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What to do when someone appropriates your idea at work

You know the situation.

You have just shared an idea within a group, or in a meeting, but the group somehow failed to notice.

Then a littler later someone else jumps in, takes your idea, but adds a twist.
Maybe he delivers more passionately, louder, or he has a bit more status than you have. And now the group seems to love the idea, and it starts moving in that direction.

You feel cheated and short-changed.
You could probably learn more about persuasion and social power to get your point across, but still... Your feelings are justified. The idea-taker has not given you any credit when credit was due.

If he wanted to build on your idea respectfully, he would have said:

Credite Giver: I actually like Lucio's idea, I think that with a twist, it might work. For example, if we did...

That way, he credits you as the original thinker, and only takes a portion of the credit for himself -as it should be in a perfectly fair world-.

But when he fails to mention you at all, then there is a high change that the group will forget it was you who provided the backbone of the solution (and most of the value).

What to do, now?

Now you are faced with a dilemma:

  • You can complain it was your idea, but you sound like a complainer and a selfish individual (not a team player)
  • You can let is slip, but you lose all the credit, you waste a chance to increase your status, and you send the message that it's OK to steal people's contribution without crediting

Furthermore, if you complain it was your idea and the credit taker is a true asshole -and good at power moves-, he might use the opportunity to shame you.
Just imagine:

You: Well, actually, that's pretty much what I've just said. I said it before you did
Ahole credit thief
: Lucio, it doens't matter whose idea it is. We are a team here, and we're looking for solution. All it matters is that we find a solution. So, going back to solutions...

Boom, now it's you who looks like a petty selfish ahole and you can't do much from there. The more you fight, the more you dig your hole.

What's the solution, then?
Well, you want to point out what just happened, but in an indirect and socially intelligent fashion.
Like this:

Credit Thief: How about we do this and that... (he repeats your idea)
You: (jumping in) It sounds like you are building on my original suggestion, but with a twist. I support that, and I very much like your addition as well, it fixes a couple of issues with my original suggestion. I think that...

With that move you:

  • Indirectly tell everyone it was your original idea
  • Send the message it's not cool to take people's idea without crediting them
  • You show how to properly brainstorm and credit people when you say "I like your addition as well" -a very leader-worthy move-
  • You move the interaction forward, seeking value-adding solutions
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Ali ScarlettBel
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Oh, and P.S.: just not to be an ahole credit taker :D, this is based on Lois Frankel's idea.

She originally proposed to say "It sounds like you’re building on my original suggestion, and I would certainly support that", and then I modified it and added all the rest.

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My friend who is a natural high mach had a simular spin on this ..with a twist 😉

"Thank you for following up on that - I'm  glad we had that discussion"

You can drop the "...glad we had that discussion" if it happens in the same meeting as per Lucio's example.

To me you've tasked them, thanked them and reinforced it was your idea in a nice punchy format (invest less).  What do you all think?

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Lucio Buffalmano

Sorry for the double post - just found this thread.  So...going by that would this be even better?

Yeah you did a great job of covering my main idea better than I said it.  And...blah blah


Hello T.,

Both of them are effective, actually.

The difference is that the firm one is socially value-taking, while the second is value-giving.

The post you linked and the second example you gave great with a collaborative frame. Such as, when you're supporting each other, when you're friends or allied with someone, or when you're trying to move towards a collaborative frame (often a good idea, anyway).
It's also perfect as a leader, since great leaders build people up.

The first one is better when you're already locked into a little war, or when you're in a naturally competitive environment where alliances are difficult.
For example, when you're competing for attention, for a promotion, for a salary increase, or when the individual is a notorious competitor who would never give anything back for your support, but only take and take.

You can still go the collaborative road even though as part of a strategic move of generally being superior.
Such as, while they keep scratching like turkeys, you still act like a soaring eagle, building others up and giving credit.
That's high-quality leader behavior and, with a very forward-looking management, that will increase your chances of you winning the war.

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