When you've had it with a stakeholder

While you oftentimes just have to live with whatever it is you don't like, some situations call for a more forceful reaction

Every so often I find myself at my wit's end with a project stakeholder and just want to give up and stop trying to help him. The frustration of these situations takes a toll. Even now, years later, I get upset thinking about one particular client. Chances are, if you've been in IT for any length of time, you know what I'm talking about.

But what should you do when you reach that point? Pitching a fit is rarely productive. Suppressing your outrage won't make things better either.

What about walking away? We usually don't think of this as a realistic option. It's more of a fantasy. "Take this project and shove it!" But sometimes you need to take a stand about the conditions under which you are willing to work -- and be read to hit the road if those conditions aren't met.

Walking out should be rare, though. What do you do when the situation doesn't reach that threshold?

Oftentimes, you just have to live with whatever it is you don't like. That may be the case in situations like these:

You just don't like the client. Personality clashes happen all the time, and you don't get to choose to work only with your favorite people.

She makes unreasonable demands or doesn't know what she wants. Stakeholders usually don't know that their requests are unreasonable. We need to help them see that and figure out what they really need.

The client is not appreciative. It would be nice if all clients explicitly recognized and appreciated all that IT does for them, but it's not required.

You have to handle other situations more forcefully. The common element in the following scenarios is that continuing to work under these conditions usually results in project failure and damages the morale and operations of your team.

The stakeholder demands that you do his job for him. Every so often, it's normal for a stakeholder to lose sight of an appropriate boundary, and a gentle reminder is all that's required. But some people belligerently and persistently insist that anything with a keyboard belongs to IT.

She's too disengaged. Assess what you really need from the stakeholder to make it possible for you to help; if she's unwilling or unable to provide it, back off until she can.

Multiple stakeholders can't agree. If they refuse to accept a common approach, let them work out the politics. Picking sides won't help you or the project.

The client exhibits toxic behavior. When a stakeholder is so toxic that his behavior destroys the morale and productivity of your whole team, you need to protect the team.

When you decide that you need to take a stand, be clear and calm with your sponsor. You need to:

* Be explicit about what you will and won't be able to do and why.

* Clarify the conditions under which you are able to continue working together.

While there's a chance that sparks will fly, you can comfortably stand your ground knowing that your demands are a thoughtful and mature response to the facts of a troubling situation rather than a personal attack. When you do, there's a good chance your stakeholder will be happy to work things out -- and if not, you know what you need to do.

Paul Glen, CEO of Leading Geeks, is devoted to clarifying the murky world of human emotion for people who gravitate toward concrete thinking. His newest book is 8 Steps to Restoring Client Trust: A Professionals Guide to Managing Client Conflict. You can contact him at info@leadinggeeks.com.

Read more about management in Computerworld's Management Topic Center.

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