Anyone who’s ever worked in an office likely recalls the slap-in-the-face sting left the first time a co-worker, or worse, a boss, ripped off your idea. And even if we know it happens, we’re often still left too flabbergasted and appalled to nip the credit robbers’ actions in the bud. Not anymore. Get your head in the game and put workplace credit stealers in their place with these six strategies from career experts.
Practice subtle self-promotion
The more corporate the office culture, the more highly competitive the work climate tends to be, and the more pressure employees feel to make their contributions known. This makes sense, considering each person is vying for promotions and prestigious projects every single day, like a never-ending gauntlet of one-upmanship. One way to avoid getting trampled on by ruthless ladder climbers is to make a habit of what Marie McIntyre, PdH, author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics, calls “information sharing.”
In other words, pro-actively find ways to let the people above you know what you’re working on and the challenges you’re triumphing over. The trick is, though, to do this “without banners and flashing neon lights,” says Dr. McIntyre. Instead, “find ways to casually mention complicated projects, or how you handled a tough client, in conversation” she says. “Make a habit of sending your boss weekly or monthly updates.” The trick is, says Dr. McIntyre, finding the right opportunities to weave in the information in appropriate, subtle ways.
Don’t get attached to your ideas
While it may seem that your idea was a one-of-a-kind mind-blower, the harsh reality is that generating a completely original idea is extremely rare. And companies’ star players don’t just push out one a year, but consistently generate winning thought bubbles. “Remember that you don’t own your work-related ideas, unless specified in your employment contract,” says Toronto native Franke James, author of Dear Office Politics: The Game Everyone Plays. “Such ‘intellectual property’ you can’t register with a trademark, copyright or patent.”
Making that mental shift, and understanding that they’re the company’s ideas instead of your ideas (since the company pays your salary to tap into your brainpower), frees you up to generate–and share–more ideas, more freely, leading you to the next key troubleshooting strategy…
Build a Reputation as an idea generator
In the workplace, no matter your field, the hottest commodities you have are your innovative ideas. But this asset to employers is not in just one solitary idea, but rather in a star employee’s the ability to generate throngs of ideas, on demand…to be a veritable idea fountain. When you detach from each idea-ling you have, you can set yourself apart from your peers by becoming what James, who founded the website OfficePolitics.com, calls a “go-to person” for creativity, originality and ingenuity.
What’s key, adds James, is using this strategic method: Share your brilliant ideas by explaining them to groups instead of to one colleague, and document them in memos and emails–what she calls “putting your thumbprint on it.” Also, says James, “invite others to add to and develop the ideas, then acknowledge and thank co-workers for their contributions.” Talk about a class act, and one that not only draws attention, but gets promoted.
Confront the credit thief
When a colleague takes credit for your idea or your hard-won results, and leaves you (and your weekend hours) out of the presentation, it’s an ugly aspect of office politics that has made several of Roy Cohen’s, author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, clients feeling shortchanged and victimized. What advice does he give? “You’ve got to address the co-worker and nip it in the bud.” That’s because when a colleague is out of bounds, and you don’t establish firm boundaries, you should expect him or her to strike again.
When you do confront the offender, follow Cohen’s tips: First, offer the benefit of doubt when approaching a co-worker, and preface with a phrase like, “I’m not sure if you are aware, but the project you mentioned is one I contributed to greatly.” Second, once you let your colleague know you won’t stand for what happened, let him or her know the correction you expect, by saying, “The boss needs to know, and if you don’t tell her….I will.” You can also add that you’d like it documented in writing, says Cohen. It’s a gentler approach that assumes oversight on the part of a colleague instead of maliciousness or sheer competitiveness. “Understand that credit stealing is a form of bullying,” says Cohen. “And the thieves often don’t expect you to fight back.”
Do not appear petty
When handling credit stealers in the office, you do want to tread carefully. Don’t be what Dr. McIntyre refers to as “schoolyard.” When a co-worker or superior is presenting and leaves your contribution out, don’t try to dramatically assert your ownership of an idea or results in the moment. “Make a fuss in the meeting and you can come across as the one who is overly concerned about who’s getting credit, or worse, insecure and lacking in self-confidence,” she says.
Instead, make a note and plan to make your contributions clear at a later time. “If concerned with your boss’s perception, meet one-on-one later, saying something such as, ‘You know, Bob and I did work on that together, and here are some factors I noticed.’ If you’re addressing the group, add to the idea in an email exchange, writing something along the lines of ‘Amber mentioned XYZ project in the meeting, and while we were working on that here are some additional dilemmas I noticed and how we could solve them.”
What’s key here, though, is that you add to the conversation, while slipping in that you also worked on the project. In other words, have something else to say rather than that you want to be acknowledged for your contribution. “Work it in with an objective in mind,” says Dr. McIntyre. “Suggest ways to develop the idea further, or troubleshoot negative outcomes, rather than just point out who should get credit.” Remember that the company cares about execution and the results of the idea, not whose name is on it.
Know Your Office Culture
When it’s a boss you feel is at fault, move very carefully, advises Cohen. Before reporting a superior, peer, co-worker, or even subordinate (yes, says Cohen, ambitious newbies can be eager-beaver credit stealers), first take a step back and scrutinize the corporate culture. While we know that good managers understand that morale issues can hamper productivity and lead to employment churn, not all corporate structure are set up to make employees feel valued and recognized.
“Some highly competitive cultures actually reward aggressive, competitive behavior,” says Cohen. And this means those embedded in the culture will likely not look positively on you doing what could be perceived as ratting out a co-worker or crying ‘woe is me.’ “In some corporate structures, managers do take credit for subordinates’ work, and if that’s the case, you want to be aware of that and careful not to step on a manager’s toes.” So, knowing the right course of action often depends on knowing the corporate culture you’re dealing with.