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What to do when a co-worker takes credit for your work

Don’t be a pushover—stand up for yourself and get credit where credit is due.

What to do when a co-worker takes credit for your work

You worked hard on the problem, came up with an innovative solution, and now you want to deliver your awesome solution to your team and client. But suddenly, your colleague stands up and starts talking about the plan he devised. Except it’s actually not his idea at all—it’s yours.

Getting recognition for your accomplishments is essential to accelerating your career trajectory and increasing your salary. But coming across like a whiner when someone throws you under the bus isn’t great for your career, either. It’s one of those tricky office-politics situations that must be handled delicately.

So what do you do when a coworker takes credit for your work? We asked experts to explain how to diplomatically navigate this career conundrum.

Bring up the elephant in the conference room…

Even though you might want to or vent to a co-worker rather than confront the idea thief himself, it’s best to approach the person and assert yourself so he’ll know you’re not the office pushover.

“Address the situation quickly and directly,” says Dr. Susan Harrison, a communication coach and co-author of Difficult Conversations Just for Women. “Remember, you do not need to accept this behavior no matter who is doing it. You are worthwhile and your ideas are obviously good, so stand up for yourself.”

Showing that you have a backbone in this way could make your co-worker think twice about trying the same move again.

…but don’t point fingers—bring up observations instead

You don’t want to say something you’ll regret—especially when you have to work with the person at least 40 hours a week. There’s always the chance that wires got crossed, and you’d hate to have destroyed a salvageable working relationship due to your momentary anger.

“I have found that a non-accusatory approach helps to work through the situation better,” suggests Alyssa Krane, chief talent strategist at the Toronto-based employer branding agency Powerhouse Talent Inc. “Explain that, from your perspective, there appears to be a great similarity in your ideas.” Share your observation then listen to the other person’s perspective.

Take steps to prevent a recurrence

At the end of the day, you can’t control how other people act in the workplace—otherwise, no one would ever microwave fish in the office kitchen or assign you a time-sensitive project at 4:59 p.m.—but you can use the experience to adjust how you act in the future.

“Perhaps it’s a sign for you to take more ownership over your ideas,” says Tallia Deljou, a career coach at Mavenly & Co., a New Orleans-based professional development website. Copy your boss on certain project-specific emails and be sure to speak up in meetings, making it clear that the idea originated from you.

“You might send periodic updates about your work [to your boss] even before a project is completed,” says Angela Copeland, founder of the Memphis-based career-coaching firm Copeland Coaching. “That way, someone else is unable to go around you before you're finished.”


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