How to overcome frustration with difficult stakeholders
Business leaders today have a myriad of very different types of stakeholders to deal with.
The other day, I spoke with a client who is closely working with about 70 different stakeholders from very different groups: industry associations, government bodies, community groups, service providers, clients, team members, colleagues, bosses and investors.
The sheer number means that they have to be very strategic about building relationships. In practice, this hasn’t been always easy, as not every stakeholder is waiting to support their projects and goals. Contradicting priorities, lack of interest in their topic or minor forms of resistance make it sometimes a bit frustrating.
No matter who your stakeholder is and how many stakeholders you have, we’ve all been there, and we don’t always recognise that our frustration with “difficult” people limits our potential for influence and effective leadership.
What is frustration?
Frustration comes from challenges, resistances or blockages that prevent you from achieving your goals. It’s easy to feel exasperated when reality does not meet your expectations. It’s like there is a gap you cannot close, and you might fail to accept the current reality and start to suffer unnecessarily.
It is important to realise that frustration is an emotional state you can change – independently of whether your stakeholder is “difficult” or not.
Overcoming frustration starts with YOU
The ability to deal with frustration is known as frustration tolerance. Leaders with high frustration tolerance deal with challenges patiently, calmly and effectively. They persist with their goals, increasing their potential for success.
On the other hand, individuals with low frustration tolerance grow frustrated at seemingly small, unpleasant or mildly challenging situations. Their emotional response is often anger or annoyance, leading to aggressive behaviour. They are more likely to lash out, which can affect their relationships with stakeholders. Or they might be disappointed, lose self-confidence and withdraw. All these negative responses impact a leader’s ability to influence stakeholders effectively.
The good news is you can improve your frustration tolerance.
Low frustration tolerance can be caused by your mindset, attitudes, beliefs, or a mental or physical health condition. Thus, a good level of self-awareness will help you pinpoint what you need to improve.
The reality is that labelling other people as “difficult” says more about your mindset and worldview than it does about them. It’s a way of blaming others for your problems. By not taking 100 per cent responsibility for your own life and actions, you give your power away.
It’s time to take that power back and focus on yourself.
Remember, exercising better self-leadership means you will show up as the best version of yourself – especially when interacting with stakeholders.
So, how do we influence those “others”?
Fully understand your stakeholders
We all know it is impossible to change another person. You can’t simply tell them to be “easy” to work with. Command-and-control leadership doesn’t work if you want people to get results without burning out.
Trying to convince stakeholders to do something on a purely factual level often causes more resistance than buy-in. Effective influencers understand the psychology of behaviour change. In its simplest form, the factors that influence your stakeholders’ actions can be expressed by the following formula:
Trigger + motivation + capability = behaviour change
This is not always a fast process. You need time and patience.
When you invest more time in understanding your stakeholders’ personality, role and context, it is much easier to frame your message in a way that is meaningful to them. You will speak more of the same language, creating a win-win situation. And you remove the potential for friction and misunderstanding.
Decisions and actions are driven by emotions, not just facts. Thus, understanding how someone ticks – their triggers, motivation and capability – is invaluable for collaboration.
You’ll gain insight into why someone acts the way they do, which helps improve how you manage your expectations (and prevent frustration).
But for people to share their thoughts and emotions, they need to trust you. Psychological and physical safety is vital to honest conversation. Every person wants to feel safe, heard and respected. The leaders who create the conditions for this safe space are the ones who have greater influence and impact.
Awareness and acceptance dissipate frustration
Simply put, getting to know people better builds stronger relationships. Meaningful, trusting connections are the foundation of impactful co-creation. By taking a mindful approach to communication, you will move from feeling frustrated and insignificant to empowered and influential.
Effective collaboration based on a win-win philosophy ensures less friction and more flow.
So, if you’re feeling frustrated and stressed, try taking a more proactive approach to understanding not only others but also yourself. In doing so, you will create a platform where you can be more influential and achieve your goals – together with your stakeholders.
Ingrid Messner is the author of Naturally Successful: How Wise Leaders Manage their Energy, Influence Others and Create Positive Impact. She is also a mentor, coach, facilitator and speaker who supports leaders and teams to optimise their positive impact, performance and wellbeing.