How to respond professionally to credit theft from a colleague

What you need to know:

  • If you find that the credit taken carries weight, potentially influencing your performance evaluation, it's time to engage in a dialogue with your colleague.

“But that’s my idea!” you should have yelled. Your blood boils as every nerve in your body screams of injustice when you think back to the moment your boss congratulated your coworker for your idea.

It took every last morsel of your being to remain professional and yet, here you are back at your desk, the moment replaying itself repeatedly, wishing you reacted differently.

Should you confront your credit-clutching-coworker or approach your boss with the truth? What steps do you take next?

If you find that the issue is trivial and seemingly insignificant on a larger scale, I encourage you to let it go. 

Your workload needs attending, and in a couple of weeks you will forget about the incident all together.

However if this is not a first time offense, it may be worth the confrontation.

If you find that the credit taken carries weight, potentially influencing your performance evaluation, it's time to engage in a dialogue with your colleague.

Approaching your coworker first, discreetly is advisable.

Assume positive intent, aiming for a constructive conversation rather than confrontation. Consider the possibility that it was an inadvertent oversight.

Your approach could sound like: "I believe this may have been unintentional, but I noticed you took sole credit for (description of your contribution) yesterday, which was actually my idea."

Encourage their perspective, as most individuals are open to rectifying misunderstandings and offering apologies.

However, should your coworker respond defensively and tensions escalate, take note of this and consider de-escalating the situation before proceeding - remain professional and prepare for prevention.

Preventative measures can include:

Adopt a buddy system

This is where you and a fellow coworker agree in private to speak out on behalf of one another publicly when either of you notice that a coworker has taken credit where credit was not due.

This could sound like “... me too, I noticed when Nuru originally came up with that idea I felt similarly.”

This way you can avoid appearing petty and difficult to work with.

Keep a paper trail: Emails and office forums are a great way to keep track of your contributions and reference them in future.

By archiving relevant communications, you create a reliable record of your involvement in projects, discussions, and decision-making processes.

This not only enables you to reference your contributions in future discussions or performance evaluations but also provides protection in case of misunderstandings or disputes.

Moreover, a well-maintained paper trail can help you track the evolution of ideas, document agreements, and clarify responsibilities, fostering transparency and efficiency in collaborative endeavors.

Reassess how and when you share your insights.

While collaboration and knowledge sharing are essential aspects of teamwork, it's crucial to exercise discretion and discernment in disclosing sensitive or innovative concepts.

If you notice a tendency for a coworker exploiting your ideas, consider limiting their access to your intellectual property whenever feasible.

This could involve refraining from sharing detailed plans or insights until they are formally presented.