When a co-worker takes credit for your work, don’t feel embarrassed to stand up for yourself.
Open any newspaper or news feed and it seems like stories of bad behavior abound. But that doesn’t mean you should allow someone to get away with unethical behavior.
Q: I work on a creative team and had a fellow co-worker/friend ask me for help with the naming of a concept. It took some times, but I came up with a name that drives and defines the whole concept. My co-worker then presented the name and concept as her own.
I spoke privately with her and asked that, in the future, she remember to give credit for something we worked on together. She acted offended and angrily told me that she won’t ask for my help in the future “if getting credit is such a big deal.”
I don’t understand why she was so resistant to sharing the credit for something that wasn’t her idea. She made me feel like a villain for standing up for what was right. Do you have any ideas on salvaging my friendship with this co-worker?
A: Imagine how easy it would have been for your co-worker/friend to have presented the new concept and said, “And thanks to Jane for her creative naming skills! Because of her, we have a fabulous name that also helps drive the overall concept!” End of story.
But that wasn’t what happened, was it? Instead, your co-worker presented your idea as her own. You were right to approach her privately and discuss her behavior. However, her response was not “Oops! I’m so sorry about that. I should have given you credit for coming up with the name of the concept. I’ll fix that mistake right now.”
Instead of being apologetic — either for an honest mistake, or, because she got caught — she went into attack mode and tried to make you feel like the villain.
When someone acts this way, it’s often a pattern of behavior, not an isolated incident. My guess is that your co-worker has done this before, possibly to others in your work group or in previous groups. Her behavior could also be a red flag that she’s insecure about her skills or her position within the organization.
Here are some ways to move forward, but you’ll also want to consider whether the friendship is worth salvaging. You might be better off with a professional, but reserved, working relationship until (if) she can earn your trust again.
Meet with your co-worker (again). Let her know you’ve enjoyed the friendship (until her recent behavior), but to move forward, you have certain expectations.
These expectations include giving people credit where it’s due and acting ethically (with honesty and integrity). If she’s unable to behave this way, you may not want to continue the friendship. You might even be forced to have a discussion with your manager if her behavior gets worse.
Proactively strive to create a better work environment. Ask the creative team to discuss the type of group culture they want and then brainstorm a list of the values and behaviors that everyone would like to see.
This could include: Arriving to meetings on time, avoiding multitasking during meetings, trying not to interrupt others when they are speaking, acting respectfully toward others and giving credit where it’s due.
To help make positive behaviors stick, the entire creative team will need to be accountable for upholding the preferred behaviors — this shouldn’t fall onto one individual.
You are not the villain. Had the situation been reversed, you would have given your co-worker the credit she deserved. Don’t feel embarrassed for standing up for what is right or ethical at work. The world needs many more people like you, who are willing to speak out.