I was recently working with a leader of a business unit in my company. As the marketing leader, I was helping the business leader to set her priorities and marketing strategies. As such, I had developed a strategy presentation, which I shared with her. A few days later, I sat in a meeting as this leader put my strategy slides on the screen in a room full of company heads, taking credit as if the thoughts were her own.
After the shock wore off, I was so furious I couldn’t really process what to do. I couldn’t say anything right then in front of everyone; it would look petty and childish. However, I certainly don’t want to be taken advantage of either. How should you handle these situations? Is it okay to speak up right then and there? Or should you keep quiet? And how can you make sure that you get the credit you deserve in the future?
In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share these insights from Amy Gallo, a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review and the author of HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work. In this case, Gallo turned to experts Karen Dillon, author of HBR Guide to Office Politics and Brian Uzzi, professor of leadership and organizational change at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
Take time to calm down. You may be tempted to call the person out right away, as I was, but these experts advise to not make a scene in the meeting or hallway. An emotional outburst will not get you ahead. Take a day or two to gather your thoughts but don’t stew about it for so long that, by the time you talk to the person, you’re ready to explode. You also want to make sure the incident is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
Assess the severity of the situation. Don’t assume bad intent, as sometimes a person’s behavior is unintentional. Did your colleague mention your name several times in the presentation and you missed hearing that verbal credit? Of course, there is also the possibility that it was highly intentional, so be prepared. Ask yourself: How much does this really matter? Will it negatively impact my career? Not every piece of work must have your name on it. Was it for the betterment of the team? If so, then you’ll be associated as an important part of the team, which is more important than credit.
Ask why. These experts suggest that instead of making accusations, ask questions. This shifts the burden of proof to your colleague: he must explain why he felt justified taking credit for the project or idea. They suggest language such as, “I noticed that when you talked about the project you said “I” instead of “we.” Was that intentional? Why did you present it that way?” Dillon says this approach is not to place blame but to simply acknowledge that you know what the person did.
Remedy the situation. If the person who took credit for your work admits the mistake, then discuss with the person how to remedy the situation. One way is to email the group thanking you for your contributions or for both people to talk to the manager together to set the record straight. No matter what, show your involvement in the project. And consider asking others for help in providing that third-party support. The experts suggest that you approach your colleague and say: I worked hard on this report but sometimes find it hard to promote my own work. I would appreciate it if you had asked me questions about it at the meeting.
Gallo summarizes these tips as follows:
- Give yourself time to calm down and assess the situation
- Be clear about your contributions whenever you get an opportunity
- Ask colleagues to mention your name when the idea or project comes up in conversation
- Feel like you need to get credit for everything you do
- Presume that the person had malicious intentions—credit stealing is often an accident
- Make any accusations—instead ask the person questions to try to figure out why it happened