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Quick trick to get stakeholders in your corner

A version of this post originally appeared on enterprisersproject.com. You can read the original here.

Who knows. Maybe all of your projects will go smoothly. No sacrifices will have to be made. You won’t have to share any bad news with your project sponsor, and you won’t need their help.

But probably not.

As our last post argued, a great deal of a project manager’s success comes down to how they handle bad news. Will they confront the news early? Does the organization have a culture of receiving bad news well or do they shoot the messenger? Will the stakeholders be receptive to changes?

For all of these questions, it helps to have someone who has your back. Leaders who build rapport with executives before things go awry are far more likely to confront issues early and get minimal resistance when they do so.

When I run training sessions with project managers, I always ask them “How long does it take to build rapport?” Do you measure it in minutes, days, years? Most people are surprised by the answer: seconds.

“Rapport” comes from the French term for “refer back to,” and literally means seeing yourself in others. The quickest way to build rapport in a professional setting is to confide the vulnerabilities you both share while being confident in the strengths you bring for each other.

Oftentimes, your best bet for meeting a project sponsor is at the kickoff. This opportunity should not be squandered! An executive’s time is often limited and they won’t always be there for the whole event. So you should explicitly put in the agenda a placeholder to pull the stakeholder aside before they have to leave.

When the time comes that they have to leave, tell everyone “Excuse me, but we’ve reached that part of the agenda where I need to have a quick one-on-one with {the sponsor}.”

In this conversation, remember to show how you’re both vulnerable and how you can help each other. A leader should say, “I’m an expert, and I’ve got your back. There will be a point in this project where something won’t go right, and I’ll need you to have my back.”

In the vast majority of cases, that’s all it takes to gain rapport with an executive. And while that doesn’t guarantee success when things go awry, it gives you an important person in your corner if they do.