Some Irrational Behaviours of Project Stakeholders

Posted by Peter on Jun 28 2008 | Articles


After managing projects for many years, I’ve noticed that people - including myself - can behave in ways that appear to be ‘irrational’. It seems that our personal biases and expectations can influence our decisions, with self-justification getting in the way of clear thinking. Studies have suggested that many of these behaviours are also exhibited in certain circumstances by animals, so it’s likely we inherited them as part of our evolutionary past.

To help all Project Managers, here are some of the strange behaviours you might see during the course of any project endeavour. Knowing about these effects will help us to understand and manage the expectations of our project stakeholders:

People attach a higher value to things they own. This leads to trouble in project contract negotiations, when the negotiator will try to hold on to things that are already agreed, even thought there may be better options available.

People will search for or interpret information in a way that confirms their preconceptions. Don’t expect to be able to change someone’s mind easily, as they will ignore your carefully presented evidence if it falls outside their own biases.

Doing things because others do them. Ever been waiting to cross the road at a ‘red’ pedestrian crossing and then seen 5 other people stride into the road? Seeing other people taking action seems to give us permission to join them, so we irresistibly cross the road with them instead of waiting for the ‘green’ light.

Presenting the same data in different ways leads people to make different conclusions. We also assume other people see things the same way as ourselves.


Nobody said project stakeholder management was going to be easy! Having some knowledge of human behaviour can help us to use the most appropriate communication strategy, tools and techniques.

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