Taking Credit for Others' Work

In the dynamic world of work – where collaboration and teamwork are key, there exists a detrimental behavior that can poison the work environment: taking credit for others’ work. This insidious behavior not only undermines trust and morale – but also diminishes the productivity and effectiveness of individuals and teams.

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What is Taking Credit for Others’ Work?

Taking credit for others’ work is a deceptive act that occurs when someone appropriates the achievements of another person – and passes it off as their own. This is a bad habit commonly observed in the workplace and other professional settings – examples include:

  • Falsely attributing the conception of a project/ creative piece to oneself, despite not being the originator.
  • Employing another person’s words or ideas without proper attribution.
  • Presenting someone else’s work as one’s own during a presentation or meeting.
  • Submitting another person’s work as one’s own for promotion/ other professional purposes.
  • etc.

Claiming credit for someone else’s work is not only unethical – it also exhibits disrespect towards the original creators. Such behavior disregards the efforts, ideas, and accomplishments of others without providing the appropriate recognition or acknowledgment.

Within a team, this violation of fairness undermines trust – as well as inflicts harm upon the morale and performance of the individuals involved. Furthermore, the reputation and credibility of those who engage in such practices (commonly referred to as “credit stealers”/”credit grabbers”) is often severely tarnished.

The Ethical Dilemma of Taking Credit for Others’ Work

The act of taking credit for others’ work presents a compelling ethical dilemma, as it involves a delicate conflict between two fundamental values: honesty and self-interest.

Honesty, a virtue encompassing truthfulness and fairness, plays a pivotal role in establishing trust and fostering respect among individuals. Conversely, self-interest serves as a means to garner recognition for one’s own accomplishments – and propel personal growth within a professional context.

ethical dilemma

Claiming credits you don’t deserve violates the principles of fair treatment – it implies that you consider yourself superior, and exemplifies a lack of integrity and respect towards the individual who genuinely performed the work. The consequences of such arrogance are often disastrous – including:

  • Reputation loss. When you appropriate another person’s achievements without permission, it can inflict severe harm to the original creator’s reputation. Such actions undermine their credibility and make it arduous for them to receive due recognition for their contributions in the future.
  • Erosion of trust and respect. Those who frequently engage in such a practice often experience a profound loss of trust and respect from their colleagues. This breakdown in relationships may create significant barriers to collaboration and cooperation with others in subsequent endeavors.
  • Undermined teamwork. Trust and collaboration are the pillars of effective teamwork. When someone takes credit for the work of others, it erodes the trust and confidence that team members have in each other. It creates an atmosphere of suspicion and hampers the willingness to share ideas, offer support, or seek assistance. As a result, teamwork suffers, and the cohesive functioning of the team becomes compromised.
  • Lower productivity. When individuals do not receive proper credit for their work, it diminishes their motivation and enthusiasm. They may become disillusioned and feel undervalued, leading to a decline in their commitment and productivity. Moreover, if credit is wrongly attributed, it distorts the assessment of individual contributions, which may impact decision-making processes and resource allocation within projects or tasks.
  • Decreased organizational morale. The collective morale and spirit of an organization are heavily influenced by the fairness and equitable treatment of its members. When credit is unjustly claimed, it generates a sense of injustice and resentment among the workforce. Employees may become disengaged, demotivated, or even disenchanted with their work environment. Such negativity can permeate throughout the organization, dampening overall morale and impeding the pursuit of shared goals.

The only thing worse than not getting credit for your work is getting credit for someone else’s.

John Wooden

How Bad It Is to Take Credit for Others’ Work

(This section – along with the “Winning at all costs” & “Self-reflection” parts below – is compiled with inspiration from the bestseller ‘What got you here won’t get you there‘, written by World #1 Executive coach, Dr. Marshall Goldsmith)

The act of taking credit for others’ work is a grave transgression that not only robs individuals of the recognition they rightfully deserve – but also unjustly attributes their achievements to ourselves. It is a dual offense.

Now, think of moments in your life – whether in school and at work – where you have accomplished something remarkable and eagerly anticipated compliments from others. You wait – yet eventually, nothing happens.

