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How to Handle When Someone Else Takes Credit for Your Work

Burglar Wearing Mask Holding LaptopWe’ve all had that experience where we work really hard on something and instead of getting recognized for our contribution, we have to sit there and choke back bile when someone else takes credit for the work. It’s infuriating to think about how hard you worked and how much effort you put into a project only to see some other glory-hound or charlatan pass all that effort off as their own.

Heck, I got a taste of that this week. I saw a bunch of traffic coming to my blog from Dr. Shailesh Thaker’s blog (UPDATE: security software now indicates his blog is a virus attack site – DO NOT GO THERE). At first I was psyched. Here was a self-proclaimed “Management Thinker, HR Guru, and Corporate Coach” telling his fans my content was good.

Then I saw it. It was my blog post on shutting your cake hole. The ONLY thing that was different was the author. Apparently that article was now written by Dr. Thaker himself. Hmmm. I wonder if Thaker rhymes with faker.

That’s right folks. Blatant plagiarism. Here’s my original post and here’s his post (UPDATE: he finally removed all posts however his site is now showing up as an “attack site” in my antivirus so I’ve disabled links to him). Unfortunately he wasn’t bright enough to disable the hyperlink back to my blog and that’s how I found the content. It turns out he ripped off several of my articles, a few from SmartBrief on Leadership, some from Kevin Eikenberry and others.

So what can you do when you’re in this situation? What do you do when someone else passes your work off as their own? How do you handle it when someone else takes credit for work you did? Here are a few thoughts:

Seek Clarification

It could be an accident. You might be wrong in thinking someone is taking credit for your work. They might have sung your praises before you walked in the room to find them presenting your deck. They may have written a nice email giving you full credit but all you heard was “I received this presentation from (NOT YOU) and it’s great.” Clarify first. Just ask. If you are wrong and the person gave you credit, thank them politely for promoting your work.

Request (Nicely) a Correction

If it’s clear they did pass of your work as theirs or they took credit for your idea, ask them (in private) if they could clarify to others that it was actually your work. You might say “I’m glad you liked my work but after your presentation some people are under a mistaken impression that you did the work. I would appreciate it if you could clarify to them that the work was mine.” More often than not they’ll heed that request.

If it’s your content that has been stolen/plagiarized, send an email or make a call asking the person to remove it and to never do it again. Give them a clear timeline for action and show them a reference back to your original work. They might be unaware that the work was stolen (maybe someone on their team did it – see the point above on clarification).

Demand a Correction

If the person decides not to satisfy your request for a correction, demand one. You could petition the person’s supervisor to rectify things (the boss might be unaware that someone is taking credit for your work). Let the person know you’re upset that they took credit and that they’ve violated some pretty clear societal standards on giving credit and taking credit. In some cases (like plagiarism) you might even have your attorney send a demand notice requesting redress.

Go Nuclear or Get Over It

If all the above strategies fail, you have two choices. You can go for the nuclear option and file a formal complaint at work (with your boss, HR, etc.) or sue (e.g., for plagiarism) or carry out a public campaign to call out the fraud. Or you can vent about it, make your case, then shut up and move on with life. Events like this can be total energy-sucks. You can choose instead to focus your efforts on being productive and moving forward knowing that the universe will take care of the Thakers… I mean fakers of the world.

And by the way, if you’re dumb enough to steal content from a blogger, disable the hyperlinks so you can’t be tracked as easily. And if I can ask a favor folks – if you like this blog and this post, please retweet it, share it, send it around. Maybe if he sees his name up in lights enough on Google searches as a plagiarist, he’ll remove my article (he hasn’t yet responded to my “ask nicely” or my demand of removal…

What will be really ironic is if this post gets picked up and republished on some “Management Thinker’s” or “HR Guru’s” blog…

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

– Get the latest updates on my upcoming book One Piece of Paper – CLICK HERE

30 Responses to “How to Handle When Someone Else Takes Credit for Your Work”

  1. @Teal_Noir says:

    I have had my own words presented back to me as someone else's in a seminar I attended — what a hoot! Especially because the first time she heard me, she disagreed with my statement. Now it seems to agree with her I guess …

  2. NG says:

    Good advice. In my younger days (as in, yesterday, and maybe tomorrow still) I would have skipped straight to #4. I'm sorry that this happened to you, but you have to believe that talent and ingenuity will be recognized in the end. Good luck.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wow. That's amazing. And stupid of him.

  4. Eric W says:

    It's hard to do those early points. Most I think opt to just internally simmer and remain frustrated about it (or go straight to #4 like NG said, if bold). Your suggestions remind of how you should deal with someone that offends you – go up to them privately and discuss it. Same alternatives are usually taken: stew or blow up lol.

    Most of us wish we had a public forum like thus where we could expose fakers without looking petty.

    I enjoy reading *your* blog by the way.

