Episode 102: September 29, 2009
by Stever Robbins
Today’s topic is dealing with co-workers who take the credit for your work. The quick and dirty tip is to marry them in a community property state, and then divorce them after they’ve done all the hard work of turning your ideas into a billion-dollar empire. You get half.
Listener Jon writes in:
How do you deal with a coworker who likes to hog credit and delegate blame? He says, "That project is late? You never sent me the file I needed." Note: Simone sent the file a week ago. Or, "He liked my idea? GREAT!" Note: not his idea. How would you silence the, "My win, your loss" type personality?
The bottom line is it sounds like Sleaze Boy (or “S.B.” for short) needs a developmental talking-to by his boss. If that isn’t in the cards, you’ll need to put some effort into dealing with SB yourself. In most states, it’s illegal to gag someone against their will.
What you do depends on your goal. If your goal is Zen-like spiritual enlightenment, then you meditate for 40 years until you are so at peace with the flow of life that nothing he says or does can disturb you at all. Since you wrote me, and not the Dalai Lama, that’s probably not your goal.
Don’t Put Sleaze Boy In His Place
If your goal is to put Sleaze Boy in his place, don’t. I know you want to. Reading your letter, I want to. But that’s emotionally immature. It won’t fix the problem; it will just make him mad. Limit your goal to making sure credit is given where credit is due.
Don’t contradict him! At best, you’ll embarrass him and he’ll work behind your back to bring you down. At worst, he’ll turn out to be an amoral psychopathic monster who will work behind your back to bring you down with a chainsaw. That would be bad.
Instead, use the comedy improv technique called “Yes, and…” His remarks are offering you a new reality. Join him. “You never sent the file I needed,” he says. Ok, pretend he’s right. And be the absolute soul of contrition while you clearly define roles and responsibilities so he gets to take full responsibility for his—and only his—contribution.
Get a calm, curious frame of mine by thinking about things that make you curious. Like why politicians all wear exactly the same suit and solid color ties. Approach Sleaze Boy--I mean, Sincere Boy--with a genuine attitude of warmth. Above all, do not, not, not let even a hint of sarcasm into your voice (see my episode on "Saying No" for more on that).
Hysterical accusations don’t work.
Also, toss the hysterics. Hysterical accusations don’t work. When I was a high school senior, my computer teacher stole copies of software I had written. I crashed the school’s computer in revenge. I was wrong. So was he. Who did they listen to? Not the hysterical 17-year-old. If facts are on your side, being defensive or aggressive will hurt your case.
You need to be so nice that his actions will reek of insincere obnoxiousness by comparison, while you are obviously the very definition of “team player.”
Take the Blame and Hand it Right Back to Him
When he says “You’re to blame,” say “Yes, and,” and shift responsibility right back to him in the future. You can even add some humility and self-deprecating blame. What’s he going to do? Disagree? “Hey, SB, I know I fell down on that one. I’m not always as dependable as I’d like. In the future, if you need something from me, please make sure to remind me. I don’t want to hold you up and, well, you know my memory…”
When he blames you next time, you can apologetically say, “I’m really, really sorry. As I said last time, please come to my cubicle if you don’t get what you need by the time you need it.” Say this in public, so everyone knows “I was waiting for Jon” is a bogus excuse on his part. You’ll also be showing them how to help him be accountable for his own behavior.
What to Do if Someone Takes Credit for Your Work
If SB is taking credit for other people’s work, they’ll be willing to help. Grab yourself a Defeat Sleaze Boy Buddy.
When any of you sends him a file or a presentation or finished work, create an excuse to CC each other. Then when SB says, “I’m sure you all love my idea to replace our Zombie World Domination Plan with a Ghoul-based Authoritarian Initiative,” you can turn to your Defeat Sleaze Boy Buddy and say out loud in front of the team, “Yes, and I recall Simone also had a Ghoul-based proposal, after the team became concerned about the difficulty refrigerating the Zombies.” Turn to SB and observe, helpfully, “It is a great idea.” Notice that you’re not saying his idea is great, but that the idea you’ve attributed to him and Simone is great.
Your Defeat Sleaze Boy Buddy can also help you with the blame problem. When you send SB the file, CC your friend. Then when SB says he never got the file, your friend can pipe up. “How funny,” your friend says, “I was CC’d on that and I got a copy. Maybe email is screwed up. Would you like me to investigate with IT?”
Use E-mail to Create Receipts and a Paper Trail
Put everything in writing. After you meet, send SB a confirmation e-mail that summarizes the ideas and who came up with them. Say you’re just reporting what happened and keep these e-mails in your inbox and outbox. Then when he says the file never arrived, check your outbox and say, concerned beyond concern, “Oh, I'm sorry. Let me check... yes, I emailed you the file last Thursday. Maybe email is screwed up. Would you like me to investigate with IT?”
CYB: Cover Your Butt Behavior
You’ve probably noticed this is a lot of trouble. It’s all CYB (cover your butt) behavior. It accomplishes nothing useful except preserving Sleaze Boy’s bad behavior. A better solution could be a discussion with your boss or the company’s Human Resources department. This is a great chance for someone to have a serious development conversation with Sleaze Boy.
If you're SB's boss, by doing nothing, you're making poor Jon spend his time on SB's BS instead of real work. Own it and fix it!
By the way, if a friend or coworker suggested you listen to this episode, I have some bad news. They may think you’re Sleaze Boy and they’re gently trying to let you know they’re on to you. Do with that information what you will.
This is Stever Robbins. Join my Facebook page at http://www.Facebook.com/GetItDoneGuy
Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!