Co-Worker Stealing Credit

We received the following question from a reader: “My co-worker takes credit for my work. How do I stand up to them?

As always, there is no right or wrong way but here are some perspectives.

Things to consider:

  • Is he/she a peer or is he higher up in the food chain?
  • How major (or minor) was the project/assignment that they took credit for?
  • Is this the first time?

Let’s go with the hypothetical worst situation here (Senior to you; big project you spent several weeks on; not the first time). How best to resolve this depends on the magnitude but calm and clear communication is paramount in sticky situations like this.

The good and bad thing about a big project is that it typically leads to a big presentation to key decision makers. When you know you are doing most of the heavy lifting, you obviously want to be recognized for all the days (and long nights!) spent data crunching and preparing presentation decks. After all, these charts didn’t build themselves!

Here’s where you can shine and be the bigger person: Q&A time post-presentation, debriefing conversation with them and discussion with your manager.

 

Q&A post-presentation

Some questions are more intricate than others; (1) Raise your hand to imply “I’ll take this” or say it out loud (2) Say “To add to ____’s comments” (3) Say “Further to ____’s point”. Find a way to contribute meaningful responses to the audience’s questions that clearly show you know the nitty gritty and project inside and out.

Debriefing Conversation

Schedule a chat with your co-worker to debrief the presentation and actually go through what went well/wrong in the presentation. Then, counterintuitively, praise them on the good things they did on the presentation (I know it’s hard given they stole credit but try because this will help in the long run).

After the praise, begin a phrase along the lines of “ [name], I am glad we’ve had opportunities to work together, I’ve learned a lot but it is important to me that our team and manager see my contribution and dedication to projects like this.” The key to this sentence is to make them feel guilty, not to attack him/her.

Conversation with Manager

Schedule a chat with your manager a few days after the presentation so that you’ve had time to cool off and had a chance to debrief with your credit-stealing teammate. Ask your manager for feedback on the presentation and while he/she is going through that, slide in sentences like “Yes, I really enjoyed putting that part together/researching that/discussing with XYZ to obtain that information” every now and then. It may even be worthwhile to suggest working with another member of your team next time a project is assigned.

If your manager isn’t quite reading in between the lines, don’t leave the meeting without telling him/her what happened. It may feel uncomfortable at first because you’re “ratting” someone out, but remember, stick to the facts without a whiny or angry tone and you’ll sound fair. Your manager may be instrumental in helping prevent this situation from happening in the future, not just to you but to others too. 

 

If any of the above feel too direct and you're nervous to confront the situation, there are opportunities to provide feedback during formal employee reviews. You can first site the occurrence in your own self-review (there's usually a section to list all of your accomplishments during the year). Second, if your coworker has asked for you to review them, you can say something along the lines of "[name] can improve by sharing  credit and being a team player." This feedback will be directly viewed by their manager but will be anonymously delivered to the coworker. 

One way to avoid this from happening in the future is to divide and conquer the project. Make sure you are taking on a portion that works well to your strengths and skills. Prior to the actual presentation, take a minute with your coworker to determine who will speak to which piece and for how long. If they go on too long, you might want to give them a nudge under the table or just interject, in a polite way. 

Thanks for reaching out and we hope this helps. Let us know if this has happened to you and how you've dealt with it!