Most of us want to live in the kind of world where other people have the same good character traits as we do. We expect honesty, mutual respect, and ethics. There are lots of people who live up to these standards, but some who will fall short. Especially in business and real estate dealings, it’s smart to have cordial, professional working relationships, but to also protect your own interests at the same time.

Here are some of the key ways that you can take care of yourself and avoid later problems. First, be sure that all parties involved in a transaction understand each other and are in agreement. Second, get it in writing. People remember things differently as time passes, so having a written record will prevent any misunderstandings or disagreements. You may also want to have a third party such as a lawyer or mediator review your agreement beforehand to spot any potential trouble areas. It’s easier (and cheaper) to do when everyone is still in agreement and motivated to make things work out.

You may also want to set up milestones or checkpoints along the way in a transaction that enable everyone involved to check in with each other to make sure that there’s still agreement and that expectations are being met. Check to make sure that the others are doing what they agreed to, and don’t just assume everything’s going fine unless you hear otherwise.

The point is to iron out little problems before they get out of control. Once that happens, then emotions and defensiveness take over, and it’s hard to work together productively and constructively.

You may think this doesn’t apply when your transaction is with a friend or family. That’s a well-meaning but misguided idea. In fact, it’s even more important in these cases to make sure everything is clear, well-documented, and has safeguards in place. Don’t believe it? Just tune into an episode of Judge Judy to see how high hopes, good intentions, and positive feelings can become adversarial and negative. Most likely, every one of those people started off thinking, “That wouldn’t ever happen to us because we like and understand each other.”

We’ll all human, though. Most of us aren’t evil or out to cheat people, but we have different priorities, interpretations of events, and ways of doing things, that can sometimes be in conflict. There’s nothing wrong with recognizing and addressing that fact.

Keep in mind that creating contracts and documentation doesn’t mean that you don’t trust or like the other person. It’s just a way to help the trust and good feelings to remain intact. Everyone involved will benefit from the clear communication and it will pave the way to future positive working relationships.