“On great teams—the kind where people trust each other, engage in open conflict, and then commit to decisions—team members have the courage and confidence to confront one another when they see something that isn’t serving the team.”
Sofia was floored when during a team meeting, her coworker stood up to present a project they’d been working on together. They hadn’t planned to share their results until next week. Using materials she’d helped to create, he described it as his project and announced his results. What should I do? Sofia thought frantically.
If one of your coworkers keeps reframing your ideas as his own at meetings, or if your colleague went so far as to present your strategy to your boss, you need to take action. Avoiding conflict in such scenarios would harm the whole team. Tread carefully, though, or you could end up accused of stealing credit from others.
If someone rephrases your ideas as his own…
If a coworker is continually restating points you have made at a meeting and framing them as his own, he might be doing it unconsciously. That doesn’t mean it’s okay, but it helps inform how you should respond.
- Before saying anything, calm down. Losing your temper could make you look irrational—fair or not. Plus, you won’t get your thoughts across clearly if you’re angry.
- Address the transgression tactfully but directly in the moment, if possible. For example, if a coworker restates your idea, say, “Yes, that’s exactly the point I was making. I’m glad you agree with the idea.”
- If it keeps happening, approach the person one-on-one and ask if you can talk with him. Remember, if someone is repeatedly claiming your ideas as their own, it’s probably a sign of insecurity—so be gentle, or you’ll put him on the defensive. Affirm that you fully believe it wasn’t intentional, and validate the person’s contributions so acknowledging his mistake won’t feel as hard. For instance, you might say: “I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but a couple of times during the meeting, I felt you were framing X idea as your own when I introduced it earlier on. I’m happy that this idea resonated with you, because I appreciate the expertise you bring and would love to get your insight on similar ideas in the future.”
- If the issue keeps occurring, mention it during a one-on-one meeting with your boss. Focus on your desire to strengthen working relationships, stick to the facts, and maintain a positive tone. “I think Coworker Y has many strengths, and I hope he’ll become secure enough in his own ideas that he doesn’t unconsciously lay claim to those of others,” you might say.
If someone presents your idea or success as her own…
Say you believe a coworker has stolen your idea outright, and presented it to your boss or team as her own. Or say your coworker took credit for your work on a big project. You don’t want to look like a pushover by letting it go, but you don’t want to obsess so much about the transgression that you look irrational or insecure.
- Again, calm yourself down before taking any action so you’re fully in control of your words.
- Try to find out if there’s any way it could have been unintentional. Maybe you were brainstorming together, and she inaccurately remembered the idea as being her own. Or maybe you worked on the project together, and she accidentally left out your contribution during a meeting out of nervousness. Talk with her one-on-one, and phrase your question in a non-accusatory way so you won’t be sabotaging a working relationship. Give her a chance to apologize, but if she doesn’t, push back, says Karen Dillon in HR Guide to Office Politics. Making it uncomfortable for her to continue the behavior will deter it from happening again.
- Get support from other team members, if others know for certain that the idea was yours. Ask them to acknowledge your contribution in the next meeting, or in a team email. If the coworker at fault sees you have support, she may back down.
- If the offense was truly egregious—for example, if a coworker took your name off a presentation you created and presented it as her own—meet with your boss to explain what happened, sharing evidence to support your case.
If someone repeatedly takes credit for your work…
- Keep a log showing details about what happened and when.
- Find out if colleagues have experienced the same behavior from this coworker. Gather your evidence of the transgressions.
- Talk to your boss about the situation, along with any other coworkers who have been affected. Stay collected and share evidence, if you have it. Rather than badmouthing the coworker at fault, focus on your desire to feel heard and to create a harmonious office dynamic.
- Help create a culture of sharing credit by always highlighting the contributions of others.
Preventing idea theft
Work to prevent theft of your ideas by documenting them well. If you share them, share them with more than one person so you don’t end up in a “he said/she said” scenario. Better yet, share them electronically, so there’s a record.