This scenario is all too common. People often fail to acknowledge your accomplishments, due to the fact that they are preoccupied with their own concerns.

If this had occurred during childhood, you would have expressed feelings of resentment, “It’s not fair!”

Yet, as adults, we learn to accept these disappointments as a facet of life. We told ourselves “That’s life.” This does not negate the fact that you have achieved something exceptional – even if you are the sole witness to your triumph. You redirect your attention towards other matters.

Nevertheless, even the most affable individuals cannot so easily tolerate it – if their unacknowledged merit is suddenly snatched away by someone else. This is precisely what happens when another person claims credit for themselves – they are pilfering your ideas, your self-esteem, and essentially, your very existence.

While we despised such situations during our childhood, as adults, we harbor even greater disdain towards those who appropriate our accolades (partly due to the risks it poses to our careers – and also because of the potential loss of reward, which is far greater).

When a colleague steals the credit for the your success, they commit the most exasperating of offenses. This behavior elicits a host of negativity surpassing any other personal failing. The resulting bitterness endured by those affected is indelible.

One may find it OK to forgive others for failing to recognize their outstanding achievements. However, it becomes considerably more challenging to extend forgiveness – when people brazenly seize credit for work that is not their own.

If you have experienced such a situation, you intimately understand the arduous process of letting go and moving forward, as forgetting becomes an uphill battle.

Taking credit for someone else’s work is a surefire way to lose their trust and respect.

Brian Tracy

Why Do People Take Credit for Others’ Work?

Stealing someone else’s work is not only dishonest, it’s also a sign of insecurity.

Zig Ziglar

The motivations behind individuals taking credit for others’ work are diverse and can stem from various factors. Some common reasons include:

  • Self-promotion: Sometimes, people appropriate credit for the work of others as a means to elevate their own image and gain recognition. Insecurity about their own abilities or a desire to advance their career prospects may be the drive behind this bad habit.
  • Lack of credit: Feeling undervalued or overlooked for their own contributions, some individuals resort to claiming credit for others’ work. They may struggle with assertiveness or fear speaking up on their own behalf, leading them to take credit that isn’t rightfully theirs.
  • Competition: Scarcity of resources, such as promotions, raises, or favorable grades, may fuel a competitive environment where individuals vie for recognition. In such situations, some may resort to stealing credits to gain an edge over their peers.
  • Fear of failure: A fear of failure can drive people to wrongfully appropriate credit. Lacking confidence in one’s own abilities or apprehensive about the consequences of falling short of expectations, one may resort to claiming the work of others as a protective measure.
  • Insecurity and lack of empathy: Insecurity about one’s own abilities and a lack of empathy towards others’ contributions can contribute to the desire to take credit for someone else’s work. By doing so, individuals seek to bolster their self-esteem and ensure their own recognition.
  • Narcissism: Some individuals with narcissistic tendencies exhibit an inflated sense of self-importance and a constant need for admiration. Taking credit for others’ work aligns with their self-centered worldview and desire for constant validation.
  • Corporate culture: The cultural context within an organization may also influence the acceptability of claiming credit for others’ work. Certain cultures place more emphasis on giving credit to elders or those in positions of authority, even if they were not directly involved in the work.

Winning at All Costs – The Root Cause of Taking Credit for Others’ Work

Taking credit for undeserved accomplishments can be seen as a variant of the desire to win at all costs, under all circumstances.

When it comes to someone else’s resume or academic credentials, it is evident that those achievements belong solely to the individual who earned them. They are meticulously documented and widely acknowledged. There is no way you can take them for yourself.

However, discerning the true contributors to a business’s success in a meeting – or identifying those who have adeptly nurtured relationships with key clients during challenging periods is a much more complex task. Truly, it is challenging to ascertain who genuinely deserves recognition.

Confronted with the choice between claiming credit for ourselves or attributing it to others, we often succumb to the allure of success delusion. We tend to overestimate our own contributions and, over time, begin to genuinely believe in our exaggerated merits.

On the other side, those who fall victim to our arrogance will never forget the injustice done to them.

If you know how it feels like to be the victim, you will likely understand the feelings of those who have been affected by your actions. There is nothing admirable about such behavior, is there?