  5. Tim Rethlake says:

    Mike:
    Kinda shoots down that whole "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" theory.
    Keep up the good mojo, you have a unique, straight-forward style that is recognizable from a mile away.
    Maybe fate will let the two of you cross paths and you'll have the chance to say: "Hey Doc, want to hear a funny story? Oh, wait, you've probably already stole, I mean told it!"
    All's well that ends well, and I'm sure you now have a bunch of new followers who emigrated from the good Dr's site.

  6. Scottie says:

    Thank you for the good advice! I could have used it last year at this time.

    My organization was going through a restructure and everyone's jobs were in limbo and so it was a no holds barred situation. I did a massive amount of research for my team on a project and my boss presented it as hers — which would have been fine had she said "my team" or "we", but it was all "I" did this and "I" did that. The sad part was that she CC'd me on the email. I guess she thought she was putting me in my place.

    However, had I read this, I might have known how to respond (aside from sending it to my colleagues who knew better and getting back about 20 "WTF?!?!"s. :sigh:

  7. Jay Ellis says:

    Just wondering what approach you took in your situation, because it would appear that by publishing this article it is not "Request (Nicely) a Correction". It may be a case that Dr. (really?) Thaker's post was not from your site, but from something a reader had posted on his site (note bottom reference about source). Could be a case where he simply doesn't understand the writing convention that "author" below title means you are the writer of the article. Anyway, all of his blog seems like a very suspicious way to promote himself as a management guru. Too bad for him, that eventually it all catches up with you.

  8. Lee Figliuolo says:

    Mike,

    Too bad Pop isn't still with us. I know how he'd take care of this situation. Not nice, but fun to think about.

    Dad

  9. Anonymous says:

    I used to have a peer forwarding an email from the client with the question and asking for the answer. I later found out, by accident, that my answer was then sent to the client, with my answer and their name. To combat this, I began providing responses that included the original sender. The behavior ceased as they realized that I knew they were taking credit for the knowledge. Point made and point taken.

  10. Mike Figliuolo says:

    Everyone, thanks for your kind words and support.

    @NG – yep it's hard. That's the challenge. I just try to provide steps in an escalation process.

  11. Mike Figliuolo says:

    @Eric – glad you enjoy reading *my* blog. And I don't think it's "petty" to expose fakers. Maybe if more of us called them out, they might stop or at least pause to think before they plagiarize.

  12. Mike Figliuolo says:

    @Tim – it would be priceless to run into him at an event. Maybe I should insist on speaking before him so he can't steal (or so he can in case he wants to simply use my presentation ;) Glad you enjoy the style of writing here. Direct is good.

  13. Mike Figliuolo says:

    @Scottie – I hope you don't work for her anymore. Patience matters. Eventually she'll run out of runway and crash spectacularly. Just keep on keepin' on and you'll be fine (presuming your head doesn't explode the next time she does it if you still work for her).

  14. Mike Figliuolo says:

    @Jay – great question. I sought clarification by reading a bunch of other posts on his blog. I follow SmartBrief closely because I write for them. There were a bunch of articles copied verbatim from recent SmartBrief issues. There was no doubt the content was stolen – I needed no further clarification. As far as it being one of his "readers" posting these to his sight, that doesn't absolve him of responsibility for making sure the work isn't plagiarized. If you own the site, you own responsibility for the content.

    If you're a "Doctor" I assume you know how to cite resources. No hall pass on "Author" and not knowing the convention. He's too well educated to claim that one. No dice.

    As far as my approach on this one I did the following:
    - Seek clarification: check. A ton of stuff was plagiarized and it was his site which he owns and is responsible for.
    - Request correction/removal: check. Emails were sent. No responses were received. Tweets were sent. No responses. If I can publish something April 18th and he can steal it/re-post it on the 20th I'm assuming he's online and receiving messages.
    - Demand a correction: this post plus communications via more "formal" channels are underway. This is the present stage. Hope that clarifies.

    I guess the big decision ahead of me is whether to go nuclear or forget about it. I'll likely do the latter. This post enabled me to get the bile out. He's not worth my time or energy. I'd much rather devote those precious resources to more productive efforts. I just tell myself that karma is gonna kick his ass at some point.

  15. Mike Figliuolo says:

    @Anonymous with the email forwarding: awesome technique. Well played sir/ma'am! I salute you.

  16. Tanveer Naseer says:

    Hi Mike,

    There must be something in the air these days as I received an email from one of my readers advising me that one of my blog pieces was being plagiarized on someone else's blog. In this case, the 'blogger' simply changed the title but left the rest of the piece intact.

    Although there was no email address, his blog is being hosted on WordPress.com so I was able to file a DMCA complaint and within a few hours, the plagiarized blog post was removed by WordPress who also sent him a message warning him of his actions.

    Unfortunately, it's not the first time this has happened, but it was the first time one of my readers brought this to my attention, which for me was the silver lining of the whole affair. After all, it's nice to have built a community where others are equally invested in not letting others take ownership for the work of others.

    That's why I'll be more than happy to help spread news of this around, Mike, to help this 'expert' get the message.

