Conflict between stakeholders can be exceptionally difficult to manage, especially when they have a right to be involved in the conversation. When you are dealing with stakeholders, your first priority will be to evaluate the impact they can have on your operations and decision making, from there, you need to work out how best to manage conflict.
What Is A Stakeholder?
A stakeholder is someone who has an interest in your business, operation or organisation. They don’t have to have a financial interest; they just have to be affected or can affect decisions that your business and organisation makes. These impacts don’t necessarily have to be negative; they can be positive as well. Once you have understood which group of people are impacted by your business and operations you can now assess their positions. Stakeholders can be internal and external to a business, whilst it is uncommon to face internal stakeholder issues, they can occur.
Conduct A Stakeholder Analysis
Once you have understood and worked out who your stakeholders are, you need to understand their power and interest. Think of this as a box divided into 4 boxes. Across the X axis there is interest, this ranges from low interest to high interest. On the Y axis it ranges from low power to high power. Now put your stakeholders in the relevant quadrants. You’ll find that some have high power but low interest, and some may have low power but high interest, understanding where your stakeholders sit in the matrix is the key to managing conflict.
The Conflict Life Cycle
Like anything, conflict has a life cycle, in the early phases of conflict, if it is not addressed, you will see the situation rapidly escalate and remain at that high level until you have addressed the problem. However, if you have left it that late to deal with, it will take much more effort to abate the parties involved and reduce the conflict. Early intervention is the best way to limit the damage conflict can have on business and operations.
How To Manage High Interest Low Power External Stakeholder Conflict
If you have an external stakeholder that is angry and upset about actions of your business and you have analysed them to be of high interest and low power, you need to treat this group of people carefully. Whilst they may not exert the same power as other stakeholders, their vested interest in your operations could cause issues if you don’t respect their position. If an issue has arisen, you will need to open the lines of communication with this group straight away. You don’t want to be mediating this through other channels, all developments and decision need to come from the person in charge of managing the situation. Keep communication going and allow this party to speak so that you can listen to their concerns. One of the reasons that you want to manage this conflict straight from the off, is that failure to do so will increase the level of conflict later on in the project’s lifecycle. Through opening up the lines of communication at the earliest opportunity, you are allowing all parties to be transparent and understand why decision have been made that led to the conflict.
How To Manage High Interest High Power Stakeholder Conflict
If you are in the unfortunate position where you have a group of external stakeholders who not only have high power, but also have a high interest involved in a conflict, managing this situation can be difficult. A group of this level could be a supplier to your organisation. Again, lines of communication here are vital, it is best to open the dialogue as soon as possible in order to seek a resolution, but you must be prepared to compromise.
If you are in the situation where you have an external stakeholder who can exert extensive power over you, you need to find out what they are unhappy about what resolution they are seeking. Finding out these two answers can make the amelioration far easier than going in blind. Seek out a meeting at your earliest opportunity and get clearance from upper management as to how much you can bend and move to their will. This way, you will be going in with solutions rather than problems and by offering a compromise. The situation will be abated far quicker than if you go into the meeting with nothing to offer in return.
How To Manage High Power Low Interest Stakeholders
If through your analysis you have found high power low interest stakeholders, make sure that you work to keep them satisfied. These stakeholders can be internal and external to your organisation and as long as they are happy with your progress and are kept in the loop (if that is what they want) then you shouldn’t have any issues. High power and low interest are often the board of directors and as long as you remain honest about your business, operations and projects, that will be enough to keep them satisfied and not want to exert their power.
Managing stakeholders can be a difficult task, especially when there are so many to consider. Start by understanding who your stakeholders are and whether they are internal or external to your business. Once you have worked out who has the ability to impact or be impact by your operations, work out where they sit in the matrix. Once you have outlined their position, you can piece together a game plan should any conflict arise.
The key to managing conflict is to understand the life cycle that it has, the earlier you can open the lines of communication, the better the chances of a swift resolution and conflict abatement. It is worth keeping all of your stakeholders informed of the progress your business is making, through keeping communication open, you are being transparent and this can head off a lot of conflict before it even occurs.