There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.

Indira Gandhi

taking credit for others' work

Self-reflection – The First Step to Stopping the Habit of Taking Credit for Others’ Work

The detrimental habit of stealing credit can be attributed to various underlying reasons. For instance, it might be that your parents constantly emphasized the importance of being the best, and were never satisfied if your friends – even the closest ones – outshone you.

Although it may be tempting to blame your parents, upbringing, or other factors, focusing on the past won’t provide a solution. Instead of making excuses, it is more productive to direct your attention towards concrete actions and ideas for the future.

The most effective way to break free from this bad habit is to do the opposite – sharing what you have. It may seem like a straightforward exercise, but over time, it will transform you from a self-absorbed person to someone who is willing to acknowledge the merits of those around them.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, world’s leading executive coaching expert, shared a method in his best-selling book, ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There‘. Take a day (or longer, if possible) to pay attention to the moments when you internally congratulate yourself for an achievement, no matter how big or small. Then, jot down those instances on paper.

You will likely discover that you engage in self-congratulation more frequently than you realize. We tend to credit ourselves for everything – from coming up with an exceptional idea for a client, to punctuality in meetings, or even presenting a seemingly brilliant proposal to colleagues.

“Hmm, I did a good job, didn’t I?”

These private thoughts are not inherently wrong. The sense of joy we derive from our own accomplishments provides the motivational fuel for us to endure long and challenging working days.

Once you have compiled your self-congratulatory list, take a closer look and ask yourself: Is it possible that someone else deserves praise for “your” achievements?

If you arrive on time for a meeting, is it solely due to your own punctuality and thoughtfulness? Or is it because your assistant diligently sought you out that morning, reminding you of the meeting and making several calls to ensure you left early enough?

If you generate a brilliant idea during a meeting, did it genuinely originate solely from your imaginative prowess? Or was it inspired by an insightful comment from another participant?

As you reflect on your list, ponder this pivotal question:

If someone else were to review these accomplishments with you, would they bestow upon you the same amount of credit that you claim for yourself? Or would they attribute these contributions to others, perhaps even themselves?

You might feel inclined to believe that you deserve all the credits listed. However, if we are truly honest with ourselves, even the most self-centered among us would struggle to arrive at such a conclusion. Human nature is to shape our thinking in ways that favor our own interests.

Read more: Playing Favorites – The Dark Side of Leadership

Moving from Taking to Giving Credit to People for Their Work

If you want to be successful, learn to give credit where credit is due.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Acknowledging people for their efforts is not only a gesture of appreciation and respect – but also a catalyst for building relationships and fostering collaboration. Below are tips on how to effectively give credit in the workplace:

  • Be specific and meaningful: When giving credit, provide specific details about the person’s contributions. Instead of generic praise, highlight their specific actions or achievements. For example, you can express appreciation for their problem-solving skills or their ability to handle client concerns adeptly.
  • Be timely and attentive: Don’t delay giving credit until the end of a project. Acknowledge noteworthy contributions as soon as possible. This demonstrates your attentiveness and genuine appreciation for their efforts.
  • Consider the forum: Whenever feasible, give credit publicly to amplify its impact. Utilize platforms like meetings, emails, or social media to publicly recognize someone’s work. This not only boosts their reputation – but also inspires others to follow their lead.
  • Genuine appreciation matters: Ensure that your credit is sincere and authentic. Recognize and appreciate someone’s work because you genuinely value their contributions, rather than offering empty or obligatory praise. Authentic recognition carries greater meaning and impact for the recipient.

