Q: I have to work with someone I dislike a lot and don't have respect for. At times, I have to work with her quite closely. It's really hard to keep it together and remain professional. What can I do?
A: It can be difficult to maintain civility if you've got a lot of active negative emotions, so your focus should be on creating more neutrality.
To be honest, your reaction to this person seems a bit harsh, and I'm curious about the behaviors that have led to this intensity. Was there some manner of betrayal that elicited this, or has it been a series of more minor issues? Give yourself a fairness test: If someone you liked did the same things, would you have the same reaction?
Assume for now that there has been a major incident between you that caused you to lose trust. In this type of situation, what has it taken for people to regain your confidence? There are always two sides to a story — it would be interesting to understand what your colleague would have to say. Think about whether knowing her side would help you find a way to move forward.
If it's been more a matter of many small things, consider whether they really add up to the blanket lack of respect you're feeling. Also look at whether style rather than substance is causing at least some of the issues. If she does her work or interacts in a way that is different from you, that can be hard to handle.
The goal in all of this is to look for ways that you can come to better terms with working with her. Because, if you don't, you're likely going to be the one perceived to have a problem. Try finding even minor things that you like or admire about her, and then focusing on them. Or develop an emotional buffer that helps you keep your mind on the business at hand.
Consider also if an open conversation about being able to work together successfully is in order. Handled well, you could establish your good intent while also driving toward ground rules that may help improve your working relationship. Seek ways to re-establish trust or remove unneeded friction. In turn, if she reacts well, this could help with the underlying issues.
If it remains unmanageable for you to work with this colleague, then you need to decide whether it's worth talking to your boss or someone else about making changes that will lessen your contact with her. Be careful about this; again, it could result in you appearing to be the problem. Plan to explain the steps you've taken to make it work. As with any problem you bring to a boss, it'll also help if you bring a recommended solution.
You also have the option to consider whether you simply need to find a new position. If that's the case, just be sure that you're moving to something new rather than running away from your problem. When you don't seek a systemic solution, your problems will follow.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.