Guest Post by Ashwini Talasila: How to work with difficult people

At this year’s ProductCamp Portland, Ashwini Talasila and Matthew Anthes-Washburn presented on “Difficult Stakeholders and Customers” (presentation is available here). Here are some post-camp thoughts on the topic by Ashwini:

When I pitched “Managing Difficult Stakeholders” at Product Camp Portland 2016 I didn’t expect it to be such a popular topic. This session helped me connect product managers, designers and customers in Portland community. It also helped me understand that I was not alone and diversity helped me add more negotiation tools to my toolkit.

Pitching this session also helped me get over my fear of speaking in front of 300+ people. I would encourage you to not only attend next year’s product camp but also to be brave and pitch a topic.

When you’re managing a valuable product, working with difficult stakeholders becomes crucial and could make or break your product. As a product manager, I interact with over 20 people a day; each person is unique, with different backgrounds, roles, industries and stories. My job revolves around having tough conversations, kindly saying no and getting alignment. It’s easy to get stressed, distracted and develop a tunnel vision.

My fellow product managers and I came up with tool kit that helps us get through tough negotiations and ensures we stay focused on the end goal.

Focus on the Story

Every client has a story or problem they are trying to solve. Figure out or better yet ask what motivates, frustrates and blocks them.

Don’t React

Sometimes emotions are triggered and buttons get pushed, when this happens practice writing it down and not reacting. When you listen and take stock without reacting during difficult conversations you can have a measured / strategic reaction at a later time with all the facts at hand.

Practice Deep Listening

We see the world through our lens, so when we hear someone speak, we hear what we want to hear and ignore the rest. Take notes during the conversation, let them tell their story. Hear without judgment.

Support Group

Talk to a buddy or co-worker about the problem or ask. Strategize and gather feedback. Sometimes outsiders help us discarded our lens and look at the problem differently. Ask how they tackle a situation.

Delegate the Problem

Sometimes it’s great to outsource the problem or issue to someone else. If you have this secret weapon use it! Partner with SMES and coworkers to help brain storm and strategize.


Prioritize feedback and problems you are going to deal with and have a plan of action. Sometimes its better to pick your battles.

Mistakes Happen

Acknowledge, Fix and Move on. If there was a misstep apologize, acknowledge and move on to the next thing.

Take One Step at a Time

“Rome wasn’t built in a day…” When tackling a big problem remember to breathe and take it one step, one day and at a time.

Develop a Mantra

Develop word or phrase to get you through the difficult moments; remember that this too shall pass and you’ll get through it. Roll with the punches during difficult times.

Take a Break

You don’t have to solve the problem on the spot. Take time to think, get counsel or find other people who can solve. Taking a break sometimes helps you see the issue from a different perspective.

About Ashwini

ashwiniAshwini Talasila is a Product Manager at HealthSparq. She thrives on bringing order to chaos and planning enough to get started. When she is not at work she enjoy’s cooking vegetarian meals, checking out local farmers market, raiding Powell’s bookstore every other week. Her recent favorite books are Rework and The Power of Habit.