Everything Is Your Fault: Tough Love For Building Awesome Stakeholder Relationships

Everything Is Your Fault: Tough Love For Building Awesome Stakeholder Relationships

As project leaders, we’re pretty accustomed to everything being our fault. Sure, we plan meticulously, communicate furiously, and keep everything moving with a watchful eye. No matter how well we do these things, we will always have stakeholders from time to time that test our resilience with their temperaments.

Even when following the most rigorous practices, there will always be elements out of our control. I’m going to admit something horrible about myself: I love being right. While I try to mask this in my professional life, there has been many a time where my internal thoughts lead to the “told you so” song.

So what do you do when you have stakeholders expressing their dissatisfaction, even when we sincerely believe we did the right thing? Here’s one of the toughest lessons I had to learn as a project leader: Everything is your fault.

But I did everything right! My stakeholders don’t understand the complexity! I have a team member who’s not carrying their weight!

It’s a tough pill to swallow, I know. It’s really easy to become defensive, especially since we put a lot of brainpower and emotional energy into our projects. That’s normal. We are human after all.

So how do we move past defensiveness and on to solutions?

We diffuse the blame and accept the challenge of fixing the problem.

The CIO of a company I once worked for coached me a while back when he noticed I was getting stressed out on one of my projects. I found myself being chastised by a stakeholder because some project elements needed to be re-done and it was taking too long in their eyes. The reason we had to re-do certain portions of the project was because risks I had identified early on in the project went unheeded and this was well documented. As frustrating as the scenario was, I took the advice of diffusing blame and offering to help.

Your stakeholders have business needs and whether they chose you as the project manager or not, you are their delivery conduit to that need. Diffusing blame and sincerely trying to resolve a concern is not an admission of incompetence as I had previously thought. It is what a good leader does to maintain trust and respect with the people that we provide service to.

Think of it as verbal judo. Your stakeholders don’t really care so much who was at fault for something going awry and if it is their fault, they certainly don’t want that pointed out to them. All they care about is that you’re going to handle it and get things back on track. By diffusing blame and assuring attention to a solution, you’ll defuse a tense situation fast.

Counterintuitive and humbling as it may seem, this approach not only took the negative energy out of the air, but it also built enormous trust with my client. I continue to manage projects from this perspective and it has proven to be a win-win scenario for everyone every time.

About Tacit Knowledge

Tacit Knowledge develops, integrates, and supports enterprise software for household name brands and retailers. Together with our parent, Pitney Bowes, we offer solutions across all consumer touchpoints, from device to doorstep. We connect the entire ecosystem of our customers’ digital commerce business. We build and support the Ecommerce website and associated technologies through to providing fulfillment (Pick & Pack, Kitting) through to Delivery, Returns, and Post-purchase customer engagement tools.
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