How to Communicate With A Coworker Taking Credit for Others’ Work

How to Communicate With A Coworker Taking Credit for Others’ Work

Communications problems with coworkers are common—we’ve all experienced them. Solutions to nagging coworker problems can be found in your own desire to create positive change. Keep in mind, many times you are not the only one experiencing the coworker-problem. By addressing the problem, you will be creating positive change for yourself and others.

Here is one example of a person experiencing communications problems with a coworker. Maybe my suggestions to Lynne (not her real name) can help you improve your workplace communications.

Dear Dr. Rick,

I have a problem with a colleague who frequently displays the behavior of a ‘Thinks they know it all’, but with an additional problem. He will use even the most tenuous link to people (frequently myself) or groups/committees to
take other’s credit for himself.

For example, he and I are both in a committee and also I head a team of which he is a member. In both situations, he has claimed credit for things ‘we’ have done in front of others, when it has been work solely done by myself or another committee member.

In this way, he has skillfully misled many people in our workplace into thinking that these achievements are his own. Indeed some staff have even questioned who is in charge of the team because of the things he has
said (and omitted to say) behind my back.

He won’t specifically say ‘he’ did it or that ‘he’ runs the team but he will ‘forget’ to mention anyone else. Give me some ideas on how can I put a stop to this without sounding petty and insecure by pleading “No! That was me. I did that”, which is what I’m thinking. Any suggestions for me?–Lynn

Dear Lynn,

You describe someone who takes undeserved credit for himself. And your issue with it is that you want the credit due you, but you don’t want to appear petty in seeking it. You say you want to put a stop to his behavior, but you haven’t said what you want him to do instead.

Remember, nature hates a vacuum and you cannot replace something with nothing. That makes it more difficult to create positive change for you and for your organization.

If you don’t want him to do what he’s doing, what behavior would you him to replace it with?

That said, I can tell you what I would do in your situation, and it’s up to you what you do from there. I would assume that this person actually believes what he’s saying when he takes undeserved credit. Therefore, I would seize every opportunity to help educate him about the role he actually played vs. the one he thinks he played by drawing him out and asking him for specifics about his contributions. My guess is he’ll hate this. My guess is, by the time I’d done this on several incidents, he’d be well trained, and he’d stop doing anything that might cause me to ask such embarrassing and revealing questions again.

For example, when he claims credit for things ‘we’ have done in front of others, I’d be inclined, gently, not accusingly, to say, “I hear you say that ‘we’ did that. Honestly, I have a different recollection. Clearly I’ve overlooked some important details about your specific participation. Please help me. Tell me, what specifically did you do that you’re referring to when you say ‘we’ did this?” And then I’d smile graciously, and patiently wait for an answer. And no matter what the answer was, I’d keep asking questions that went from general to specific.

He says, “Well, remember, we got that list and made those calls?” “When you say ‘we got that list,’ please help me recall, because I just have a different recollection. What specific part did you play in getting that list?’ Or, I might tell him how I remember it, and ask him to help me with the parts I’m missing. “You know, the way I remember it, I called my staff, had them solicit input from their clients, then took the results and created the list myself. Then I made the calls. I’ve obviously over looked something. Tell me exactly what you did that helped put together that list? And who specifically did you personally call?” Once I revealed the details or lack thereof in this way, I’d summarize what I heard, and thank him for helping me out. “So, ok, my memory was accurate. I put together the list, and I made the calls. Hey, thanks for helping me remember this accurately. Great job!”

Now, you’re concerned with looking petty. But it’s my guess that you’re not the only one annoyed by this person’s behavior. So calling him out through innocent questions and positive communications might actually be considered as an added service by others who work with him. And if you have some fun with this, I think it could be a very effective communications approach.

You do have other communications options. Another option would be to do all of this with him in private the first time or two. “Back in the meeting, when you said that ‘we’ did such and such,….” Then, the next time it happens and you call him out in public, he won’t be so surprised, but he will recognize the patterning of it.

Last bit. I think this person is pretty desperate for attention. So maybe he’s not getting any when he deserves some. If that’s the case, maybe it would serve you well to pay attention more closely for legitimate opportunities to recognize his contributions. Tell him specifically what he did right and recognize him for it.

This two fold strategy of calling him out when it isn’t due through innocent questions for details, and giving him credit when it’s due for specific actions taken, may be enough to change the way this individual pursues his efforts to make (or be seen to make) a meaningful positive change.

Does anyone have examples of other solutions that work with coworkers taking credit for others’ work?

Be well,

Dr. Rick

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1. How To Develop An Assertive Style: Office Politics

2. The Art of Communication: How To Bring Out The Best In People At Their Worst!