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'A colleague keeps taking credit for my work. How can I stop this happening?'

A colleague keeps taking credit for my ideas and work – it’s happened three times now and I’m worried our senior management are starting to favour her as a result. How can I turn it around?

Credit where credit's due

Congratulations on coming up with such great ideas that management are siting up and listening.

You’ve slipped up, however, by not cracking down on this straight away. Making an impact at work is what we all hope to do. So there’s nothing more demoralising than putting forward a new suggestion, which someone else then repeats or leverages into a much-needed solution, in the process claiming the praise for themselves.

It pays to consider their motive and interests, and the extent to which your colleague is acting deliberately. Sometimes, this is just a fact of life. Someone comes up with a good initial idea, which a colleague hears and then takes to the next level, adding necessary complexity and making it business-worthy using their skill set. They then take credit and person one feels disgruntled. Credit should clearly go to both, but business rarely works that way, and the person that comes up with the most workable idea and shouts about it loudest will receive the recognition. So if you are the originator and you’re coming up with interesting ideas which someone else is developing, make sure you think through all potential angles carefully.

Protect your ideas

Present your proposal to your team - doing so formally maximises your audience and minimises the chance that someone else grabs your idea (a risk if you just drop it casually into conversation with one individual). And if they do? Everyone else will at least know where it came from.

Your ideas are your intellectual capital – protect them, and retain ownership.

It’s the same with a project or piece of work. If you sense a positive reception to a pitch or presentation you’ve been toiling away on – maybe your boss wants to show your idea or work to their boss – keep hold of it (metaphorically) and stay involved by asking to help present the project.

If you need to, be vocal and push hard – prove the effort you’ve gone to (or demonstrate the thought process behind your idea) and highlight how important it is for you that you stay connected to it.

Act quickly

If we assume for now, though, that your colleague has acted deliberately, then you need to act quickly.

The fact it has happened three times suggests they are well aware of how good you are at your job, and also that they think you won’t react if they take credit for your work.

So as uncomfortable as it may feel, you need to be deal with the situation head-on. In the first instance, speak directly with your colleague (it almost goes without saying - you need to be completely confident you know where the source of the issue lies and that there has been no misunderstanding).

Being assertive – standing up for yourself, while respecting the needs of others - is an incredibly important way of communicating that you won’t stand for this treatment in the future, and you can radiate assertiveness in everything you do at work.

Here, be polite, firm, calm – and you may be surprised how your direct approach catches them off-guard (after all, they’ve already had you down as the non-complaining type).

Determine your agenda

What do you want to get out of the conversation?

A commitment that they won’t do it again, a detailed explanation, for them to ‘undo’ what they’ve done, and/or an apology? Using simple challenging questions - ‘I noticed you’d done this – please can you explain why?’ will quickly put them on the spot and, chances are, result in a satisfactory answer. Don’t be fobbed off if none is forthcoming, and be confident with what you’re asking.

But if the conversation doesn’t pan out as expected (they deny it, perhaps, or even suggest they may do it again, or imply this is part of a campaign to undermine you), then you need to escalate it and involve your seniors, remembering you’ll need solid evidence to prove your work or idea was indeed yours.

Prevention, here, is certainly much easier than the cure. Speaking up in meetings, owning your ideas, and being assertive will all help protect your great work – and turn the limelight back on you.

Source: Thanks to the telegraph for this article. Especially Louisa Symington-Mills.

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