Fortunately, perceptions are negotiable and can be changed by effective communication. Change perceptions and a change in attitude will follow.
In my research, I considered two key dimensions to attitude:
1. How supportive or opposed the stakeholder is toward the project
2. How receptive the stakeholder is to communication from the project team
Although receptiveness may seem less important, you cannot change a stakeholder's level of support if they refuse to communicate with you.
Levels of support can range from active opposition to active support. For each of the important stakeholders, the project team needs to understand the stakeholder's current level of support and then determine a realistic optimum level.
Exactly what that realistic optimum is varies. For example, environmental activists can never be realistically expected to support a new road through a wilderness area. The realistic optimum may be passive opposition and a communications plan developed to negotiate an outcome that the environmentalists can live with.
Your project sponsor should be an active supporter. Communication needs to be planned to engage the stakeholder in actively supporting the project.
That means open communication. If the stakeholder is unwilling to communicate, ways need to be devised to open channels. This may involve using other stakeholders in the network around the project to open the communication, changing the way you communicate or just plain persistence.
Only after communication channels are open can you start to listen to the other person and understand their needs, concerns or ambitions. Once these are known, you're in a position to either explain how the current project meets those needs or consider risk-mitigation strategies to modify the project to reduce issues and enhance opportunities.
The whole point of stakeholder management is to optimize the overall attitude of the stakeholder community to allow the project to succeed.
A very significant proportion of the risks around most projects are people-based. The only way to identify, manage and/or mitigate these risks is by effective two-way communication. More on this later.