Well that was frightening.
Two of your strongest project supporters just became your two most difficult people.
Until this point, both of them had been easy to work with. They had both been very engaged and quick to respond to communications and requests for help. You had heard some rumors that they did not get along well with one another. You did not give these rumors a second thought when you invited them both to a quick meeting to discuss a minor project issue. That is where you made your mistake.
The meeting started off calmly enough. Both of your stakeholders arrived. They both greeted you warmly. Oddly they did not really acknowledge one another. You gave a quick overview of the issue and then to your surprise your two best stakeholders began to insult one another and argue back and forth.
Each blamed the others' group for the issue and each implied that the other was lacking as a leader. They were still your dream stakeholders, but now that dream was a nightmare. You began to think that perhaps you did not know these two as well as you thought you did. The meeting ended, but the issue was far from being resolved.
How could you have known? This should have shown up in your stakeholder analysis.
After all, you were aware of the rumor that these two did not get along. You might ask, "Since when do rumors become part of my professional work?" I bet you pay attention to rumors about layoffs and project cancellations and upcoming promotions. You might even rethink your plans based on the strength of some of those rumors. You should consider paying attention to information about your stakeholders so that you can use that information in order to create your stakeholder management plan. Of course you do not use rumors for the sake of idle gossip.
You investigate some of them so that you can avoid situations where two dream stakeholders use project meeting time to attack one another.
If you hear from enough people that your two dream stakeholders do not get along, pay attention. Find ways to determine if there is truth in this rumor. How? Ask other project managers about their experiences with these two in meetings. Pay attention to their body language when they are near one another. Listen to their tone of voice and the words they use when they discuss the other person or that other person's department. You also want to pay attention to who they get along with. Who do you see them taking lunches with or laughing with?
You could have avoided this difficult meeting with these two stakeholders. You could have acted as a liaison between them. You could have invited a third party to the meeting, someone whom they both get along with who could help neutralize the situation. You also could have done some pre-work with both of them. By pre-work I mean discussing the issue with both of them in advance and allowing them to vent as much as possible BEFORE the meeting. But you didn't.
Is it worth it to put this type of work into your stakeholder management plan? You have to make this decision for yourself. You might think, "So what if they do not get along, that is not my problem. They are grown-ups they can deal with it." Certainly you cannot always take an approach that keeps them permanently separated from one another. But instead of letting their encounters just happen, you can manage these encounters much more strategically.
You are not just making it easier for yourself. You are making it easier for them, and they most likely appreciate this. You are also minimizing time spent in unproductive conflict and maximizing your ability to keep your team on track for success.