Remember, too, that one idea isn’t everything. You’ll have other great ideas, and you can be more conscientious about how to share them in the future. Don’t fixate so much on remedying this issue that it keeps you from shining in other ways, or makes you look petty. If you focus on the future, others will notice your stellar performance and give you plenty of credit for it!
Contact leadership coach Joel for more advice on promoting your work and building a strong reputation.
“Networking is an essential part of building wealth.”
Liam didn’t drink, so when his coworkers went to the bar after work, he’d say goodbye and head home. Sure, he was missing out on the chance to socialize, but it wasn’t really his scene. Then his sister shared some interesting statistics about the effectiveness of networking after work.
Over the past couple of decades, many studies have shown a relationship between social drinking, socializing, and higher wages, she told him. Moderate social drinkers earn 10% more than those who abstain, a study from the University of Calgary found. Another study in the Journal of Labor Research found that the average male employee who drinks socially earns 19% more than those who abstain, and the average female employee who drinks socially earns 23% more than abstainers. Male employees who go to bars at least once a month earn an extra 7% on top of that.
It’s not about the alcohol consumption. It’s all about building and improving relationships. Sequestering themselves away from the drinking crowd is the main reason why non-drinkers lose these opportunities, according to a study at North Carolina State University.
Moderate drinkers may be perceived as more charismatic, and they certainly get to know their drinking buddies much better than they otherwise would. Social drinking is a highly effective networking strategy—and even non-drinkers can get in on it. If you’re a non-drinker, here’s how to overcome some common alcohol-related hurdles and share all the social benefits that drinkers get. (If you’ve dealt with addiction and find being around alcohol too triggering, see the tips at the end.)
Problem: Drinking is an effective inter-office, after-work networking vehicle. As mentioned, those who drink tend to earn more than colleagues who abstain. Hanging out at the bar is a proven way to foster relationships outside of the office. But because you don’t drink, you’re missing out.
Solution: Go to the bar and enjoy some time with your colleagues. Don’t let the venue stop you from using this opportunity to form working relationship bonds with your coworkers and supervisors. Order a non-alcoholic drink. (Chances are, you won’t be the only one not drinking.) Show them you can have fun along with the rest of them, and soon they won’t even notice you’re not drinking! Here are a couple other pointers:
- Ensure people you have no problem with their drinking. They might feel awkward, wondering if you’re judging them, which you can dispel with a few words and an accepting attitude. If you want, share a reason for not drinking that focuses on you, like “Alcohol makes me tired, and I want to enjoy myself.”
- If coworkers tend to drink heavily and that makes you uncomfortable, excuse yourself early, saying you have to get up early the next morning.
Problem: Drinking is part of the company culture. For many companies, drinking during work hours is frowned upon. Some even have a no-tolerance policy. However, there are a few where having a drink at lunch or in the afternoon on Friday is part of the company culture. Others are experimenting with having beers during brainstorming sessions to loosen things up. Refusing the libations can set you apart as an outsider.
Solution: Participate without the drink. Be sure to include yourself in those martini lunches. If Friday afternoon is the time when everyone relaxes in the conference room with a beer before heading home, be sure to be in there too. Show them you can relax and unwind with the rest of the team, even without the alcohol.
Problem: Entertaining clients often requires taking them out for drinks. You have a client in town, and it’s your job to make sure he’s enjoying himself. Taking him out for drinks and dinner is part of your job duties. Refusing these duties can definitely hurt your career.
Solution: Go and have fun with your client! Even if you don’t drink yourself, there’s no reason why you can’t take clients out and show them a good time. They may even appreciate the fact that you’re going to be the designated driver, so they won’t have to worry about making it back to their hotel safe and sound. Plus, you’ll be able to keep your wits about you and massage the relationship to your company’s benefit while their inhibitions are lowered thanks to alcohol. Secrets and soft spots may be revealed!
