Enterprise purchases involve several stakeholders. They may not all be decision makers, but all of the stakeholders are able to influence the decision makers. Sometimes, you’ll have all of the stakeholders bought in except one. And at the worst of times, that one stakeholder can be hostile.

Perhaps this unconvinced, hostile stakeholder perceives your product as threatening to them or their team. It’s difficult to determine the reason behind their hostility and best not to make any assumptions.  

There are many approaches to navigating a hostile stakeholder, but the foundation to any effective approach is the same: listening. You’re not going to gain the stakeholder’s support by out-arguing them or drowning them in information. It’s in your best interest to begin solving the problem by understanding their entire point of view.

Keep in mind that the stakeholder doesn’t trust you. Your job is to determine why they don’t trust you. Consider the four trust variables:

  • Credibility. Does the stakeholder believe that you know what you’re talking about?
  • Reliability. Does the stakeholder believe that you follow-through with your commitments?
  • Intimacy. Does the stakeholder believe that it’s safe to be vulnerable around you?
  • Self-orientation. Does the stakeholder believe that you care about their success, and not just your own?

If a stakeholder doesn’t trust you it’s because they perceive that you (or your company) fail at one—or more—of these variables.  

How do you identify which variable you need to strengthen? Start by listening. First, let the hostile stakeholder have the floor to air their complaints while you listen, nod, and take notes.

After they’ve aired their complaint, wait for an extended pause. There may be more and you don’t want to interrupt.

Once you’re sure they’re finished, first thank them for their willingness to share their point of view with you. Then, check your assumptions by repeating back a short (3-5 sentence) summary of 1.) how you perceive they’re feeling, 2.) the problem they see, and 3.) the impact of the problem.

You can  ask the stakeholder if your interpretation is accurate and offer them an opportunity to correct it. Assume that you’ll get part of it wrong, and make sure to repeat back their correction to confirm your understanding.

If you sense the stakeholder is less hostile at this point, you can begin to ask clarifying questions and—if appropriate—address some of their concerns. If they still seem hostile, even after explaining their point of view, just thank them again for sharing it.

When we encounter a hostile stakeholder, we often want to keep feeding them information to convince them to change their point of view. This can easily backfire since their hostility is an indicator that they don’t trust you.

Instead of offering counter-arguments, take a deep breath and start listening. You need to understand the stakeholder's point of view if you want to earn their trust.

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