How to Shut Down a Colleague Who Takes Credit for Your Work

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Has this ever happened to you? You’re in a meeting and the unthinkable happens: a colleague claims credit for your work.

As you reel from the shock of what just occurred, your self-talk goes into overdrive. “How dare they. The audacity!” you say to yourself as you start to play out the consequences in your mind. “What does the rest of the team suppose my role was? Making the coffee?”

But in the time it takes to come to grips with what just happened, something even more critical occurs: The moment passes. The team moves on to a new topic. The time for speaking up and publicly correcting the “mistake” has passed. Everyone “knows” who owned the accomplishment, and it’s not you.

Prevent it from happening again

There’s really only one sure-fire method of preventing this from happening, and it is to preemptively, publicly, claim credit for everything you do.

At the Executive Women International Academy of Leadership conference last week, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, keynote speaker (and all-round awesome lady) Fawn Germer said “If you don’t take credit for what you do, it is likely that someone else will.”

To be completely realistic, though, I understand that are many very reasonable reasons why you may not be entirely comfortable doing this. And you are by no means alone. Later that day at the EWI conference I asked my class of 120 women (and one man) in my leadership workshop “Who here feels 100% comfortable promoting their accomplishments at work?” As is usual in such groups, only three or four individuals raised their hands.

Publicly claiming credit for the work you do, also known as “tooting your own horn” is not comfortable for most people. Why? Here’s my theory: We’ve all worked with someone who overdid it and was always bragging about their achievements. In response to this, we say to ourselves “I never want to be that person” and cease claiming credit for our work – even in situations where it is appropriate and necessary.

But consider the consequences: Unscrupulous colleagues can seize the opportunity to claim credit, because you’d left it sitting on the table as though it was there for the taking.

Now consider what feels worse: Proactively claiming credit for your major accomplishments, or having that credit taken by someone else. Hopefully you can agree that promoting your achievements is the lesser evil.

So mark each major milestone by stopping work and taking action to attach your name to the result. For example, make an announcement in a meeting or by email such as “Team, I just completed the financial modeling for this quarter and have begun work on next quarter. If you’d like have questions or would like to discuss the results or methodology, please let me know.”

In theory, doing this consistently should shut down the likelihood of a colleague claiming credit, but of course in the real world, one might still slip through! If so, how should you respond?

Here are three steps to decisively and diplomatically shut down a colleague who takes credit for your work.

Step 1: Immediately set the record straight

Let’s say it happens again. You’re in a meeting and a colleague, Kevin, claims credit for your work… again. What should you do?

Whatever you do, don’t let the moment pass. It is important to speak up immediately, even if this means interrupting or speaking over the top of someone.

If you feel flustered, try not to let it show. Smile, and aim to speak with warmth and authority in equal measure, and say “To clear up any misunderstanding, what Kevin is trying to explain is that we collaborated on this effort. He led the initial data gathering, while I devised the methodology and performed the analysis. ” Smile one more time, and then shut up.

Why say it was a collaboration, even if it wasn’t? It is to help Kevin save face with the team, because the real conversation will take place with him privately, later. You don’t want to raise his defenses any higher than they already are. If you thrown him under the bus now, you can forget about having reasonable conversation later.

Step 2: Follow up in private

Later, but not too much later, with your trademark mix of warmth and authority, approach Kevin privately and ask if this is a good time to discuss what happened.

After you have his permission, tell Kevin that you respect his work and his contributions to the team, and that you won’t hesitate in future to praise him publicly for his contributions. Then with a tone of pure authority, say “But if you claim credit for my work again, I will set the record straight. Is that clear?” Listen carefully to what he has to say, but don’t be persuaded to back down from this very reasonable request.

Close the conversation by thanking him for understanding and adding anything else you’d like to say to ensure there are no hard feelings.

Step 3: Repeat

With that, the matter should be settled. But just in case it ever happens again, be on the alert and ready to speak up, firstly in public and then later in private, whenever someone else claims credit for your work, Kevin’s work or that of another colleague. If their behavior continues after multiple conversations, escalate your complaint to a higher authority such as your supervisor, and share your track record of prior conversations to show that you’ve been handling it like a grown-up and taking reasonable action.

