There isn’t an office without the co-worker who sometimes tries to sneak credit for someone else’s achievement or take square praise for team work. The intent may not always be malicious. Humans are wired to feel good when praised. In workplaces, where recognition often translates to career growth, this can be part of competitive spirit or ambition.

Organizations rarely work in silos; but there is often occasion where one person (or a few) do the heavy lifting – yet credit or praise is directed to another person. So, if you are the one who put in the chunkier bits of effort to reach a project milestone or come up with an innovative idea or create a ‘wow’ design for the annual report, praise is due for your effort.

How to deal effectively with co-workers who steal credit

Dealing with this requires a mix of tact and assertion. The type of response often depends on the situation as well.

During a team meeting. Say a co-worker takes credit for your work during a team meeting. Some experts do not recommend outing the person immediately, stating that it might appear petulant. However, some manner of response is warranted to discourage the behaviour in future. An appropriate response could be to reframe the statement with phrases that demonstrate how you both contributed to the final product. Even if your colleague was not involved, simply standing up for yourself lets them know that you will set the record straight.

When you are not present. In case someone takes credit for work and you hear about it through the office grapevine, it is best to proceed with tempered caution. Accusing a colleague of stealing credit without clear proof makes for an unpleasant workplace and can damage office morale. Here are a few things you can do to own your work while maintaining friendly office relations:

  • Take time to assess the context in which this conversation happened and with who.
  • Have a one-to-one chat with your colleague about the conversation. It may be useful to ask questions rather than lay blame. For instance, “I hear you showcased some of the work done on the project to Mathew. Was there anything specific that caught his attention? What was his response?” This gives them an opportunity to share their viewpoint and give you an honest reading of what happened.
  • Make your own assessment about the situation, whether it was intentional or a mistake, and choose how you’d like to respond. Responses can range from directly speaking to the other listeners and casually mentioning your contribution or how you chanced upon the idea that impressed them. It can also involve giving the person who took credit an opportunity to respectfully correct themselves with the concerned parties in a follow-up conversation.

When deceit seems evident. There are times when, in both the above occasions, the slip-up is intentional, and your colleague may continue to take undue credit. Some ways to stay ahead are:

  • Outline individual and group effort work when working with a team, so people are clear about their roles and contributions.
  • Share praise with members to model appropriate behavior.
  • Have a firm conversation with your co-worker and escalate it to your supervisors if the behavior persists.

It helps to remember that taking credit for work is often unintentional. Modelling the right behavior when taking ownership for work or sharing credit with the team helps set a culture of fairness and encourages open conversation.

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