You don’t have to spend multiple nights at the bar each week to get all these benefits. Even going once in a while will increase your visibility among your coworkers and build your social cache.
If you’re a recovering alcoholic and find being in situations like bars too triggering, reach out to coworkers in other ways. They’re not likely to move from the bar to another venue, but perhaps you could start meeting colleagues for breakfast once a month or so. The main goal is to build relationships by networking after work, showing them what a fun and interesting person you are!
Social drinking might have a definite place in your company’s culture. Contact leadership coach Joel Garfinkle to learn how to build relationships and become more influential at work.
“Stars don’t beg the world for attention; their beauty forces us to look up.”
Amelia asks: I’ve grown a lot more confident over the past year at my job. Now I need to learn how to stand out at work, because I’m looking toward a promotion. What steps should I take to make that happen?
Joel replies: Maybe you’ve played it safe in the past, figuring your good work should speak for itself. But you’re right—it won’t. You need a plan for catching the eye of those with influence in your organization, or they’ll never notice you. You need to speak up, be more confident and assertive at work.
- Create a Personal Brand
Just as products need branding, so do people. Here’s how to create your personal brand:
- Ask yourself what qualities make you who you are, including your shortcomings and idiosyncrasies. People who stand out at work are known for being their authentic selves. They know how to highlight their best qualities while asking for feedback in areas where they want to grow.
- Consider your career goals—where do you want to go next? That will guide what you want to be known for.
- Choose projects that highlight those strengths, rather than just saying “yes” to any work that comes your way. In doing so, you’ll craft a reputation as a person who’s great at the particular kind of work that really fuels you.
- Track your successes so you’re always ready to describe them—say, in an impromptu conversation with that exec you’ve been wanting to meet.
- Engage in Lifelong Learning
A person who remains perpetually curious, constantly looking for opportunities to grow, is sure to stand out at work. How can you do this?
- Take a class in something you want to know more about.
- Find a buddy from another department and teach each other about your roles, so you both understand the organization better.
- Read a book about a skill you want to master.
- Support a Good Cause
Either way, becoming known as someone who cares about the broader world will build you up in the eyes of others. Here are a couple ways of doing that:
- Start volunteering with a nonprofit, if you don’t already. Casually mention to coworkers that you plan to volunteer over the weekend.
- Hang a flyer for a donation drive on the bulletin board, and mention to coworkers that you’re supporting it. Make sure not to sound pushy or self-righteous about it.
- Embrace Failure
People who stand out don’t hide behind small, safe successes—they seek out risks and take them. Of course, they’re smart about which risks are worthwhile, choosing ones they have a good chance of conquering. You won’t achieve them all, but you’ll enjoy some very exciting successes when you start seizing the day in these ways:
- Ask yourself what risks you need to take to get where you really want to go.
- Dive into a project that stretches your abilities, really challenging you.
- Share the good news—and its measurable results—with coworkers and superiors when you succeed.
- Speak Up in Meetings
Speaking up in meetings can be daunting, but it will get easier with time. Here are a few ways to start:
- Figure out one topic on the agenda that you have a lot to say about. Prepare to ignite conversation on that topic.
- Bring creative ideas that speak to the qualities you want to be known for.
- Ask insightful questions when others present ideas.
- Practice saying one thing that pops into your head at each meeting.
- Become a Mentor
Serving as a mentor to others will highlight both your expertise and your concern for the organization’s success. When your boss sees coworkers coming to you for advice, you’re sure to stand out. Here’s how to begin:
- Does your department have a new employee? Offer to show her the ropes. Just by being friendly and available to answer questions, you’ll start cultivating a strong relationship.
- Give coworkers advice about things you’re an expert on. Don’t beat them over the head with it—just share tidbits of information in conversations, and invite them to drop by your workspace if they show interest in learning more.