Additional considerations for giving credit:

  • Tailor the acknowledgement to the individual’s preference: While public recognition can be motivating, some individuals may prefer a more private acknowledgment. Customize your approach by considering their comfort and personal preferences.
  • Emphasize diverse contributions: Acknowledge contributions that extend beyond profit goals. Recognize efforts that contribute to operational success, efficiency, personal growth, or other valuable aspects of the organization.
  • Utilize simple words of gratitude: “Please” and “Thank you” are powerful expressions of gratitude. Use them genuinely and frequently when seeking help, receiving assistance, or collaborating with others.
  • Share recognition with collaborators: When receiving praise or recognition for a project involving others, ensure that credit is shared. Acknowledge team members by mentioning their names, roles, and specific contributions, expressing gratitude for their support.
  • Seek clarification before giving credit: If unsure about who contributed what in a team project, request clarification rather than assuming or guessing. It is essential to avoid overlooking or unintentionally offending someone.
  • Value quiet performers: Pay attention to those who may not actively seek credit but still make significant contributions. For this reason, make sure to look our for and recognize those who may be less vocal or visible, highlighting their remarkable or helpful work.
  • Create a documented record: For more formal or official acknowledgements, use written communication such as emails, memos, or reports. This creates a tangible record of your acknowledgment and allows others to see and appreciate the work being recognized.

Here are a few examples of effective credit-giving:

  • “I genuinely appreciate the way you handled the client’s concerns. Your calm and swift resolution was exceptional.”
  • “Your presentation was outstanding. You effectively conveyed complex concepts, making them accessible to everyone.”
  • “Your assistance with this project was invaluable. Your insights made a significant impact, and I’m grateful for your contribution.”

It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Acts 20:35

How to Respond When Someone Takes Credit for Your Work

When faced with the disheartening situation of someone taking credit for your work, it is crucial to respond assertively and professionally. Here are some tips on how to effectively address this issue:

  • Stay composed: Maintain your composure and avoid reacting impulsively or emotionally. Take time to collect your thoughts and approach the situation with a calm demeanor. Do not confront the person in a public setting, as it may harm your reputation and relationship.
  • Assess the circumstances: Evaluate the situation objectively and consider the potential reasons behind the credit taking. It could be unintentional, accidental, or a result of a misunderstanding. Factors such as the nature of the work and cultural norms surrounding credit allocation may also play a role.
  • Prioritize communication: If you determine that the credit taking was unfair or inappropriate, engage in private and respectful communication with the individual involved. Clearly express your feelings and outline why you believe you deserve the recognition. Support your claim with factual evidence while refraining from accusations or emotional outbursts. Be open to listening to and understanding their perspective.
  • Propose solutions: Following the communication, suggest constructive ways to resolve the issue and prevent its recurrence. For instance, propose that the person acknowledges your work in a subsequent email, meeting, or presentation. You can also suggest closer collaboration in the future, more feedback, or increased recognition for your contributions.

Never wrestle with a pig – because you both get dirty, but only the pig loves it.

Marshall Goldsmith

When someone takes credit for your work

Addressing the Issue of Taking Credit for Others’ Work at an Organizational Level

Resolving the issue of taking credit for others’ work at an organizational level is of utmost importance to maintain a positive work environment and maximize productivity. Here are some recommendations for organizations to tackle this problem:

  • Foster a culture of transparency and accountability: Cultivate an environment where employees feel empowered to speak up if they witness someone stealing credits. Establish policies and procedures that explicitly address this issue and ensure that they are communicated throughout the organization.
  • Promote collaboration and teamwork: Encourage collaborative efforts among employees by fostering a culture that values teamwork. When individuals work together on projects, it reduces the likelihood of one person attempting to take credit for the work of others.
  • Establish clear expectations: Recognize the importance of clear roles, responsibilities, goals, deliverables, and deadlines when initiating projects or tasks. Document these expectations in writing and communicate them effectively.
  • Provide training on ethics and consequences: Conduct training sessions to educate employees about the ethical implications of taking credit for others’ work and the potential repercussions associated with such actions.
  • Recognition & reward. Implement a system to recognize and reward employees for their exceptional work, ensuring the recognition is timely, specific, sincere, and consistent.
  • Monitoring performance. Monitor employee performance to identify and address any credit-related issues promptly, intervening professionally and offering solutions.

Final Thoughts

By recognizing and addressing the detrimental workplace habit of taking credit for others’ work, we can foster an environment where employees feel valued, collaboration thrives, and genuine contributions are acknowledged and rewarded. Through clear communication, transparency, and fair policies, leaders and organizations may cultivate a positive work culture that supports the growth, well-being, and success of individuals and the team as a whole.

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