5 Ways to Deal with a Co-Worker Who Steals Your Ideas

There’s nothing like coming up with a brilliant idea – one of your flashes of genius – and then having someone else take the credit.

What do you do?

Do you tell everyone at work, address it with the other person directly, or notify your bosses? All of these are options, as is doing nothing at all.

Here’s are some tips on how to handle the situation:

Keep Things In Perspective How you address an issue depends on its importance and how it impacts you. Always remember what’s truly important in the workplace: that the right people know about, and appreciate, your contributions.

Don’t get caught up in pettiness that might potentially bring you down, but do make sure to take steps to ensure your worth is valued and recognized. If your co-worker steals one or two ideas, but your boss and your boss’s boss know you as a solid worker, then you probably need to watch out for that particular coworker, but you don’t have to worry about your job security.

If a coworker (or worse, your boss!) is taking all your ideas and portraying them as her own One option is to do nothing immediately, but prevent it from happening again. Sometimes it’s not worth it to address the transgression initially.

So what if one of your coworkers wants everyone to think the pithy slogan for the company holiday party was her own? As long as you’re not in a creative field, it may make no difference to you what others know.

If it’s simply another’s ego, getting in a work fight may actually backfire, making you look petty and unsportsmanlike. Regardless of how you decide to address a one time issue – even if relatively minor -- you definitely want to watch out for this kind of behavior in the future from this person and maybe others.

Make Your Work Hard to Steal To the extent you don’t have to interact with the trespasser, don’t share your ideas and/or work product. They can’t be stolen if you keep them to yourself (or at least among the people who need to know). Document your interactions in writing. This is true both when discussing items one on one and also in groups.

Make sure you can go back and show that the work product was your own, if necessary. More importantly, make sure you do share with others on your team and higher-ups what you’re working on, and that the entire department (and/or your clients) know the contributions you’ve made.

It is a skill to judiciously “toot your own horn” on a regular basis, and one you need to cultivate.

Confront the Thief Directly You may decide – or it may be necessary – to talk to the thief one-on-one. If he is a co-worker, you can tell him, “You know, I’m surprised you didn’t recognize that I came up with that idea. Remember when I proposed that in the X meeting?” You can also email or call the person and say: “I just wanted to remind you.”

You want them to know you noticed, and that you’ll take measures in the future to present a similar outcome. While you don’t have to let others know, if you think the thief is just a bully or will pull such a stunt again, call them on it.

Address it with Management If your preventative measures aren’t doing the trick, gather the documentation you’ve gathered (and ask the folks who know what you’ve worked on to be ready to stand up for you) and have a meeting with a supervisor that can give you good advice.

If the issue has gotten out of hand, don’t allow it to be dismissed, and don’t be afraid to stand up and confront what’s been happening.

The trick is to know how and when.

Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website, PowerfulLatinas.com, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.

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