Being professional at work implies not letting personal likes and dislikes enter into our relationships with co-workers. It's a high ideal that can be hard to achieve, especially when you encounter the colleague who, quite simply, just doesn't like you.
That's the situation a fine executive at GE encountered some years ago. For obvious reasons, she will remain anonymous -â€" but you can trust me, it's a true story.
Carol, let's call her, joined a new division and, being smart and experienced, dared to make a comment at her first meeting. "I disagreed with a comment one of my colleagues made about a strategic issue," she told me. "After the meeting was over, he said, 'Carol, don't you know you're just the cunt at the table? No one cares what you think.'"
What's impressive is the way Carol responded. "I wanted to scream, but I didn't. And I didn't run around telling everyone what he said, even though I really wanted to. I knew he would use every opportunity he could to disparage me, sabotage me and hurt my credibility. Instead, when he made good suggestions in other meetings, I endorsed them. If my department was doing something that helped his, I let him know. And if I disagreed with him, I let him know that, too. Gradually he saw I was really good at what I did. He saw that my department could make him look good. He became an ally."
"A few years later, he left to become president of another company. He called to ask me to be his COO. And no, I didn't consider it for a moment."
What's impressive about Carol's story is that she was able to see that the problem wasn't about her; it was about her colleague. And while he might not always be professional, she always was. In other words, she seized the moral high ground and held it.
This is very tough to do. But it's essential. You will, at some point in your career, encounter someone who just doesn't like you -â€" because you're male, female, short, tall, fat, skinny or because you remind them of a former failed relationship. You won't be able to change whatever history has formed their impression. What you can do is determine the level of your response.
"It's really important to recognize that insulting, degrading, ridiculous comments aren't about you -â€" they're about the person saying them," Carol explains. "Don't take the remarks personally but do take them seriously, because you need to know what's really going on."
Encounters like Carol's occur at every level in an organization, from the print room to the C suite. You can't stop them happening; all you can influence is your own response.