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I was enthralled by A Practical Guide to Dealing With Difficult Participants when I received it. I thought about the people I had worked with who were the most difficult.
In my first job as project manager, I was frightened by an ex-army captain. The anti-fraud project that we worked on was stopped by a laid-back security manager.
A program manager didn’t brief me prior to a meeting, and then he didn’t show up at all. This left me to chair a workshop about a topic I didn’t know much about.
These were all difficult but not as difficult as the case studies in Difficult Stakeholders. Maybe it’s because I haven’t worked in a professional service firm. Maybe it’s because I have chosen my employers, teams, and projects well.
Perhaps I inspire people to be their best selves so it’s not difficult for them (ha! It’s amazing that I just wrote this. It’s more likely that I was just lucky.
The authors of this book are three people who have had different experiences. I spoke to them recently about their advice for dealing with difficult employees at work.
Today, I interview Roger Joby, co-author and managing director of R&NR Consulting Ltd. He has a background as a consultant in pharma.
Hello, Roger. Roger, how are stakeholders for projects difficult? How does this behavior manifest on a project?
Hello, Elizabeth. There are many ways stakeholders can be difficult. These include outright hostility or a lack of motivation. A project manager would be able select his or her team and ensure that they are motivated and supportive. Sponsors would also be able to maintain a consistent and balanced perspective.
Roger Joby, coauthor of A Practical guide to Dealing With Difficult Participants. In my experience, reality is often far from this ideal. Many people on project teams would prefer to be in a different job or on a different project. Sponsors can be less understanding when faced with the unexpected.
You must not only motivate your team or placate your sponsor, but you also need to be aware and mindful of other stakeholders that could also ruin your day.
Are people aware that they are often being difficult? What is your top tip to help people recognize that they are being difficult?
It is true that there are many stakeholders involved in the project, even if they do not have the main function of being involved (e.g. Unintentionally obstructive members of the finance department can be a problem. This can usually be resolved by simply explaining the situation to the finance department and their impact on the project.
Yes, I have done that before. Is the sponsor the most important stakeholder in the organization?
Because they have the authority, the sponsor is usually your most important stakeholder. They are directly involved in the project, and can use their authority as a way to influence the project manager.
Hopefully for the best. What made you decide to write this book?
Although project management training focuses primarily on processes and tools, it is the people who have the greatest impact on project success.

That’s true. It’s true. The PMBOK Guide now includes a section on stakeholder management. I’ve written extensively about the topic.
One of the main goals of A Practical Guide for Dealing With Difficult Parties was to balance this by looking at how to interact with people.
Roger is co-author of A Practical Guide for Dealing With Difficult Participants. What do you hope project managers will take away from it?
I hope the book will serve as a reality-check. No matter how well-designed your tools and systems are, people will still need to be involved. They may have a different perspective on the value of your project.