By Margaret Meloni
Why would a stakeholder in your project refuse to speak with you? You are the project manager. You are the leader and facilitator of communication. How can you and your team achieve a successful project completion if key contributors withhold information intentionally?
First, ensure that there are no clearance or confidentiality issues. You are allowed to know what you need to know. This may sound crazy, but I have managed projects where a large part of the project was a black box for me. Although it was not ideal, there was a shortage in qualified project managers with security clearance. We moved on as best we could. The technical lead provided all the information he could and I tried my best to facilitate all aspects of the project that were not confidential.
Next, check yourself. Do not create stories that make your stakeholder difficult or uncommunicative. Is your stakeholder stressed out, overallocated and doesn’t see your project as a top priority? Is it possible that he/she won’t share project information or that he/she is not ready to share information? You can always ask. You can always ask.
If there is no confidentiality concern, this is not a priority issue. Your stakeholder is actively involved with the project and knows that you are project manager. It is possible that he or she withholds information for some reason. This is a shameful act. You might feel frustrated and think, “Who cares what?” You need to know why they are acting subversively ad uncooperative. Is it someone who is unable to give you the information? Is this someone who won’t give you the information?
How can you tell? Both reasons for withholding information may seem and feel similar at first. If you’re dealing with a stakeholder who doesn’t feel comfortable in their role or isn’t familiar with the subject matter, it is possible that he or she will be embarrassed or uncomfortable and try to avoid you. He or she might not know how to do the work or what to do. In either case, your stakeholder will not be able to give you the information that you need.
Talk to your stakeholder privately. Ask your stakeholder if they have any questions or concerns about the work. Let your stakeholder let you know that there’s a problem. If your stakeholder shares that they are facing challenges, then you can get help. If your stakeholder refuses to tell you, then move on and set a date for the information. Be clear about what information is required. Set up an appointment so that he or she can present to you. Don’t let this opportunity slip by. You will be able to assess the problem areas by reviewing the work of the other person. You can use this opportunity to determine why a particular part of the assignment is wrong or incomplete. Get your stakeholder help, training, mentoring, etc. So that they can complete the work.
It is not the same thing as not knowing what to do in order to support the project. While your stakeholder may be aware of what you need, they might not know how to do it. I had the pleasure of working with a woman who was intelligent, cooperative, and hardworking. She knew the system better than anyone. She was unable to give me the information I needed to continue the project.
I went through all the stages you are discussing. Although I initially thought she was uncooperative, it didn’t fit with her friendly interactions with me. She didn’t meet deadlines and was not willing to share in.
By Margaret Meloni