Having others take the credit for your work is infuriating and feels deeply unfair. How can you deal with those who appropriate your ideas?


Take early action
“Be as pre-emptive as possible,” says Nancy Ancowitz, a business communication coach and author of Self-Promotion for Introverts. “You tend to know who the
scene-stealers are. So make sure your boss sees who is doing the work. Talk about what you’re doing and send emails saying things like: ‘I have this idea for cost-cutting and I’ll present it in Monday’s meeting.’ ”

She suggests bringing hard copies of documents you’ve written about the idea to meetings. “There’s nothing like your ideas in print to reinforce whose brainchild they are.”

Mike Phipps, author of 21 Dirty Tricks at Work: How to Win at Office Politics, adds: “Seek input from others on your work. Say: ‘I’d like your thoughts on this.’ The single biggest piece of insurance is having allies in that meeting who know it was your idea.”


What do I do after it happens?
Ceri Roderick, of business psychologists Pearn Kandola, says: “Someone appropriating your work triggers strong feelings. This is why you need to manage your visceral response. Be measured and calm.”

Mr Roderick adds:
“You should interrogate yourself. Ask if you’re overreacting – sometimes you will need to let it go.”

For lesser incidents
and one-offs, a low-level response may be appropriate. “You should have a quiet word with the person as they may not have thought, or they could be careless,” says Mr Roderick.

Mr Phipps adds that
“if it’s more important, you may choose to go for more of an intervention, where you regain ownership of the idea
or work. Here you need proof. When you get the evidence, speak to the person face-to-face.
This signals assertion, self-confidence and professionalism.

“If you do it in person, you are much more likely to have a productive conversation. But allow the other person to save face – and offer a resolution that will work for them. You might say: ‘I noticed this report now has your name on it, not mine. Someone must have made a mistake when they were printing it.’ This is important: if you corner a rat in a garden shed, it will fight, but if you show it the door and sunlight, it will take the easy way out. A rat always does.”

Telling everyone your work was stolen runs the risk of looking childish.


What if it is my boss?
“If you show a report
to your manager,” says Mr Phipps, “that you know will be presented
to the board and they say, ‘great, I’ll take it from here’, you might ask: ‘But how will you deal with the difficult questions?’ ”

However, Ms Ancowitz says that “you may have to accept it. It is part of your job to make the boss look good and you can’t expect credit for every minor contribution. You might also ask yourself if you see your contribution reflected in your pay or bonus – that could make it OK”.

Get alerts on Work & Careers when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article