I Confronted My Boss For Taking Credit For My Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a boss taking credit of others: I have caught her on several occasions taking full credit for my ideas and suggestions.

Thanks so much for taking my question. I work for a large insurance company and I have been in this industry for about 12 years. I would be considered very knowledgeable in my field. I started with this company about 15 months ago and my current manager started at about the same time. Unfortunately, she does not have the technical skills or the background to excel or perform in my division and she has always acknowledged me as the expert – to my face.

Over the last year, I have supported her by giving her a lot of background knowledge, industry standards and similar information to help make her job easier and to help her actually know how to manage my division. Personally, I don’t find her a good manager and I think this would be the general consensus around the office. She is constantly late for meetings; she has nothing to offer in the way of innovation or adding value to conversations and has been vocal about how boring she finds the insurance industry. I actually don’t think she likes her job too much.

Over the last year, I have caught her on several occasions taking full credit for my ideas and suggestions. In fact, on two occasions, she took an email that I sent to her with my ideas and removed my name and forwarded them on as her own. Recently, this happened again and on a larger scale. I confronted her on it and I told her how disappointed I was that she didn’t acknowledge me. She didn’t respond so I took matters into my own hands and forwarded the original email with my ideas. My manager found out and lost it with me. I wont make any excuses…I know this was petty and emotional of me. Any advice on how I can mend this relationship with my boss now? Also, where did I go wrong? Thanks so much for your help. M

Signed, Wanting Things To Change

Dear Wanting Things To Change:

I can understand that you don’t want conflict with your manager, but I think you’re being too tough on yourself about what you did. Consider what happened there: You contributed something of value (on a big scale) and your manager, who has been willing to take all you have offered over the last year, stole it from you and made it her own. Loyalty has to go both directions I could understand if she had put both of your names on it, implying she had helped you. But, she left you off entirely–and it wasn’t the first time. No matter how much a person tries to justify it, the fact is that every book on management or leadership would say it was wrong, you wouldn’t do it, I wouldn’t do it, Dr. Gorden wouldn’t do and your boss shouldn’t have done it either.

The hackneyed aphorism that it would be wonderful what we could accomplish if we didn’t care who got the credit, was obviously said by someone who had never had their hard work claimed by someone else and who had never worked where promotions, raises, recognition and influence were based on work contributions. In most workplaces it is crucial that contributors are known, so they can be used further, developed more and given more opportunities.

This type of activity may be why, even though she is not very skillful, she became a manager.One way you might have handled this at the time would have been to say, when you had your thoughts together after finding out what happened, “Lisa, would you do me a favor? Now that Mr. Jones has seen the material I sent to you, would you help me by making sure he knows my role in developing it? If you’ll cc me on the email I’d really appreciate it and save it for my records. That’s the kind of thing that I want to be able to refer to one of these days.” Or, if you had already confronted her in a more pointed conversation, you could have said, “Lisa, I’ve thought about this since we talked. If you’ll just send Mr. Jones an email and let him know I had a role in developing that material, you could cc me and I’d have it for my records. That’s the main thing I was frustrated about. I want my contributions to be on the record, in case I need to mention them one of these days. Would you do that for me please?”

Then, if she did not, you could say you talked to her directly about it and felt you had no other option. One way to handle this in the future is to send ideas to her, which is appropriate, then say, “When you forward this would you cc me on it so I can have it for my records?” (You don’t have to tell her to mention you, because if she forwards it to you, she probably will.) But, now you’re dealing with the current situation and you want to know how to make things better.

Think about this: Why did your manager “lose it” with you? Probably because she was embarrassed and angry that she was found out. She knows she was wrong and may have been made more aware of that by someone higher up. Or, she may feel she has a right to take credit, since you were working under her guidance. Whatever the situation, you can be sure that time will help. Who needs who the most? Do you need her or does she need you? So, who will need to ask for help at some point? You may try the strategy that works on the school ground—engage her in something she can’t say no to and help her break the ice—which she probably wishes wasn’t there, so she can use you as a resource again.

There are three things that people who are peeved will respond to (especially if they know they were wrong about something and wish it would go away.)

1. A genuine request for assistance.

2. Casual pulling into the group Just the look over as you say, “Lisa, what do you think?” General good spirits and you look in her direction and laugh along.

3. A common enemy. (Doesn’t have to be a real enemy, just a common problem, challenge, frustration, etc., about which you both feel the same way.) If someone is having a birthday and you can gather people around, go get her and stand next to her. If there is a staff meeting, stick your head in the door and tell her you’ll bring some bagels. If you don’t have food at staff meetings, just wait until the staff meeting and engage her in a conversation about something in the meeting. If you want to take a less assertive approach, you could ask her for her advice or permission about something.

The bottom line is to give HER a chance to come back to the relationship, rather than you pushing to do it.Some might suggest that you talk to her directly. “Lisa, since the issue about the document going to Mr. Jones, I’ve felt like you were upset with me. I’m sorry about that and don’t want us to have a barrier between us about work. Do you think we can move past this?” The reason I don’t suggest that is because I don’t think it would work as you want. She is more likely to say that even though you were wrong, she’ll forgive you. I don’t think there is anything to forgive you about. What you decide will have to be what you think will work in your work culture and your relationship with your manager. I’m hoping that she will be seen as a not-very-effective manager and you will continue to gain recognition for your managerial-level work. I would be interested in knowing how you approach it and what were your results. Best wishes to you in all of this.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.