How to Deal with Toxic Stakeholders


How to Deal with Toxic Stakeholders


It’s a fact of life: there will always be people with whom you simply cannot see eye-to-eye. Whether it is a matter of differing opinions, communication styles, or blatant disrespect, there is a whole rainbow of conflict that can arise between colleagues in the workplace (remote or IRL).

Worse yet: toxicity isn’t exclusive to your peers. Sure, it’s a best practice to always be respectful to upper management, but if there are enough red flags around one of your stakeholders to warrant keeping your distance, keep your distance. 

You don’t need EVERYONE to vouch for you when there is an opportunity on the table — just the majority.

Here is how to move beyond, around, and above that guy. 

Assess The Weight of Their Stake

Assess The Weight of Their Stake

A quick recap of Career Advancement 101: you are never in the room when big decisions are made about your career (promotions, raises, leadership opportunities, etc.).

Meaning: the people who ARE in the room (aka, your stakeholders) better have a positive view of your work — or at least a familiarity with it — if you want a majority YES when your name is on the table.

This is why aligning with members of leadership at your org, and finding ways to increase your visibility as a resource to them, is so important. However, not everyone sitting at that “decision table” has an equal say.

If you are sweating over your skip level’s opinion of you, BUT you have his manager’s vote in the bag… you’re probably in the green as far as that vertical goes.

Even if it is the other way around (you connect with your skip but can’t jive with his manager, co-director, etc.), it’s likely you still have a decent shot at winning the room. Zoom out from the stakeholder-in-question and look at his colleagues to target whom you would feel more comfortable approaching.

Commit to the Majority Vote

Commit to the Majority Vote

If you can plant a seed of interest in enough of his peers’ minds, he might develop a positive opinion of your potential by proxy (without you ever needing to breach that line of comfortability).

Or, by shifting your focus to the bigger picture, you might accrue enough votes in your favor to outnumber him. News travels quickly around the office, and if you’re making waves in a positive way with multiple members of leadership, regard for your work is likely to permeate the C-suite.

Bottom line: don’t get hung up on the one bad egg. You don’t need to sacrifice your sense of safety, or even your pride, over one person’s opinion of you and your work. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone, yes, but don’t push so far that your efforts feel inauthentic to you.

In the case that said stakeholder crosses the boundaries you’ve laid for yourself, don’t be afraid to reach out to your manager or HR for support. You deserve to feel at ease at work, and titles don’t mean anything when your sense of safety is compromised.

Know When (and Why) the Odds May Be Stacked Against You

Know When (and Why) the Odds May Be Stacked Against You

Important to note: finding grace around one toxic stakeholder is the best case scenario (besides, of course, not needing this how-to at all). Maybe as you invest in aligning with members of leadership beyond your manager and your skip-level, you find yourself colliding more than connecting with the majority.

In the words of one of The Forem’s facilitators, Dr. Chela White-Ramsey, “sometimes it’s not a YOU problem… It’s an institutional or org-wide problem.”

It’s difficult to see the reality of a situation from afar. While you’ve likely interacted with people beyond your vertical at least superficially, this might be the first time you get a true sense of their character or values. You may have worked for one manager at the same org for years and are just now committing to increasing your visibility and moving up the ladder. Truth be told, you might not like what you find.

And that is okay.

Knowing you want to advance your career is Step 1. Knowing where and with whom you want to do so is (equally valuable) Step 2.

This is your official permission to position yourself at an org and with a team that aligns with your values, supports your progress, and offers work that fulfills you.

But: you’ll never know the nitty gritty of it until you start making higher-level connections. Read our Stakeholder 101 to start putting those wheels in motion.