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Christina Tomasco

Christina Tomasco

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How to Professionally Manage a Colleague Who ‘Steals’ Your Ideas

Collaboration and team work are central to the success of any organization.   Working together with your colleagues, there may be a circumstance where you have innovated a solution that is valuable to your employer; one that would earn you extra recognition, or other incentives.

There is nothing more frustrating that sitting in a meeting, while someone presents an idea you have formulated as their own concept.  It is generally not acceptable to interrupt someone, or try to stake claim to the idea, while the colleague is directly in the middle of self-crediting for the solution, design or campaign.   And for some people, this frustrating experience can repeat itself cyclically, making them feel powerless and angry.

Our recruiters offer some steps to consider, when employees are faced with a situation of plagiarized creative ideas.     Handled calmly, not only can a professional correct the colleague’s behavior, but the employee can responsibly (and tactfully) take appropriate credit.

Step One:  Take a Breath

No matter how frustrated or irate you are, how you react after a colleague has ‘stolen’ an important idea or solution, will reflect favorably or negatively on your reputation as an employee.    Is it ever a good idea to interrupt someone in a meeting, or engage in an angry outburst?  No.  In fact, it can make the employer doubt your claim entirely.

Smile politely.  Take several deep breaths, and resolve to resolve the situation outside a meeting room privately and one-on-one with the manager or supervisor.

Step Two: Gather Evidence

Placing a senior manager in a difficult position, employees who have had their creative ideas plagiarized by a colleague, should be prepared to present some proof.   Images and notes, archives of documents that were the research behind the solution are all valuable proof of “showing your work” to an employer.  If it was your idea, you should have the architecture to show your boss; something your colleague typically wouldn’t have, by claiming the idea as his/her own, without research and framework.

Step Three: Request a Meeting

Don’t lose the opportunity to be taken seriously, and to dispute ownership of the idea.  The worst thing you can do is force yourself in an aggressive way upon a supervisor or manager.   The credit-stealer has already convinced the manager of ownership; it’s not your job to calmly present the truth with evidence.  Ask for a meeting with your manager to discuss “project ideas” related to your concept, and then present the proof politely for review.

Step Four: Take the ‘High Road’

If you have thoroughly documented your idea, chances are the supervisor will be able to see clearly, who the owner of the concept or idea really was.   What the manager does next in terms of fixing where credit is due, is up to the individual manager, and the culture of the organization.

Your manager may decide to speak privately to the dishonest employee, and depending on the scope of the behavior, other punitive measures such as suspension may apply, if it violated a code of conduct within your organization.   Your manager may or may not decide to reintroduce the idea, and provide public credit to you for the innovation.  However, if a public statement is not made to other employees, take ‘the high road’ and avoid talking about the issue.  The most important thing is that your manager knows; and if it happens again, address the issue and allow the manager to sort out the behavior.

In today’s competitive work environments, taking credit for innovative ideas is important.  Do not allow someone else to exclusively benefit and profit from your idea.   It is however generous and productive to include other team members as you refine the concept; collaboration is a win/win for both the employee and the organization, and a cooperative work environment fosters even more creativity, and brilliant new ideas.

Thank you for reading!
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