Conflict is an inevitable part of any job. Knowing how to handle it is essential for growth in your career.

So how can you prevent conflict from blowing up into a legal dispute that threatens your livelihood? Here are some tips.

1. Understand the source of the conflict.

In any workplace, there are difficult people. Learning to get along with them takes skill and patience. Personality clashes can spark heated disputes.

However, many disputes spring from poor communication or simple misunderstandings. It may take some digging to get to the root of the problem.

2. Review your employee handbook.

These handbooks often lay out important rights and expectations. They may even outline a conflict resolution process. For example, perhaps HR (or an outside consultant) can assist with mediating the dispute and facilitating a win-win resolution.

Likewise, if the conflict involves a disciplinary matter, seniority dispute, missed promotion opportunities or the like, your employee handbook may establish a process to ensure fairness. You may have an opportunity to challenge the action.

3. Document everything.

Keeping thorough records of the dispute can go a long way toward protecting your rights (and career) should the dispute escalate further. Save all emails and written communications. Take notes during (or immediately after) conversations concerning the dispute.

4. Know when it crosses a line.

Conflict is one thing; discrimination is quite another. State and federal law protect employees from harassment or discrimination involving:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Pregnancy
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability status

If you believe one of these factors may be at play in how you’re being treated – even if it’s subtle – take it seriously. You may have an employment discrimination claim.

5. Talk to a lawyer.

Don’t take chances when it comes to your career. Whenever you’re facing a serious dispute – or possible harassment or discrimination – it’s wise to consult with an employment attorney. They can give you guidance on what to do (and what not to do) to proactively protect your career.