A coworker is stealing his ideas

Female manager stands addressing team at board meeting

Dear Aunty,

I am not South Asian, but I like your advice and I hope that you will give my question some consideration. I am a 27 year old man and I have been working in advertising for 3 years. About six months ago, my company hired a new advertising associate whom I trained in the ways of our corporate culture.  She works on my team, so when a project is assigned to us, we talk about it together and then present our ideas to our project managers during team meetings.

I have noticed a terrible pattern in her behavior and I am finding it very difficult to work with her. In our brainstorming meetings, she tells me my ideas are worthless. At the team meetings, she presents my ideas as her own.  I am angry with her.  She is making me look like an idiot.  The first two times she did this, I just sat there stunned and said nothing.  I do not think my bosses would be interested in hearing about our petty squabbles, so I am not going to them with my grievances, but I am tired of her taking all the credit for all of my ideas and making me look stupid both in our planning meetings when she shoots down my ideas, and again in our presentations where she makes me look unprepared to present my own ideas!  I am good at my job.  I have always been good at my job.  But she is ruining work for me. I am afraid that if I confront her she will blow up and pretend no such thing has happened What can I do?


Sweet Beta,

Aunty does not care where you are from. You are welcome here and you are like one of my own children.  It sounds like you have a very frustrating and even angering work situation.  I think you have good reason to be upset.  Consider first that your bosses know your work. You have had 3 years to prove yourself to them.  They can probably see through what is happening.  Take some comfort in that.  If you think you are really in danger of looking like a fool in front of them, you can discretely tell them what is bothering you without looking like a squabbler.  You can take one of your mentors aside and say, “Rani, do you have a sec?  I need an experienced perspective on an issue.  Everything is fine, but I’m having trouble communicating with Amina.  I wonder if you might have any suggestions for improving my communication strategies.  There is a miscommunication pattern emerging in our planning sessions.  The final product is the goal for the whole team, and I don’t want our communication problem to affect the work we present to the client.  Would you have a second to talk about this?”

You see?  You are making the common goal the priority, and asking for experienced wisdom from a mentor. That is received very differently than “I feel like she’s stealing my ideas!” which is personal and sounds petty, even if it is not petty. Then when you talk about the actual problem, say, “I think I might be working my presentations wrong or something, I’ve noticed that when I have an idea it is not well received, so we do not flesh it out. But it has happened several times that in the team meeting, that very idea is presented to you haphazardly without sufficient planning. I think we could do so much better.  Can you help us improve our communication?”

The other tactic is to talk to her directly.  She sounds insecure and a little bit of a bully.  Bullies usually back down when they are confronted with their behavior.  During your next planning session, if she shoots down an idea say, “Amina, it has happened a few times in the past that when you shoot down my ideas, you present them as your own in the planning meetings.  You can give her an example of this, but resist the temptation to argue with her.  There is no need to get her to admit it out loud, nor to engage in argument.  Just put up your hand and say, “Wait. I do not want to argue with you, I just want to focus on doing the best job possible for the client.  Let’s work this out productively.  When I present an idea, if we mutually agree that is not a good idea, let us agree that it will not be presented.  If it is a good idea, let us work on it together and present it together.”  You can also take notes during your planning meetings, so that there is written record.  This serves as a barrier to further argument about whose ideas was whose.

I hope that you are able to get past this unpleasant work experience, beta.  Jeethe Raho- Desi Aunty

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