In her keynote speech to EWI members, Fawn Germer also said “Don’t avoid uncomfortable conversations. They take between five and fifteen minutes,” and often a lot less! Ultimately, a short, uncomfortable conversation can be far less stressful than working in a team where credit and praise are unfairly given and taken.

Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is founding editor of BeLeaderly.com. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.net and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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  • Christoph Trappe

    In a team, why does it matter who gets the credit?

    • Jo Miller

      Many reasons. If you are interested in attracting recognition, raises, promotions, coveted assignments, sponsors… (which a lot of our readers are interested in) these things all go to people who are seen to be doing good work. One person receiving due credit for their own great work in no way takes away from a team being able to get credit, too. The best teams celebrate everyone’s achievements. A colleague who is claiming credit for others’ hard work can be a big demotivator for the team.

      • “M”

        I think it’s so interesting how often it’s men who tend to ask that question when every woman who’s read Deborah Tannen (as well as, you know – pretty much every woman who’s ever worked in an office) knows that the *only* way to get even half the access to recognition & promotions that “just fall into men’s laps” is to claim the credit for superb ideas that men regularly steal from them (and all too often, deny that they’ve done it or claim that they don’t remember doing it – and even worse, scold and gaslight the women for calling attention to the theft, trying to get those women labeled as “braggarts” when the same behavior goes pretty much universally unremarked when men do it).

    • Ángel Hernández

      For most of us, it doesn’t matter to get credit. We just want to create, develop, and enjoy what we love to do. But is not fair that someone else gets credit for something we clearly did!!!! This happens everywhere, because bosses are jerks, and very very biased for their favorites. Many bosses don’t know to work in a “team”, they love to be like “i am the boss and you are all my slaves, do what I say, and if you dare to question me, I will fire you!” -_- *sigh*

    • S Scott

      What kind of “team” are you talking about?

      Are we talking about the “team” where several individuals come together on a project, work their respective position & responsibilities to see an effective outcome?

      Or are we talking about the highly more prevalent corporate “team”, where only a few of the individuals are mandated to do all the work, likely have the actual knowledge base of what & how the project will need to flow, but likely is completely off track and off budget, waiting for other team members to show up at the job’s completion to make their appearance, so that the “team” manager (that likely was clueless of most all project details or goals)can now go report to top management and claim that “HIS” team successfully completed the task, so he can get his nice fat raise with bonus on top of his current obscene salary(considering his consistent non-effort and blatant worthlessness), so he can sit in a bigger chair and botch even larger projects, while you get your crappy 1.3% and are the scapegoat for bumps & failures along the way? You ask why?

      No…. It is EXTREMELY likely that the actual results of an individual that uses the term “team” outside of a sports or military context, are really referring to the later. Especially in a corporate setting and they start making statements like they have been drinking the Kool-Aid from a fire hose.

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  • Anna Jonah

    And how can I react if it is the manager who is praising the wrong person? The manager is informed about the work allocation but seems to choose a favorite?

    • whatevernice345 .

      The manager is doing this on purpose to get a reaction out of you, KNOWING that it will make you mad. The manager does this to start shit and then blame the victim for react that way. It’s a toxic dump. Narcissists and psychopaths feed off of what your describing and seeking to destroy indirectly. I’d suggest to go to a job where you won’t have to deal with that. That is if you fear telling the manager. This is the best option in my option. I wish you the best.

