How to answer "How do you handle difficult or challenging stakeholders?" (with sample answers)

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This post is part of our series on behavioral interview questions.

Why Employers Ask This

Interviewers ask this question to job seekers because stakeholders are an essential part of any business or organization. Employers want their employees to be able to work with stakeholders to meet their needs and handle any challenges that may arise. Being able to handle difficult or challenging stakeholders can ultimately lead to better relationships, increased revenue, and the overall success of the organization. The interviewer is looking for the candidate’s ability to handle stressful situations and communicate well with others.

How to Answer the Question

First, think of a specific instance in which you dealt with a challenging stakeholder. Then, use the following steps to structure your answer:

  1. Describe the situation: Explain the specific situation, including who the stakeholder was, what the difficulty was, and how it was affecting the project or task.
  2. Explain your approach: Describe how you dealt with the stakeholder, including any communication methods you used and the steps you took to resolve the issue.
  3. Highlight the result: Finally, explain the outcome of your approach and how it benefited the project or task. This could include improved relationships, increased revenue, or a smoother workflow.

It's important to focus on your communication skills and problem-solving abilities. Be sure to provide a specific example that showcases your ability to handle difficult stakeholders. Additionally, it’s essential to focus on staying calm and professional in such situations. You can talk about your strategies for managing stress and dealing with challenging personalities.

Sample answers

One of the most common questions asked during job interviews for project management positions is about how you handle difficult or challenging stakeholders. It is a critical question that let the employer know how you tackle conflicts and challenges on a day-to-day basis. Here are four examples of how to answer this question:

  1. Bad answer:

    Well, I would just ignore them and focus on other stakeholders who are more cooperative, and if I have to deal with them, I would try to keep it short and simple.

    This is not an appropriate answer because as a project manager, it is your responsibility to deal with all stakeholders, even difficult or uncooperative ones. Ignoring them or trying to cut off contact is not an efficient or effective way of handling challenging stakeholders

  2. Good answer:

    First, I would try to understand their concerns and expectations, and then I will work with them to find a mutually beneficial solution. I would listen actively and empathetically, and try to find common ground. I would also communicate with them frequently to ensure they feel heard and understood.

    This is an excellent response because it acknowledges the importance of engaging with all stakeholders and demonstrates a good understanding of the importance of communication and listening skills. This answer shows that you are proactive about overcoming obstacles and finding solutions collaboratively to satisfy all parties.

  3. Bad answer:

    Oh, I don't like confrontation, so I would just do whatever they say and hope for the best.

    This is not an acceptable answer because as a project manager, it is crucial to stand your ground and not be a pushover. While it is essential to listen and find a middle ground, if a stakeholder's demands are unreasonable or unrealistic, you must be willing to have difficult conversations and provide alternative options.

  4. Good answer:

    It's essential to establish trust and respect with all stakeholders right from the start. I would engage in a dialogue with them to understand their interests and concerns and try to anticipate any potential challenges. If there are any conflicts or disputes, I would try to resolve them as soon as feasible and ensure everyone is on the same page. If things escalate, I would seek support from senior management or escalate to legal if necessary.

    This answer shows that you are both proactive and strategic in dealing with stakeholders, and willing to escalate the issue if needed. It is a balanced response that acknowledges both the importance of communication and collaboration and the need for contingency planning and escalation protocols when things get out of hand.

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