What to Do When Someone Takes Credit for Your Work

What to Do When Someone Takes Credit for Your Work

“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” – Arnold H. Glasow

Have you ever worked tirelessly to produce a report or a presentation, only to have a collaborator claim the limelight? You’re not alone.

Nothing is more demotivating than having someone take credit for your work. We all know that being recognized for our contributions is crucial to career advancement, bringing benefits like the following:

  1. Establishing your worth and value to others.
  2. Bringing you more rewarding projects and greater job satisfaction.
  3. Helping you earn a promotion.

Now, we’re going to tackle how to handle a couple of tough situations involving the theft of credit, so you can move forward with grace, composure, and recognition for your work.

If your boss takes credit for your work…

You need to carefully weigh the benefits of speaking up versus the potential negative impacts of doing so. The last thing you want to do is alienate your boss. Furthermore, if your boss is genuinely supportive of you, consider whether it’s possible that she simply expanded on your idea and forgot where it originally came from. It’s also possible that your boss believes the whole team will get more recognition if her superiors think the idea came from her, as The Wall Street Journal writes in “Hey, That’s My Idea! When Your Boss Steals Your Work.” Consider whether your boss is giving you opportunities in turn, the authors suggest.

If you see a pattern of this behavior, or if your boss took credit for a high-profile project that could play a pivotal role in your career, it may be time to speak up. Tread cautiously; making your boss feel defensive is a sure form of self-sabotage. Within a larger conversation about your career, mention how much you feel you could benefit from visibility for the project, WSJ suggests. That way, you’re not directly accusing your boss of anything; rather, you’re enlisting her help as an advocate.

If a peer takes credit for your work…

  • Don’t act until you’ve calmed down. The last thing you want is to appear irate and unreasonable.
  • Send a follow-up email thanking everyone for listening to the presentation and sharing appreciation for your team, if a colleague has presented the project as his doing. That’s a subtle way of claiming ownership of the endeavor.
  • Ask your supporters for help. Perhaps another colleague knows that you spearheaded the project that a colleague took credit for. If she thanks you for your role in making it happen in front of your boss and other coworkers, that may help shift the narrative. You can also ask supportive colleagues to ask you questions about your project in the next meeting.
  • Tactfully approach the person who unfairly took credit and ask why she didn’t mention your name in the presentation. Ask her to share the visibility with you, emphasizing that you want to have a mutually supportive relationship. Give her the benefit of the doubt, acknowledging that it could have been an accident, which will make her less likely to react defensively.
  • If the pattern continues, consider letting your boss know about it. Keep your language neutral and stay brief, rather than ranting on in a negative tone about your colleague. Stick to the facts.

In the future, you can take measures to guard against the theft of credit. Follow these key tips starting in the early stages of project development, and you’ll be far less likely to find yourself in this situation again:

1. Claim credit for the work.

By doing so, you’re not boasting—you’re just stating the facts of what you’ve accomplished and its impact. Be straightforward and specific when describing what you’ve done—and be sure to mention the contributions of others! It’s difficult for someone else to take credit once others associate your name with the contributions that made the project a success.

2. Create a paper trail that shows your contributions.

Make it easy to prove that you spearheaded a project or came up with an idea by leaving a clear trail of evidence. Email your boss and colleagues to present your ideas in writing, perhaps CC’ing more than one person on a thread so that no one person can act as though it’s your word against theirs. Deliver written reports to your superiors to show your progress or outline the final project outcomes.

3. Avoid sharing ideas one-on-one.

Unless you really trust a colleague, don’t sit down with him for a one-on-one conversation about your next big idea. Someone can more easily take credit for your ideas and work when you don’t have another witness to establish they came from you. Instead, you might chat with two colleagues at the same time, to establish a sense of accountability.

4. Give credit to others.

You’ll establish yourself as more credible when you claim credit for an idea if you’re frequently sharing credit with others.

Once you become well-known for having particular skills and knowledge, it will become even harder for someone else to claim credit for your work. As you build your personal brand and expand your sphere of influence, others will naturally associate you with the particular kinds of contributions you make. And hopefully, as you continue to set a good example by sharing credit where it’s due in turn, they’ll take your lead!

Joel knows how important it is for you to gain visibility for your hard work. Contact him to discuss how he can help you create a personal strategy for building your visibility and influence.

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