Bullish: What To Do When Some Jerky McJerkface Takes Credit For Your Ideas

Jennifer Dziura writes career advice for The Grindstone on Fridays and life coaching advice for our sister site, TheGloss, on Tuesdays.

Let’s hear today from a reader I’ll call Violet Newstead (that was Lily Tomlin’s character in the epic ‘80s movie Nine to Five):

I have a co-worker that is constantly taking credit for things I’ve said. He is new, so I have to explain things to him a lot. Then when our boss comes over to see what we are doing, he will repeat things I have said to him, for no reason other than to sound smart, and my boss smiles at him like he is a damn genius whereas I get zero respect from my boss when I always end up doing the work of both of them, and my own work. I’ve never felt the need to be showy of everything I accomplish in a day, since it’s obvious everything is getting done that is on my plate, but he is making me feel like I need to be showing my boss every time I finish something. I want to call out the newbie for what he’s doing but I don’t know what the most appropriate way of doing so is.

Thanks, I love your articles. They are seriously helpful to someone trying to make their way through life as a woman in a man’s world (I’m a website developer. I’m always the only girl with like 10 guys around me).

Oh, Violet! I’m sorry you are dealing with such an obnoxious work environment.

First, the bright side: the things you say are the sorts of things your boss smiles at and finds ingenious!

But seriously, this situation sucks, and there’s no entirely un-awkward way out. I am reminded of an episode of Friends wherein some guy in the coffee shop takes Ross’s hat (maybe it was Chandler’s hat) and won’t give it back, and Ross, Chandler, and Joey come to the sad realization that they don’t actually have any better tools for dealing with bullying than they did as kids. (“Give it baaa-aack!”)

I do have some ideas, though. Some of them more devious than others.

Deal with the problem directly

Okay, let’s start with the obvious. It might be possible that the newbie – I’ll call him Joey McCopypants – doesn’t realize what he’s doing, or he’s so nervous around the boss that he spurts out any smart thing that comes to mind (and it just so happens that all the smart things in his head actually came from you). Maybe he even feels guilty.

You could talk to Joey directly. “Hey Joey, I’ve noticed that you’ve begun quoting me to the boss! I’m flattered that you’ve listened so carefully to the things I’ve said, but sometimes it comes out as though you’re saying those were your ideas. Could you watch out for that?”

Another great word to use here: When he passes ideas on to the boss, ask him to “clarify” where the idea came from. It’s hard to argue with a request to “clarify.” Who the hell is against clarity?

You could also explicitly talk to the boss. When you do, don’t make it all about feeeeelings. This doesn’t necessarily need to be an interpersonal situation. (See Bullish: How to Win When the Workplace Depends on Feelings).

Instead, make it a factual, matter-of-fact talk about how you have been doing a lot of work both within your job description and outside of it (by training this guy), and you want to make sure your contributions are documented when it comes time for promotions, performance reviews, and raises.

This is completely reasonable, and in fact might improve your position by pushing against lady-stereotypes. Some bosses will respect you more when it’s clear that you’re in charge of your own career trajectory and aiming towards a promotion.

Backhanded compliment of the day: Point out what a good “trainee” this guy is! And how much you are enjoying training him!

When the boss stops by and asks how it’s going, jump in and give Joey credit for learning something new (that you taught him). In the process of complimenting him, you are pointing out your own competence (and training skills).

Furthermore, perhaps you actually are quite good at training, or would like to move into management?

These are excellent reasons to initiate a discussion with your boss about how, in your recent role as an informal trainer to Mr. McCopypants, you have realized that you have more to contribute and that you would like to expand on those skills as you take on more responsibilities within the company.

You can compliment Joey as a “fast learner,” which is a very polite way of pointing out how much you’ve been teaching him.

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