No matter how great your workplace is or how strong of a leader you are, there will come a time when you're faced with a conflict that needs de-escalating.

Everyone handles conflict differently. Some shy away, avoiding a confrontation at all costs. Others face it head on, sometimes with too much abrasiveness. For me, conflict is a distraction, so I prefer to nip it in the bud as quickly and directly as possible. But not everyone thinks like me, which is something I always have to keep in mind, and especially in the midst of a conflict.

Whether you're directly involved in the conflict or not, it's up to you, as a leader, to help mediate and reach a solution to the best of your abilities. With that in mind, here are four tips for the next time you find yourself in the midst of a conflict:

1. Take a step back.

Once a conflict has come to your attention and you've gathered the information, step away from it. Not for too long--just long enough that it's not super-fresh in your mind. This is especially key if you happen to be directly involved in the conflict. For me, that freshness has often led to rash decisions I've made that were rooted in too much emotion.

Instead, try to get a little work done, meditate, or read something. This will hopefully dull the initial sting of the issue. If you can't focus on something else, try writing down the details of the conflict. This may not sound like taking a step back, but at the very least, putting things down on paper can be cathartic.

2. Practice empathy.

This can be a hard one when you're directly involved: It's important to practice empathy during a conflict. Really try to put yourself in everyone's shoes, and see things from where they're standing--even if they happen to be upset with you.

Trying to see myself through the eyes of someone who is unhappy with me forces me to confront some of my weaknesses or shortcomings. Though this can be painful, knowing this information ultimately helps me avoid similar conflicts in the future, and is of course key to personal growth in general. 

Even if you still feel like one person is more "right" than someone else afterward, trying to understand everyone else's feelings and motivations will help you figure out where the content truly lies, and therefore how to best approach it.

3. Evaluate the implications.

Sometimes, when a conflict arises, it's the result of a bigger or more serious one. Maybe a current disagreement over deadlines actually points to a pattern of tardiness, or there's one employee who seems to be at the center of a number of workplace issues.

If that's the case and something bigger is brewing, your approach should be different than it would be for a one-off incident. You'll need to gather more information and perhaps talk to other people before beginning the problem-solving process.

Make sure you understand the context and stakes before you start talking to the people involved. A long-term problem requires a long-term solution. And speaking of that...

4. Take preventative measures.

Once a conflict is resolved, it's important to reflect and figure out how to avoid anything similar in the future. Conflict often impedes productivity, so the more you can prevent it, the better off everyone will be.

This is another place where writing things down comes in handy, even if it's just for your own records. When doing so, try to be as objective as possible, continuing to consider all sides. What led to the issue? What was the central issue? How was it resolved? Each conflict can be a learning experience for you and your employees.

Published on: Jan 30, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.