• Tue, Aug 21 2012

Co-Worker Conundrum: How Do I Confront A ‘Mentor’ That Takes Credit For My Work?

Trouble in the office? The Grindstone is here to help. Write in with your workplace drama and we’ll try to help you sort through the office politics and keep moving up the corporate ladder.

I’m relatively new to my job. I just moved to this company from a competitor a couple months ago. When I moved, I was given a “mentor” type co-worker who was supposed to show me the ropes and introduce me to clients. We work together with the same group of vendors and customers to our paths cross a lot. 

From the beginning, Jason* was very competitive. You could just sorta tell that he always needed to be first. I quickly tried to stop the whole “mentor” thing because he didn’t seem very interested in helping. But then I noticed that every time I did something good that might get praise, he acted like we were working as a team or that he helped me. If I took care of a situation for a client, he would tell them that he had fixed it. Or he would tell our boss that he had directed me to fix it. Basically any time I do anything that might earn praise, he just inserts himself, even though we aren’t really speaking unless its completely neccessary. How do I make him back off and stop pretending my accomplishments are his?

Being the kid on campus is always a difficult transition. It’s even worse when you have a mentor who is more concerned with promoting their own agenda than actually helping you out. From the sounds of it, working with Jason or trying to build a relationship really isn’t going to do much good. He’s not worried about what you think of him, because you obviously can tell what he’s doing. He’s sacrificing your relationship for what might be a small potential gain.

So here’s how you might want to respond. It’s difficult to call him out directly, especially because you’re the newbie. He probably knows and understands that. That’s why he’s willing to lie. So instead of just telling him off or crying foul to your boss, these more subtle moves might be your best bet.

  • Build other office relationships. If this guy was so quick to abuse his mentor status with you, he’s probably done it before. If you look at other recent hires, you might find a string of people who understand what you’re going through and can help support you. Once you’ve built a coalition, it’ll be a little easier to shut Jason out of your day-to-day activities all together.
  • Keep records. If Jason is trying to take all the credit for your work, you might have a little problem come review-time. Your boss might not realize all the things you’ve accomplished. Keep records of “Thank you” emails from top clients for superior service. Try to find quantifiable ways to demonstrate your hard-work.
  • Fly solo. Sell it to your boss as a chance to really experience the process from beginning to start. Say you feel a special affinity for this project. Do whatever you have to do, but chat with your boss ahead of time about you’re really looking forward to taking this project on by yourself. Don’t slam, Jason. You can even compliment him for teaching you so much. But build the case for why you need to handle some things alone, so that he doesn’t have any excuse for inserting himself.
  • Feign ignorance. Next time Jason tries to pretend that he solved a problem, just act completely confused. “What? I had no idea you were even involved… That’s so weird because when I talked to accounting to take care of that, they didn’t mention speaking to you at all. How odd.” Don’t get accusatory, just act perplexed at the failure to communicate. A few well-placed comments about how surprised you are to hear he knew about a certain issue at all might put him in his place a little.
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  • Lastango

    This person is feeling the frustrations of having Jason steal her thunder.
    My own thinking is that it’s best at this point to overlook specific incidents and take a strategic view, something like this:
    == Jason may still be valuable to her, in ways she doesn’t recognize yet or hasn’t made use of yet. For instance, it may be helpful to keep the support and goodwill of his contacts and friends. That’s why I would suggest staying away from embarrassing him with a comment like, “What? I had no idea you were even involved.” Yes, ease Jason out of the way, and secure her own credit, but not so that he can see it’s happening. (Always remember: when we fight with someone, we are fighting with all their friends, too. Instead of just having to deal with one person, now the whole lot of them are working against us in ways we may not realize.)
    == Is this person career-oriented, with management aspirations? Her most valuable quality in leadership positions is her abliity to get along with people, and get the best contribution from everyone — including second-raters like Jason. No team is made up entirely of stars, and there will always be Jasons. He’s probably contributing something useful to the company, or he wouldn’t be there. It is counterproductive for a management professional to be seen to be at war with others, or to be isolated from support.
    == Abe Lincoln said, “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?” The ultimate success here would be to secure Jason’s best efforts on her behalf, and to keep him as a resource for the long term. So, she might find ways to get him involved from time to time, especially with referrals to other resources. It’s an error to think she needs to succeed by being brilliant or unilateral. Manages succeed when other people come through on their behalf.
    One other thing: she’s still early enough in her job where it might be possible that she will, fro inexperience or ignorance, make errors or omissions, or overlook opportunities. If she’s still seen as interdependent, she will get some slack if there’s a screwup or deficiency. Then it’s everybody’s fault, including Jason’s, not just her’s.

  • Lastango

    This person is feeling the frustrations of having Jason steal her thunder.
    My own thinking is that it’s best at this point to overlook specific incidents and take a strategic view, something like this:
    == Jason may still be valuable to her, in ways she doesn’t recognize yet or hasn’t made use of yet. For instance, it may be helpful to keep the support and goodwill of his contacts and friends. That’s why I would suggest staying away from embarrassing him with a comment like, “What? I had no idea you were even involved.” Yes, ease Jason out of the way, and secure her own credit, but not so that he can see it’s happening. (Always remember: when we fight with someone, we are fighting with all their friends, too. Instead of just having to deal with one person, now the whole lot of them are working against us in ways we may not realize.)
    == Is this person career-oriented, with management aspirations? Her most valuable quality in leadership positions is her abliity to get along with people, and get the best contribution from everyone — including second-raters like Jason. No team is made up entirely of stars, and there will always be Jasons. He’s probably contributing something useful to the company, or he wouldn’t be there. It is counterproductive for a management professional to be seen to be at war with others, or to be isolated from support.
    == Abe Lincoln said, “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?” The ultimate success here would be to secure Jason’s best efforts on her behalf, and to keep him as a resource for the long term. So, she might find ways to get him involved from time to time, especially with referrals to other resources. It’s an error to think she needs to succeed by being brilliant or unilateral. Manages succeed when other people come through on their behalf.
    One other thing: she’s still early enough in her job where it might be possible that she will, fro inexperience or ignorance, make errors or omissions, or overlook opportunities. If she’s still seen as interdependent, she will get some slack if there’s a screwup or deficiency. Then it’s everybody’s fault, including Jason’s, not just her’s.