The most effective leaders do these 5 things when conflict arises

They say diamonds are made under pressure. Well, amazing leaders too. And that pressure often comes in the form of interpersonal conflict.

Managing conflict can be a tricky thing. Leaders must act responsibly to be respected and confront conflict head-on. Acting responsibly in the face of conflict is a sign of a great leader,” says executive coach, best-selling author and host of the WholeCEO podcast Lisa Goldenthal.

“Easier said than done when most people dislike the awkwardness of confrontation. “Most people despise conflict. They avoid it for several reasons, including fear of not being heard, understood or validated,” says J. Paul Nadeau, former hostage negotiator, international peacekeeper and conflict-resolution specialist.

And conflict avoidance comes with a high cost: “It is absolutely essential for good leaders to know how to handle conflict because when conflict shows up in the workplace, productivity and relationships are sure to suffer.

Without knowing how to handle conflict, there’s a high probability that the conflict will remain unresolved,” says Nadeau.

So the bad news is, you will have to face the discomfort of dealing with conflict instead of avoiding it — if you want to be an outstanding leader, that is. The good news is, conflict can actually be a good thing if you know how to deal with it.

Here are five things the most effective leaders do when conflict arises.

1. They see it as an opportunity

“Conflict can actually be an opportunity to build bridges between people and give us a greater understanding as to the point of view of the other person,” says Nadeau.

“If they know how to mediate and resolve conflict, they also know to see conflict as an opportunity to learn, discover and understand others’ point of views. Conflict resolution can create stronger relationships.”

While seeing tensions rise can be triggering, remembering that they can turn into gold in terms of team-building will help you face your fears of addressing issues straightforwardly.

2. They communicate with emotional intelligence

“The best leaders have a knack for developing and maintaining relationships with clients and colleagues alike,” says Goldenthal.

When conflict arises, good leaders communicate with caution. Exceptional leaders use every aspect of emotional intelligence in conversation. They intuitively understand interpersonal dynamics. They navigate the delicate balance of avoiding ruffling feathers or escalating matters while also remaining direct and self-aware.

“Your communication style must be empathetic and respect differences while also encouraging everyone to maintain boundaries. As a leader, you must be self-aware enough to handle conflict resolution while also treating every perspective with respect.”

3. They react quickly

According to Nadeau, a core lesson about conflict is that it doesn’t go away on its own. In fact, ignoring conflict can make matters worse.

“The best leaders lead. They take action and don’t ignore it when something is going wrong in their house. They understand that most in-house conflict is not something to ignore,” he says.

On the other hand, poor leaders tend to avoid conflict or dictate a resolution. “They either ignore the conflict, thinking, ‘They’ll work it out themselves’ or, like an unskilled, uninvested parent, they’ll shame, shout and belittle.”

When it comes to conflict, the only way out is through. And reacting fast (but not impulsively) will mitigate further damage.

4. They stay calm and respectful

The worst leadership style in handling conflict is to communicate in angry, hurtful ways rather than discussing things in a calm, respectful manner,” says Goldenthal.

Sounds obvious? Even the most competent professionals are not immune to losing their cool in an emotionally charged situation, so do remain hyper-aware of your internal state before speaking, and pause if necessary.

5. They ask themselves the right questions

If you want a tactical framework to approach conflict, keep in mind the 5 Ws, says Nadeau — who, what, when, where, and why.

Start with the who and the what. Who is in conflict? What is it all about? What’s at play here, and what’s at risk? “It is gathering as much information as possible as to what this is all about before rushing in to take whatever action is necessary.”

Then, you can begin diving into the why. “The ‘why’ can include examining ‘Why is this important to resolve?’ ‘Why did this happen in the first place?’ and ‘Why should I step in?’” says Nadeau.

As for the when, it’s simply about finding the best time for bringing people together to resolve the conflict. And don’t forget to carefully consider who should be in attendance.

“Here’s another ‘who’ question: Who’s the best person to mediate and who will be present? Much will be decided on how big and deep the conflict goes and who’s involved.”