Written by Courtney Lynch

It’s easier to lead when life is going well. When you enjoy times of productivity, prosperity, and harmony, influencing outcomes, inspiring others, and keeping a positive attitude seems to come naturally. When our safety, security, or peace of mind is challenged, being able to respond, not react, and choose the behaviors that will add value becomes the most difficult. That’s why leaders consistently work to ensure their style under stress reflects their heart, values, and best intentions.

When you find yourself facing confrontation, challenge, or less-than-best situations, here are key practices to keep top of mind:

  • Create space as soon as you can. If someone shares negative, challenging, or frustrating news with you, work to listen with focus, yet not with an eye for responding or escalating the tension. Stay in the moment to hear and understand. Then, share that you’d like to reflect on what’s been said and connect again in a reasonable amount of time. That might be in an hour, the next day, or a week. Space allows you to reflect on circumstances and respond in a way that is more likely a professional and valuable way to resolve, repair, or move past the difficulty.
  • Take note of how you are feeling, then explore why. When you deeply understand why an exchange with someone caused stress, hurt, or anger, you’ll be in a better position to influence outcomes beyond the flashpoint. Our emotions aren’t bad or wrong; they are often powerful clues to a better way forward. The key is to protect them. Some of our most sensitive emotions might not be as valued, appreciated, or accepted at work.
  • Choose your response. Lasting damage can be done to any relationship when you react out of instinct when stressed. Leaders know that distance, reflection, and reconnection with their values after a difficult experience are the best ways to lead as they are, bringing thoughtful conversations, actions, and a sense of service to the most challenging exchanges.

While not all friction and challenge can be prevented, leaders are always looking for the pink flags that can turn into red flags quickly in their relationships with others. Here are some ways to achieve this:

  • Taking the time to discuss minor issues before they become major sources of frustration or resentment.
  • Checking in with co-workers, bosses, friends, and family often. By proactively reaching out to others, we can gain awareness of the day-to-day issues people are experiencing and can lend a hand or a listening ear.
  • Consistently working to see the value, strengths, and best of others instead of magnifying the faults we notice. We can be leaders who build others up through encouragement and acceptance.

How leaders respond when stressed can make a significant difference to others. Dignity and grace become easier to express as we practice creating space, understanding our emotions, and choosing our responses with thoughtfulness during times of conflict and challenge.

Founded in 2004, Lead Star is the company behind New York Times best-sellers SPARKLeading from the Front, and Bet on You. Lead Star supports professionals to reach new levels of success through an innovative coaching program, Year to Rise.