My blog last week posed a theoretical situation to all of you about a woman who was very excited about an idea she had to move a stale project forward for her department. She shared her idea with a colleague at lunch and the colleague ended up presenting the proposal as her own at the senior staff meeting. So my question to all of you was what would you do? Would you let it pass? Would you confront her?

I want to thank all of you who sent responses. Thank you for your honesty,  and  thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this important subject.

I think most of you would admit that you would be pretty angry and feel betrayed. Yet some of your responses indicated that you would let it go and not say anything.

Nancy shared this. “As far as the stolen idea goes, I would do nothing.  It will eventually come out and you will be rewarded.  If you scramble about who came up with the idea, you will just seem sort of..  I don’t know the right word.  Also your co- worker knows that it was you.  Besides the work is for the team right?”

Barbara offered this generous thought. “ I find that when I get into a situation that seems to rob me of my triumph the best thing to do is bless the person who stole the idea.  Most likely she didn’t do it on purpose.  We all can get great ideas.  If I remain secure in my identity than this situation won’t rock my boat.”

Some of you would not directly confront your colleague, but would instead choose to address it with senior management later or simply let the truth reveal itself.

Chantay shared that this exact situation did happen to her and this is what she did. “ I allowed her to get the credit yet later on while alone with my boss, I told him the truth.  How I made the suggestion and she stole it.  He found her actions amusing.  He was fully aware of my character and work performance, he believed and accepted every word I spoke.  I just communicated the facts.  It all worked out in my favor. Originally he thought what she did was fabulous, a great example of an employee going the extra mile.  Afterwards he found her not so great which was his original opinion before this incident.“  Chantay also added that she refrained from having lunch with her co-worker after that.

Margaret added this. “It happened to me. Unfortunately for my male colleague he couldn’t come up with a suitable proposal or implementation plan and was caught when he confessed it wasn’t his idea or vision and so ended with egg on his face. I volunteered to do the project myself and no one lifted a finger because they knew that was my area of specialization. I just did not belabor the point that I was the expert.”

Balaji had a similar situation several years ago. “Fortunately, I was crazy enough to document the idea on email & share it with someone else as well; just to get feedback! Fortunately, that’s what saved me. After the meeting, I approached the senior management & informed them of the blatant plagiarism by my colleague & took the emails as evidence. The director sent out a correction in the weekly email, acknowledging me for the idea & the “colleague” was moved out to a different department, with a note to the HR. If not for that email conversation with another colleague, I probably would have still been cribbing. The lesson that this has taught me is to document official discussions, of any kind, on email!


There were also some responses that showed a more assertive approach.

Loretta shared this. “ I too am very creative by nature and someone who gets lots of ideas. I have more than once found myself in a situation where I have not gotten credit for a pivotal idea. I try really hard now to get my ideas in writing right away, like in an email to my supervisor, so I have a dated paper trail I can bring up when I claim an idea. I am very vigilant about acknowledging other people’s good ideas and also their input into my ideas, as in truth it is that synergy that I enjoy most, but I am not shy about claiming ideas are mine when they are and insisting that I be given credit for them when warranted.”

Jacqueline added this.” My initial thought would be to let the colleague speak about “her” idea, and then when she was done, stand up and say something like:  Thank you, (insert name here), for that great synopsis.  However, please allow me to elaborate on this idea which I presented to you yesterday.  I had envisioned this and maybe even that, etc. Hate the thought of someone else getting credit for my own creative ideas!”

Michelle sent in this response. “I would have immediately chimed in, saying “Yes, and when we were talking about this yesterday (claiming at least partial ownership), I suggested to Diane that we approach it in this manner.” That way, you’re not in a “she stole my idea” situation, which reflects poorly on both of you (you for whining, and her for stealing), but instantly connects you to the idea and allows you to further lead the discussion, establishing a leadership position, when she likely brings nothing else to the table.”

 Rebecca added this.  “Allow your co-worker to conclude. If you are not acknowledged then diplomatically add to comments indirectly reprimanding your colleague. it was your idea and add credibility by stressing on pro’s and cons of the strategy. Say something to the effect of…”Thank you Mr/Ms X I couldn’t have presented the proposal better.  The strategy was inspired by… I brought the plan to Mr X on Saturday and we discussed this at great length. We may have issues maneuvering with…(id them) and will need to monitor these, however, I feel that (outline factors) this makes for a strong case to really get traction on this project.”

Then Rebecca added this honest statement. “Having said that, I don’t think I’d be gutsy enough to pull this off…I’d probably go away and mope around a bit then not make the same mistake to disclose inspirations in future.”

Thank you so much Rebecca for your honesty!

Honestly, how many of you could think of ways to handle this directly yet choose not to do it because you lack the courage or self-confidence to do so? If so, do you then do what Rebecca says she would do, go away and mope?

The bottom line is that we all have our own communication style with which we are comfortable. Yet it’s important to realize that what we are comfortable with may not always be the best approach for our emotional and physical well-being, and it may also be sabotaging our careers.

Organizations reward employees for their positive contributions and women need to present themselves as competent and confident or they risk becoming invisible and losing respect.

We can learn to successfully balance assertive behavior which demonstrates this competence with kindness, niceness and helpfulness.

Next week, I will present some specific techniques on how to utilize assertive communication techniques that will help you get what you need in your personal and professional life.