutions that satisfy the needs of all stakeholders involved.

Collaboration is key in this strategy. Encourage open dialogue, active participation, and the exchange of ideas. Foster an inclusive environment where stakeholders feel valued and heard. This promotes a sense of ownership and encourages stakeholders to work together towards a common objective, helping you deal with difficult stakeholders more effectively.

Strategy #6 – Escalate Issues To Higher Authority If Necessary

In some cases, dealing with difficult stakeholders may require escalating the issues to a higher authority. This strategy helps address situations where resolution or collaboration seems unattainable.

Before escalating, make sure you have exhausted all other strategies and attempts to resolve the issues. Document the problems, attempted solutions, and any relevant evidence to support your case.

When escalating, communicate the concerns clearly and objectively to the higher authority. Provide a comprehensive overview of the situation, including the impact on the project and potential risks.

Escalation should be a last resort, used when all other options have been exhausted. It helps bring attention to persistent issues and ensures that appropriate actions are taken to mitigate them.

Remember, the goal is to achieve a resolution and maintain a productive working relationship. By escalating issues to a higher authority when necessary, you demonstrate your commitment to resolving conflicts and ensuring project success.


In conclusion, dealing with difficult stakeholders and team members is a critical aspect of project management. The strategies outlined in this article provide a framework for effectively managing and navigating the challenges that arise when working with challenging individuals, helping you deal with difficult stakeholders more effectively.

By implementing effective strategies such as establishing effective communication channels, identifying and addressing underlying concerns, building rapport and trust, setting clear expectations, seeking alignment and compromise, and escalating issues when necessary, project managers can navigate challenges and foster positive engagement and collaboration. These strategies promote a harmonious working relationship and contribute to project success.

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