  17. Mike Figliuolo says:

    @Tanveer – yep, very cool to have readers who look out for us. Sorry you had the same thing happen but very cool that WordPress handled it that quickly. Thanks for getting the word out about Dr. Faker too. Hope you're doing well.

  18. David says:

    Great post – interesting that when I attempted to visit the "other" site, my computer blocked it as an intrusion.
    While in college, a class was having a hard time with a paper so the instructor sent all of us an "example" paper – when I opened it, discovered it was actually a paper I had done for another class only now had a new author.
    As Jay mentions… sooner or later, things like this will catch up to you.

  19. Pedro M. says:

    What do you do when you’re in a “temporary” employment situation, where the project is the company founder’s “life legacy project,” which is hemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of dollars, is being directed by someone who is in clearly over his head, who starts taking ideas you come up with in brain storm sessions, does nothing with them (and you begin to forget you’ve made them), passes them on as his own (i.e. new business model), is getting all sorts of pats on the back, and prior to introducing a new website rollout (which is also your idea and will likely save the project) informs you that your services are no longer needed?

    My boss should have been fired at the end of q3 2010, but he’s a master of marketing–himself.

    I’m trying not to burn bridges (or go postal) because I really like the company and would hope to land in a different department, but how do you say something’s yours when he hasn’t put your name on anything, and claims all things as his own (and is trying to get you out of the way prior to a big new thing)?

  20. Mike Figliuolo says:

    @Laurinda – I suggest having your own company domain and site (and corresponding email). A domain costs $12.99 and you can get a decent website for less than $1,000 (and that rate gets lower every day). I think the gmail address can come across as "I'm not really ready to commit a little money to creating a web presence for myself so I'll go with this free stuff and try out this entrepreneur thingy." My 0.02.

  21. A lot of these comments dont make sense? Give the guy a break and stop posting nonsense

  22. Anonymous says:

    I have been in this company for over a decade and have seen little to no recognition for the work i have done. It seems that my boss takes credit for practically everything i have done sure he will tell me i did a good job then go and tell the higher ups it was him that made these accomplishments. What do i do i am so frustrated with if that i am thinking of leaving the company i have invested all this time into thinking i will move up that ladder of success.

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      I think you need to sit down with your boss, ask for an opportunity to take the spotlight and present one of your projects. Once he’s comfortable you can do so, perhaps he’ll give you more opportunities. If that doesn’t work, share your frustration in a professional yet candid way – he may not understand the problems he’s causing. If he’s still resistant at that point, you need to consider another role in the company or going somewhere else. Hope that helps.

  23. Katy says:

    Hey Mike, just stopping by your area.

    I can’t help but laugh at the photo you chose for this article. Perfect, love it.

    No one enjoys having someone else take the credit for their hard work. Glad you had this issue resolved!

  24. Coskypilot says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I too have had my work stolen and redefined as someone else’s accomplishments where they got the credit. I like some of the solutions. Never went Nuclear, but you make a good point by asking how this person got the information or how they developed it. Sometimes when you cheat you have NO clue what the background work was to develop it in the first place.

  25. Digger says:

    I haven’t had anyone take credit for my work, but they have taken credit for one of my coworkers jobs. This lady has also “taken” projects from other people because (once all the hard work is done) she wants to “improve” on whatever work was previously done. She constantly tells others that she is responsible for this improvement or that improvement although it was a team effort among other coworkers, and she talks everyone down in front of higher-ups. So far, no one has complained because the boss has put a lot of trust in her, but something has got to give… and soon. Your blog has at least given me hope that there is a solution. I’m not a confrontational person, but I may screw my courage to the sticking point come Monday! Thanks!

  26. Dave says:

    As a freshout, I and an associate had a boss take credit for our work, work that he thoroughly discredited until the Director mentioned it was the best idea to come out of his group in months. It took us seven months to get his performance as a manager reduced to ‘ineffective’ and for him to leave the company. Bye, Harris. I hope you learned about honesty and ethics, and your career recovered. I’ve never taken credit for others work after being on the other side of it. Never underestimate the determination of a wronged employee.

  27. Rebecca Silvernail says:

    I’ve had my concepts for inventions/sweat equity stolen from me (left off of the Patents). I ‘ve had my business name used as the birth of the patents and the engineer declare in print on the webpage, Power Point Presentations, Executive Profiles and other internet profiles that he was the owner/founder of my business. Most recently I’ve saved the company from what would have been a disastrous approach and pushed and set up the negotiations between a Fortune 500 Company and us. The Company Attorney is now going around praising what good negotiators they are. My former business partner/Engineer states, “well it doesn’t matter that you didn’t get the credit for that, as long as you get some money! That’s just to name a few incidents. Good luck with snakes they are like pinning jello on the wall!

  28. James says:

    I once worked with a lying, cheating, stealing, (you get the point) person who would steal ideas and take credit for other peoples work. I stood up to him once when he claimed credit for another co-workers project and he twirled his toe into the floor like a 3 year old and continued to take the credit for the other mans work. He quit a few months later. Funny thing, the guy whom I defended, wound up treating me badly. No good deed goes unpunished.

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