      • S Scott

        I think you are right. Yeah it sucks to have to go thru the insecurity of changing a job, but in the end that environment will kill you or worse turn you in to one of them. My so called “Director of” pulls exactly what you said almost every day and to a lot of people in the company, even if they are not his subordinates. An incredible level of condescending remarks combined with blathering of topics that he is clearly ignorant of. Moreover that behavior is supported and coddled by the owner(family owned business). Over the past couple years, he(owner)has managed to put together a top tier management group of the similar types that have some similar behaviors towards people(Unless of course you are in one of the sanctioned cliques). This has drove a huge wedge down the middle of the organization. One side the “do-ers” that really keep the company afloat, and the more or less “parasite” class. And of course, since this new good-ol-boy hierarchy has been put in place, we have lost business on items that were bread and butter(and thought were untouchable), and going thru quite a long stretch of not being able to pay our suppliers, not to mention the turnover of some key skilled people. Not to worry, they were replace with more clique cronies even if not qualified.
        So I agree, better to jump jobs on your terms, rather than theirs. Let the “likes” attract and they can ride the ship to the bottom. At least those individuals will not be polluting the employment pool while they busy smoking cigars, drinking cognac, slapping themselves on the back and laughing, while their company collapses.

        • whatevernice345 .

          “Probably should not let company loyalty cloud what is in your best interest.”
          I TOTALLY agree!

          “Let the “likes” attract and they can ride the ship to the bottom. At least those individuals will not be polluting the employment pool while they busy smoking cigars, drinking cognac, slapping themselves on the back and laughing, while their company collapses around them.”
          (ROFL) True!

  • chickensht

    I wish

  • Amit Salvi

    I am Animator
    Since i started to job i always puts 100% efforts in each and every project
    there boss knows i do work hard and best after all that she is expecting me to share my project with others to do

    in beginning i did those people are doing nothing all work i am only doing

    i though my boss knows everything but they are taking credit on my work
    and they got on that project big post and she is started put me under them to work

    where i deserve to be senior level i am still on that post where i started since

    and now my boss not listening when i am telling her truth…

    i wanted to see my career progress for that i put my efforts and gave best to best project to the company but in my career life finally i failed

    this is what happen when those bustard people take someone credits.

    any solution on them

    • whatevernice345 .

      What you describe here, he’s a narcissist. I’d say get out of there, because narcissists/psychopaths steal not only ideas, but people’s lives as well. I don’t mind if people want to spread the idea around, but if you take credit from me, if it’s a manager, take your dignity and your ideas to another job in which people, including the next manager will not only give credit to YOUR ideas but honor your whole creativity. I think that those in higher power who steal a person’s “anything” wants to control that person or want something out of him/her. That workplace is a toxic environment. These kinds of managers are SO stubborn! I wish you the best!

    • whatevernice345 .

      And a boss who knows everything but don’t give you credit is a narcissist and most possibly a psychopath. Pretending that he doesn’t know. And trying to make you crazy, too!? Run for a safer workplace, as soon as possible to a place where none of this happens at your new job.

      • Amit Salvi

        Thnx…
        What a coincidence! :)
        yes… now i am doing the same
        shifting to other country to begin my new career and life

        i went to russia last month to meet my game developer friends they suggest me
        will start our own business… I accept that offer

        for me again i have work hard from beginning but later it will be good :) sure!
        I believe on my talent and hard work
        I will create my own identity.
        :)

  • dorota

    And what if the person taking credit for something I’ve done is somebody who is higher in the hierarchy than I am? It might be my direct manager or for example a manager (especially in the matrix organizations) who is not my manager but is set pretty high in the hierarchy (and can “do harm” to me personally …) ??

    • whatevernice345 .

      If he does harm, I’d say get out of there, because narcissists/psychopaths steal not only ideas, but people’s lives as well. I don’t mind if people want to spread the idea around, but if you take credit from me, if it’s a manager, take your dignity and your ideas to another job in which people, including the next manager will not only give credit to YOUR ideas but honor your whole creativity. I think that those in higher power who steal a person’s “anything” wants to control that person or want something out of him/her. That workplace is a toxic environment. These kinds of managers are SO stubborn!

  • Krisala

    What if you are being told by colleagues that another colleague is claiming credit for something you did in a “back room discussion” and the CEO or Executive then begins to put faith in that person. How do you rectify it? Obviously, I’m not supposed to know about the “back room discussion” and I wasn’t present to defend myself. How can I make sure that the person claiming credit for my projects and ideas knows I’m on to him and in addition claim credit back and set the record straight with the CEO or Executive who is believing the lie?

