Many of us have had it happen; you work your butt off on a project only to see someone else claim all the glory. It’s not fair. Here’s what to do when someone steals credit for your work.
Many of us have been in a situation in which someone else has taken credit for what we see as our work. Maybe you shared an idea with someone who went and pitched it as their own, or you killed yourself working round the clock on a project and a colleague then stood up and claimed they did the whole thing. It’s maddening. Can you fix it? Maybe. Here are some strategies and steps for handing the situation when someone steals credit for your work.
1. Take a breath
If you’ve just made the big discovery that someone is taking credit for your work, your first instinct is likely to fire off an angry message and let it be known in no uncertain terms that THIS WILL NOT STAND. Don’t to this. There is probably no huge rush to remedy the situation, so, for at least a few days, sit back, take a breath, and think. You don’t want to do or say something you might regret later. Once you accuse someone of stealing your credit, you can’t take it back. It will be seen as an attack on their professionalism, their integrity, and their character. Be careful.
2. Determine if it’s worth getting upset over
Some of us want to believe that it doesn’t matter who gets credit, as long as a job gets done and is done well. But the reality is that it matters. Your current and future employers look at your work and accomplishments to gage how much value you bring an organization, as noted in this Harvard Business Review article. That being said, is it a big job or a small job they’re stealing credit for? Is it something you can let go? Or is it worth trying to remedy because it will impact your career?
3. Ask yourself if you’re being fair
I have been in situations where I believed people were taking credit for my work, and in some of these, I’m sure the person actually believed their own story. In others, maybe I was inflating my own contribution in my mind. Human memory has been proven to be wildly unreliable, and many of your memories are actually totally fake. Allow for the possibility that the other person is entitled to their claim, or at least part of it. Step back from your ego and really look at the situation.
4. Decide if it’s worth pursuing
Still think you’re right? It can be hard not to look petty and childish when trying to reclaim credit someone has taken from you. Attempts to do so may come across as self-aggrandizement and trying sabotage the other person. Sneaky people often to excellent jobs of appearing trustworthy, and there is a good chance your credit thief has people who will believe them, and disbelieve you, and friends who will go to bat for them. Make sure this is a battle you really want to pick.
5. Talk to the other person
You might be able to just ask the person straight out what they feel their contribution was and what yours was. You can do this under the guise of updating your Linkedin account, a project post-mortem, or a personal log. Say “I’m just recapping what we did on this project and wanted to breakdown how we put it all together. So, what would you say your contribution was?” It would take a special kind of person to sit there and tell you to your face that they did work you actually did. If they do, you can say, “Oh, I think I actually did that part.” Take notes as they speak, right in front of them, and they then know you have on record who has made claim to what.
You might find, however, that they dig their heels in and insist they did this thing or came up with that idea. I had a manager once who constantly took credit for my ideas right in front of my face, and I realized that was actually the way she remembered things. I brought it up, gently, with her once and never again. She believed the ideas were hers. There was zero point in arguing with her. I left it alone.
6. Take steps to make things right
What can you do? If it’s very important, you can go to your superior and state your case. Do this with the caution that they might not believe you, but it is an option (unless your superior is the one stealing credit). If you choose this route, do your best not to sound petty and childish. Be diplomatic and mature about it. Another suggestion from the The HBR article is to use any opportunity to demonstrate your involvement. So, whenever the project or idea is mentioned, in person or another form of communication, you speak up with details or answers, to prove your knowledge and contribution.
You can also just claim the accomplishment yourself on your LinkedIn and resume, even if the other person is doing the same, and allow employers to figure it out for themselves. If asked about it, be at the ready to back up your claim and if anyone asks why you’re both claiming credit, you might say, “You will have to ask [the other person] about that.”
7. Take steps to prevent this from happening in future
The HBR article also recommends that next time you agree upfront on how credit will be allocated, who will present which ideas to the senior team, who will field questions, and who will communicate with the rest of the company. Write this down and keep a record of the agreement. Also, copy others when possible when sharing ideas or projects in progress. You can send emails to colleagues and superiors, asking what they think of this idea or that presentation, so they will see who is working on what. And be sure to give credit where it is due and call out other people’s accomplishments and contributions. When you do this, other are more likely to do the same.
You can’t always stop people from taking credit for your work, but you can handle it graciously when it happens. If you can’t do anything about it, smile as best you can, and move on. Your reaction is the only thing over which you have any real control.