All hell breaks loose when you encounter someone who has the audacity of copying your work. It infuriates us to no end. It has happened to the best of us: You share an idea with a friend or a colleague in good faith and they rebrand the idea as their own in front of the boss, you do all the efforts for the presentation and they end up hogging the limelight.
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?
No matter how much we want to believe otherwise, it matters who gets the credit for an idea in the real world. Your superiors are always observing you and what value you add to the organization through enterprise and initiatives. It all matters a lot when the company doles out promotions, incentives and positions. All this is more easily observable than the amount of work you get done or the time you put in. The problem of theft of intellectual property is more rampant when doing collaborative work where no clear distinction is between roles that an individual has to assume.
Here are some pointers to not let people get away with your credit:
Give it time
Your first instinct would be to call their bluff right-away. It could be a recipe for disaster. It doesn’t make much sense to call their bluff right away. You need not make a scene in front of the whole office or targeting them in the hallway. This would make you seem petulant, like a kid whose ice-cream cone has been taken from them and who is now acting out. Take a day or two to calm down. However, don’t take too long otherwise they may forget about it. Best way to work around it is to write down what you would say to that person and let it sit. Analyse whether saying all these things is worth straining your relationship with a colleague.
Instead of making accusations, ask questions. Now the burden of proof lies upon the perpetrator. Research has shown that this method is way more effective than making outright accusations, which are harder to prove. Ask him/her why they felt the need to lift your idea or presentation and claim it as their own. It is advised that you should say something of this sort : What is your opinion on how well the presentation went? Do you think you were able to execute it well? You might counter that this strategy sounds passive-aggressive but it will act as an eye-opener for your colleague to admit their wrongdoing. If this strategy too fails, say something like : Hey, I observed that when you talked about our project you said “I” instead of “we.” Was that intentional? Why did you say it that way? This makes them feel guilty without you making outright claims against them. If they indeed admit their mistake, talk about damage control. One subtle way of doing that would be to ask him/her to email the people present during the presentation thanking you for your contribution, or you both can talk to the supervisor to present the actual facts. If the perpetrator refuses to do any of the above, you still can do something else. Whenever the bone of contention, I.e., The project is mentioned in person or group email, always come up with details or suggestions. It’ll demonstrate your involvement with the project and knowledge of the ins and outs of the said project. If you have a third colleague who is sympathetic to your cause ask them to mention your exemplary contribution to the project. It can be embarrassing to appreciate your self in front of everyone. Let somebody else take the onus.
You might approach your colleague and say: I worked really hard on this report but sometimes find it hard to promote my own work. I would appreciate it if you asked me questions about it at the meeting. Then, in the meeting, this person can ask you and your colleague questions, such as: “When you two were thinking about these ideas, how did you approach this issue?” “This provides others with social proof of your work,” When none of the above works
This means that your colleagues are wholeheartedly undermining your contributions to the company. You now need to approach your supervisor who has the power to take appropriate measures. Don’t come off as a whiner.
Frame it as an effort to create a good working relationship, not a way to badmouth your colleague. The boss wants you all to work together and not quarrel like children.
Don’t let it happen next time
Work on the credit-allocation system beforehand. Don’t leave it to anyone’s discretion. You should be able to answer the following questions before the presentation is made. Who will be doing the presentation? Who will be responsible for fielding questions? Who’ll send out the email to all the group? The person who contributes the most should get to be the answer of the first question and the person with least contribution should be the answer of the last question in that order. Also, this allocation should be flexible to changes if the need arises.Write it all down and email to all the people who are in the team for making the presentation
Model good credit sharing
If you’re generous and intentional about sharing credit, others are likely to follow suit. Never hesitate to ask your team: What’s the best way to make sure all of our work is recognized? Add a slide at the end with the names of everyone who significantly contributed to the project along with their contributions This will make everyone who worked hard for the project feel valued and those who didn’t to step up from the next time. Also ask for everyone’s opinion on the last slide and whether the name and contributions are justified.