When it comes to frustrating situations involving coworkers, watching a colleague slide in and take credit for your hard work or great ideas ranks among the most unpleasant. Whether it’s an accidental move on your coworker’s part or a deliberate attempt to steal your work, correcting these issues can feel especially tricky. You want to set the record straight with your supervisors, but you also want to avoid sowing discord and being perceived as “petty” (undeserved though that label may be). However, that doesn’t mean that you have no recourse in these scenarios. If you catch your colleague claiming your accomplishments as their own, try these 3 courses of action.
1. Rather than reacting impulsively, give yourself time to assess the situation.
If you’re sitting in a meeting and hear your coworker blatantly taking credit for a great idea you had earlier in the week, it’s understandable to feel compelled to call them out for it right there and then. However, these conversations will go more smoothly and ultimately prove more productive if you give yourself the opportunity to shake off the initial anger and consider the specifics.
“If you’re emotionally piqued at being ripped off, it’s not the time to talk about it. Neurologically your mind is not working at its best and you may get out-argued,” leadership professor Brian Uzzi of Northwestern University warned the Harvard Business Review. HBR recommends avoiding this fate by taking a day or so to reflect, then initiating a conversation. However, they caution against taking too much time to think about it: “Don’t stew about it for so long that, by the time you talk to the person, you’re ready to explode. You also want to make sure the incident is still fresh in everyone’s mind.”
2. Before approaching management about a stolen idea, have a one-on-one conversation with the offending colleague.
While it can be tempting to approach your manager to explain how things really went down if a colleague gets unwarranted credit for your great idea, it’s best to approach the coworker first to have a conversation about the situation. After all, if you generally have a good relationship with this colleague, it’s entirely possible that the situation was inadvertent and that they’ll be apologetic when they hear your side.
Forbes agrees with this estimation, advising that “in this type of situation, it is best to go immediately to the person and resolve the situation directly with them because sometimes it can be a simple oversight on their part. Gain their agreement that this will never happen in the future.”
3. It’s possible to correct a coworker’s misappropriation of ideas in the moment, as long as you approach the matter calmly and strategically.
Say you’re sitting in a meeting with your supervisor and your project group, discussing your progress on a new initiative. Your supervisor asks if anyone has a plan for the next step in the process, and your colleague pipes in with a brilliant idea. Only one problem: you said that same exact idea in the pre-meeting brainstorming session the day before. According to career guru Alison Green of Ask a Manager, there’s nothing wrong with redirecting your boss’s attention to make her aware of who spawned that particular idea.
Green told New York Magazine that “you don’t want to rely exclusively on [your coworker] to put a stop to this. You need to be speaking up and advocating for yourself in front of the CEO [or supervisor] too. That means that if you see [your coworker] taking credit for your ideas again, you should say something in the moment. For example, you could say, ‘Yes, that’s the idea I was sharing with [your coworker] right before you came over. My thinking on this is …’ (That second sentence there is important, because that’s you taking control of the conversation and not letting [your coworker] lead it.) Or if you’re in a meeting where [your coworker] starts giving your CEO [or supervisor] an update that came straight from you earlier, you can jump in and say, ‘Actually, if I can jump in here, I can share what I told [your coworker] earlier and add some details to it.’”