Earlier this year I was running a Stakeholder Engagement Workshop in the Netherlands. Towards the end of the workshop, I began to reference one of the most popular, but contentious sections in my book Practical People Engagement about ‘Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders.’ One of the delegates suggested that if I label someone as ‘difficult’ immediately that label creates a barrier between me and them.
He is, of course, quite right. It is not positioning me to call out the gold in that person if I have already written them off as ‘difficult’ as part of their essential identity. It adds yet another barrier between us.
It would be more helpful and more accurate to regard the relationship as difficult, and so to work on the relationship. In fact, the strategy I set out in the book does recognise that. Ultimately, good negotiation in difficult contexts is about shortening the social distance between us and them. We aim to look at the problem that creates the difficulty from the perspective of being shoulder-to-shoulder with that person. If we can look at the issue together it paves the way to a probable agreement.
In a previous post, I wrote about calling out the gold in people. How exactly is perceiving someone as ‘difficult’ helping me to do that?
Well, it isn’t. By labelling people ‘difficult’, I may have created an eye-catching headline, but it is not necessarily honouring their true identity and so creates an unseen barrier for me in moving towards them.
So, thank you to my client. (You know who you are.)
If you would like a more detailed version of a checklist I have developed, please click the link below and I will be glad to send it to you.
Perhaps many of our stakeholder challenges are of our own making, more than we would like to think.
Note About Dealing with Difficult Relationships
What has worked for you in resolving difficult relationships? Leave your tips below in the comments section.