“Once team members realize they all want the same thing, they’ll be much more motivated to work together.” — Misti Burmeister

Do your team members bicker and argue over resources or the best way to approach certain problems? Do they compete when they should be collaborating? Or stew quietly when they don’t get their way?

Anytime a group of people work closely together, there will be some disagreements and tension. As a leader, how do you keep workplace conflict from escalating into melodrama and Jerry-Springer-style brawls? By opening the floor for honest, respectful communication.

Just consider this real-life example …

As the producer for a video game company, Margaret is responsible for communication and collaboration between different teams, all of which vie for time and resources. Based on the frustration level she’d noticed in the emails between team members, she knew her morning meeting would be rough.

“One team has a history of frustration with the other groups that’s caused them to be aggressive and defensive,” Margaret told me. “So there was an elephant in the room the entire meeting.”

Margaret knew something had to change so her teams could collaborate better and create an exceptional product. So after the meeting, Margaret asked the two leads from the defensive group to stay behind.

Margaret assured them she knew they had the best intentions and only wanted to do a good job. Then she apologized for her own defensiveness and opened the floor for them to share what was really bothering them.

As soon as Margaret said, “It wasn’t my intention to,” one of them interrupted her.

“I apologize as well,” he said. “This has nothing to do with you. We’re under a lot of pressure.”

Margaret was blown away (and encouraged) by the response. “Both of them relaxed immediately,” she told me. “Their posture changed, and so did the mood in the room.”

Apparently, this particular team had been persistently frustrated with the other teams. So they were trying a new approach, which wasn’t getting the results they’d intended, only creating more problems.

By the end of the conversation, Margaret had a better understanding of what they needed and why. As she put it, “Instead of being a ‘bitchy blocker,’ I can now be helpful and let them know what works and what doesn’t.”

Once Margaret moved from defensive to vulnerable, so did her employees. She was able to get to the core need of both teams and provide valuable feedback on their new process.

Whether we’re talking about processes, products, or services, workplace conflict and frustration are usually the result of people wanting to do a great job and being afraid something will block them. They want to be part of a winning team. They simply need leaders who will help them understand how.

The next time you’re in a meeting filled with frustrated people, consider what outcome they’re committed to achieving. I bet that outcome is directly related to being successful.

As a leader, you simply need to release the pressure valve by opening up the floor for an honest, vulnerable discussion. Once team members realize they all want the same thing, they’ll be much more motivated to work together.

Join the Conversation: What workplace conflicts are causing problems with your team? And how can you help them refocus on the vision?

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Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations and Hidden Heroes

Misti on Google+