    • Fire Sign

      Talk to your boss and see if he/she will help to set the record straight.

  • Will North

    I have been working as a web developer on the same team for five years. This past year, as the result of a layoff reorg we got a new program manager and I found myself the sole remaining member of the web development team. The new manager assigned his assistant as the lead of web development even though she has no previous experience in that area. When she came on board, I was completing a site redesign that had been underway for the better part of a year. When the new site went live, she was tasked with writing the email announcement. My name was not mentioned which would be OK, except that the new program manager responded to the email congratulating and thanking his assistant (my team lead) for the great work. I am really stunned and disgusted.

    There have been a few other similar incidents since that one. I have spoken to several of my co-workers about it and they are sympathetic, but have advised me against confronting the new program manager about it. Those who have worked closely with him say he is very stubborn and critical and would not respond well to the suggestion that he neglected to give proper credit. So I feel like I have little choice but to accept the situation for now. But I have a growing sense of burnout because of it. I think it may be time to move on soon, which is a shame because I really like my job and most of the people that I work with.

  • S. Blade

    I have what I believe is a related issue regarding my current work environment. About a year ago, I was the leader of a committee (to clarify, not my paid position). At the same time I was also learning a new position at the company, and expressed to my office management that I needed help with leading said committee. I did not express that I wanted to give up the responsibility—only that I needed help.

    As a result, the office management basically spoke for me and decided to dump the responsibility onto a, at the time, new coworker (who also happens to be a personal friend [full disclosure: I got her the job]). Over the course of the past year or so, I have been excluded from various committee meetings, and have also felt like my coworker/friend thinks that she is now “in charge”. This coworker/friend has also mentioned at least once that another person within the company has praised her for work that I had previously done…though she did not say whether she tried to correct the person who inaccurately gave her the credit.

    Needless to say, I am a whirlwind of emotions. I feel somewhat betrayed by this friend for perhaps not setting the record straight when it comes to work I have done. I also feel torn between expressing by desire to “take back” this leadership role and just keeping quiet; though I certainly would not mind sharing the responsibility with my coworker/friend, I fear that my intentions may be construed as being overly controlling. At the end of the day, though, I really just want to contribute my ideas and be recognized and appreciated for my input.

    How should I handle this?

    • Mellisa Z

      I find myself in a similar position. I have worked for 5 years at the same firm and was finally provided the opportunity to head a committee. I recently found out that my boss had given credit for the leadership role to another person and listed me as her subordinate. What angers me the most, is that this person has had no involvement with the project, this year, and that this is the second time that my boss is playing favorites. The first time, I just let it pass. This time, I think it will be my last. If my boss does not rectify the situation and give credit where credit is due and amend the research report, as it has yet to be finalized, I am seriously considering leaving altogether and let my boss and his favorite take over.

  • omega4

    Why is it that these “self-help” articles are written by “professionals” who have never actually dealt with these situations themselves? I say this because if they had, they would realize how silly their advice actually sounds.

  • Taloi Elena

    I have a co-worker, who is trying to making himself look good and doing everything to improving their image at work. We both worked in a design workshop as design engineers. I helped her take an exam by giving her my project. I allowed him to put his name on a copy (the original with my name is in the company’s archive). Everything was done with the boss’s direct acceptance (is a current practice here). But when the things went well for her and the director (who did not know the situation) asked her (appreciatively) if it is her project, her answer was a pure YES. He did not mention my name even though I was there.
    I explained in private to the director what reality is. The director called her to ask her, in front of the project, who the author was. He answered, as though he had no blame, that it was my project, that I gave her to help her take the exam and that he had answered YES (to the initial question) because he understood the question in the sense “this is the project with which you took the exam”?.
    So I was out of this incident and it does not seem right to me. I think it was an omission that was meant to improve his image in front of the director who did not know the situation.
    If I did not hear and did not notice this, the director was left with the impression that the project was hers and he was growing his reputation on my work.
    The director now thinks I’m bad and exaggerated and she has no blame and has not taken credit on my work.
    How can I make a correct understanding of the situation?
    Thanks!

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