Strategies to Deal With Angry Project Stakeholders

Passions can run high when it comes to project management. Project office members typically have a lot invested, from maintaining the support of a hard-to-please executive team to a desire to ensure the Project Team’s customer satisfaction remains high. Stakeholders may have different types of concerns—whether the project will really deliver the results they hope for, if their workflow will feel unanticipated impacts, etc.—but their commitment to the project and its achievables is often just as strong.

That passion on both sides of the table occasionally translates into anger. Unfortunately, making meaningful progress when there are angry parties involved can be incredibly difficult, even if that anger is justified. But rather than be hindered by an irate stakeholder, project teams can employ a handful of straightforward strategies to bring emotions into check and get everyone back on track.

Angry stakeholder

Acknowledge their anger. Venting is a common human impulse, but in the heat of the moment, stakeholders can sometimes be unaware of just how irate they’ve become (or at least how disruptive their emotional behavior is to the discussion). Simply letting the stakeholder know that you recognize they’re upset is a good strategy for several reasons. First, it tells them that their frustration has been noticed by others on the team and the causes can now be dealt with. In addition, this straightforward acknowledgement is a good trigger to prompt the stakeholder to pull back on their anger and return to a more even keel.

Reassure them that you care. Frustration can build to real anger when stakeholders feel their concerns are falling on deaf ears. For that reason, it’s often a good idea to state that you hear what they’re saying and you want to get to the bottom of what’s upsetting them. Displaying empathy doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with the stakeholder’s position, but whether their concerns revolve around delays, a perceived lack of information, the project management process itself, or something else, showing that you’re interested in resolving the issue is a good step toward making real progress.

Seek to understand. When tempers start to flare, it’s often helpful to step back and make sure everyone is working with accurate information. Look at any assumptions the team is using and take the time to confirm them. Ask questions. Compile details. It’s nearly impossible to negotiate sticking points or find common ground on project particulars if stakeholders and the team are using different sets of data to make their respective cases.

Call a halt to the conversation. Sometimes people just need an opportunity to step back from the discussion and get their emotions in check. Rhetoric, insults, and incendiary statements have no place in project discussions and should be a clear sign that any further talks are probably not going to be productive. If things are getting too heated to continue in a professional manner (either on the stakeholder’s side or within the project team), simply ask that the conversation be shelved until those involved are able to master their passion and channel it into making progress.

Follow up when everyone has regained their composure. You’ll only inflame the situation if you end a contentious meeting without setting a time to return to the discussion. Your team members and the project’s stakeholders are all professionals. While intense emotions arise from time to time, there should be no reason to fear you can’t all return to the table later in a calmer state of mind. Give everyone a brief respite to mentally process the situation and gain some introspection, and then bring the team back together to work things out.

Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.

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