Four Tips for Navigating Hard Conversations with Stakeholders

Change is hard for everyone, and Senior Planner Olivia Hough is an expert in navigating change for Springfield neighborhoods. She shares her tips on how to address a controversial change with stakeholders.

By Ren Bishop

Sep 2019

Olivia Hough Senior Planner for the City of Springfield, MO
Photo by Brandon AlmsSenior Planner Olivia Hough doesn't shy away from tough conversations. Purchase Photo

Tip 1: Amplify Stakeholders’ Voices

Hough worked hard to develop a multifaceted approach that would collect public input. “The goal was to be as inclusive as possible and make sure that everyone who wanted to provide input into the future of Galloway had an opportunity to do so,” she says. Creating an informative website with online surveys, having community leaders review engagement methods and hosting public meetings with a variety of methods for submitting feedback was key.

Tip 2: Give Naysayers a Task

Instead of hosting a public forum with an open microphone, give attendees a task to keep feedback focused, like responding to a list of questions in small groups and providing written comments. “A task helps make the meeting productive and keeps everyone engaged in articulating their thoughts and recording them.”

“It’s important to realize from the start that not everyone is going to be happy and even the end result may not please everyone, and that is OK.”
— Olivia Hough, Senior Planner for the City of Springfield

Tip 3: Always Keep Your Cool

Don’t add fuel to the fire, but stick to the facts. “Always be respectful of other people’s views and present a professional demeanor. It’s also important to present the facts and debunk myths that may be circulating that need correcting.” 

Tip 4: Develop A Thick Skin

Ultimately, acknowledge and accept that you’re going to have critics, and get your organization to accept it, too.