‘He Stole My Idea — I Can’t Believe It!’

Sandi had a conference call with her equal and team members about addressing an open problem. Her equal presented his strategy which she immediately knew would not work. After the call she met with him privately and told him so and why. Then she explained what they needed to do instead. Before she got back to her desk he had sent an email to the team explaining the new approach and taking credit for it himself.

Her reaction: “Did he just do that?!? Is this a big deal? Am I making something out of small stuff?”

It is not small stuff when someone else takes credit that belongs to you! I repeat, it is not small stuff — you have to claim the credit you are due. You cannot let that go without confronting the thief. Also you cannot allow the credit to stay with him.

Women tell me every day (almost) about getting robbed in this way. But the truth is 1) it shouldn’t surprise you that it happens and 2) you have to train to respond appropriately when it does.

Refresher: Men work in hierarchies. Work is a competition to gain status in the hierarchy. Do whatever you have to do. So, why not “adopt” someone else’s great idea if doing so can make you look good?

Women work in co-ops. Collaborating is the opposite of competing. If you are not even in the game, guess who is going to lose? You make yourself an easy mark that way.

She called me and asked, “What should I do?” Here is what I advised.

Sandi would have a hard time recovering if she let this theft go unchallenged. So before the close of business if not earlier get this message to the thief: “There’s a problem. Need to talk to you.” Set up a time to talk preferably in person. If that is not possible, the phone will work. (NEVER MAKE THE FOLLOWING KIND OF CASE BY EMAIL.) **

Once in front of him or on the phone: “So I noticed you adopted my idea then presented it to the team as if it originated with you. I know you know this was my idea. This creates a breach of trust and impacts the ability of the team to work together.” She had him. He apologized.

That’s a step in the right direction, but more importantly she put him on notice that she was willing to fight for her ideas. And that is really the point here.

Sandi could have responded to the initial email, with a cc to everyone on the chain, this way: “I’m so glad you like my idea. You will recall I first brought this up (whenever you did). I’m looking forward to seeing it implemented.” This same response works in a meeting at the very time the theft occurs.

**However many of you know I am firmly against using email for anything except information. It is NOT for communication.

Turns out Sandi had a meeting with her boss that same day. He was on the original email chain also. That gave her an opportunity to make sure her boss also knew this was her idea..

With a chuckle in her voice and a smile on her face: “That guy. He took my idea and made out like it was his again. I bet that’s happened to you too. What do you do in those situations?

Every boss enjoys a chance to give a little coaching. Points on Sandi’s board.   

Lay claim to what’s yours. Because if you don’t somebody else will.



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