How to Deal with an Irrational Stakeholder

How to Deal with an Irrational Stakeholder

The post this week will show you a method I have used to turn an irrational stakeholder into a trusted partner.

Your Overloaded, But They Always Want More

As a technology leader, you are inundated with requests for you and your team to pick up additional work on top of what’s currently prioritised.

Your team is overloaded, and you feel any more work is just going to break you all.

A stakeholder calls and asks to discuss some additional work with you. Deep down you are already feeling defensive and protective.

How the hell are you going to fit in anything else in?

The Face Off

You meet with the stakeholder and the discussion gets to a place where the stakeholder is being completely irrational. Your adrenaline is pumping, and you want to tell the stakeholder to do one, but that will get you fired, so you incorrectly think about all the ways you can fit this in.

Does this sound familiar?

A technique that works well in this situation is one of my favourite habits from the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective people by Stephen Covey.

Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood

Seek to Understand

Stakeholders don’t usually want to behave irrationally. This is usually a sign that something is missing from their understanding.

Take a deep breath and take the passion out of the conversation by changing your mindset to being curious and ask open questions in a calm and friendly tone. Try and understand from the stakeholder’s point of view –

  • What they feel needs to be done on the system and why they feel it will only take so long?
  • When it needs to be done by and the cost to the organisation of delaying it?
  • What the value of the work is to the organisation as whole?

Now be Understood

Now you understand the full picture and where the misunderstanding is between you both, you can then look to close this out.

A stakeholder once said to me. Nick why in the hell is it going to take that long, surely you just need to add three fields to the screen. After I drew him a diagram of the internal and external interconnected systems that needed to change as a consequence, he became more understanding of the complexity of the change and the number of teams that needed to be involved.


Now you have a common understanding, things should be calmer. Now is a great time to see what the options are to help the stakeholder.

You are the expert in your area. What other options can you think of?

  1. Is there a manual process that would work?
  2. Can the system be used in a different way?
  3. Can you reduce the scope of the work and achieve the same goal?

If there are no other options that are satisfactory, then offer to facilitate a discussion with all your stakeholders to discuss how we take this forward.

Stakeholder Meeting

When you facilitate the stakeholder meeting, I have found it useful to prepare a set of options with the help of the experts from my team. I will always outline which one is preferred by technology and show the relative impact of each option on the organisation.

Usually, the preferred option is chosen due to the fact that technology are usually the only ones who can see the whole picture.

Future Proof

Meet with this once irrational stakeholder each month going forward and give them a complete current and future picture of the work you are doing. Educate them on your system, your vision for the future and how their input is valuable to this.  Turn the once irrational stakeholder into a trusted partner in your journey.

Wrap Up

I have had some very difficult conversations with some very irrational stakeholders and found that this approach works most of the time.

But sometimes you may need to walk away and come back later when emotions are less high.

Tell me about your experiences of irrational stakeholders.