In the workplace, it is a common notion that conflict is to be avoided. For most of us, it's uncomfortable, awkward, and painful. If you feel that way, welcome to the human race.

But the reality remains--conflict is inevitable and necessary. That is, if we choose the pathway to healthy conflict.

When using it in the right setting and handling it in the right way, conflict is often the quickest route to cut through drama, set clear expectations, and have a positive outcome. 

Tony Libardi, president and chief operating officer of Marco's Franchising, which operates the international pizza chain Marco's Pizza (one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S.), puts himself in the precarious position of welcoming conflict every day.

Libardi allows for his ideas to be challenged by anybody in the organization. It's a cultural expectation that working through conflict is the best path to growing faster. 

In a recent conversation, Libardi shared with me several ways he embraces conflict for positive business outcomes:

Open the door to productive disputes.

Libardi describes the concept of a "productive dispute" as letting people say what needs to be said, with respect and a positive tone, in real-time. "All this with an eye on driving performance and achieving [key] results. Whatever you say at the water cooler, you can say in the room," explains Libardi.

Allow for pushback.

When he is first introduced to leaders, Libardi says he tries giving them permission to push back. "I am a passionate person who has strong opinions, but it doesn't mean that I'm right," Libardi says. "I always say that I don't have to be right in the debate, but I have to be right in the decision. And we are both accountable for those decisions." 

Protect healthy conflict from personal agendas.

I asked him how he guards his culture of radical transparency against an idea coming from the left field of a personal agenda. "We do this through accountability. We call actions that support personal agendas 'below the line' activities -- like covering your tail, for example. Instead, we encourage 'above the line' actions: See it, own it, solve it, and do it," explains Libardi. He and his team require respectful conflict to live in the reality of data and facts, so any recommendations are supported. For example, he says, "We refrain from 'I like that idea, but ... ' criticism," and he makes sure points of debate "are aligned to our target audience--our customers and guests."

Seek to understand first.

More important, Labardi says, the first step is to listen for understanding, versus seeking a solution, which should be the last step in a conflict. Since restaurant people are entrepreneurs and natural problem solvers, he can't emphasize enough that, before coming up with a solution (the very last step), you have to first "seek to understand, seek to align, and then work together to solve the problem."

Hold "conflict sessions."

While a conflict strategy may look different for any organization, Libardi holds "conflict sessions" to welcome many differing opinions around a tough issue, like underperforming stores. He says without these conflict sessions to hear others' points of view, "we might have missed something awesome." 

Check your ego at the door.

Libardi stresses the importance of setting aside your ego and recognizing the good of the organization trumps personal gain. He says, "I always invite teammates to challenge any ideas I have outlined for our company's growth, initiatives, etc. Many times, they will bring forward ideas I had not thought of, which makes more sense in aligning with our goals."

Foster an environment for deeper relationships to happen.

Opening up the room for discussion allows team members to get to know one another on a deeper level. Regardless of position or title, you share opinions and thoughts and can build on strengths that are unearthed. Libardi says, "As someone who is in a higher position, asking for others' opinions helps me get to know those who might not otherwise approach me. This helps to build trust amongst employees and bolsters employee retention."