- Promote Yourself to a Leadership Position
There’s no need to ask for permission to become a leader. The best way to become known as a leader is to just start acting like one.
- Remember that cause you support? Organize a volunteer day for your office, explaining to your boss how this will build team spirit.
- Volunteer to lead meetings.
- Spearhead an exciting project, delegate responsibilities to team members, and give them positive feedback to coach them along.
If you take these steps, you’re sure to stand out at work. How you approach success makes a difference—you won’t be passively waiting for it, but actively reaching for it. That will mark you as a leader in the eyes of your boss and other decision-makers. In turn, this will boost your job security and lead to exciting opportunities for promotion.
Joel can help you boost your visibility among leaders and coworkers. If you want advance in your career, gain the deserved promotion or receive more work recognition, hire Joel for executive coaching.
“An image is not simply a trademark, a design, a slogan or an easily remembered picture. It is a studiously crafted personality profile of an individual, institution, corporation, product or service.”
~Daniel J. Boorstin~
Stella went out for drinks with a few coworkers after work. Over their conversation, she realized they had no clue what she did or what value she contributed. If she was that invisible to colleagues, she knew she must be invisible to leaders as well. She hopped on the phone with me to discuss how she could revamp her image at work.
Individuals, like companies, have a brand, I told Stella. Those who are proactive at shaping their own brand identity are more likely to be recognized and to get ahead in the workplace.
I then asked her to complete a simple exercise that I recommend to my clients. If you’re working to hone your personal branding at work, complete this exercise yourself:
List the three adjectives that best describe how you’re perceived by others at work.
Next, pick three adjectives that you would like others—especially your boss and key decision-makers—to use to describe you.
Now, here’s the tricky part (but it can be fun, too):
Develop specific, actionable strategies to move your brand identity from list #1 to list #2. This might involve training opportunities, volunteering for special assignments, or even changing your body language or how you dress. Make sure the appearance you project reflects the image you want to create.
For example, if one of your desired brand attributes is “creative,” look for opportunities to showcase your creativity at work. Then grow your personal brand by pitching an inventive new project or consistently offering your creativity in group efforts. Prepare to advocate for your ideas by explaining what they offer to the company—brainstorm on this with someone you trust first if need be.
Finding ways to add value to others’ projects in order to highlight your desired brand attributes is another way to make sure they take notice. Meet with them to discuss what they’re doing, and then make a pitch about how you can help.
As a publishing editor at a magazine, Stella wanted others to perceive her as savvy about bringing in the best talent. Innovation and ability to thrive under pressure were the other two key attributes she most wanted to play up. Currently, she believed others perceived her as highly accurate and organized, along with having strong communication skills—certainly all important qualities in an editor, but, well, pretty boring on their own.
Stella decided to pitch a special issue on a controversial topic, along with a design idea they’d never tried before. Her team loved it, and they hit a new record for copies sold. By revamping her image, Stella increased the success of the whole company.
Reaching out to influencers in your organization can help you make the most of such victories. According to a recent Nielsen survey, the opinions of people we trust are what influence us most when it comes to branding. Use this to your advantage with personal branding. Shifting how you’re perceived by a few key people with strong credibility can turn the tide for your career. Stella’s victory was so visible that leaders couldn’t help but notice, but you might need to make a call, send an email, or drop by an office to share what you’ve accomplished.
Crafting your own distinctive brand won’t happen overnight. But your personal branding strategy will work in due time, if you’re persistent. When you take your “brand manager” role seriously, you’ll be surprised at the difference you can make in achieving your career goals.
Contact Joel, as your leadership coach, to help craft your own distinctive brand.
“If you don’t toot your own horn, don’t complain that there’s no music.”
Janet Asks: I feel like my accomplishments go unnoticed at work and I’m not comfortable bringing them up. I want others to see my strengths and achievements, but I don’t want to come across as bragging. What should I do?
Joel Answers: No one wants to sound like they’re bragging about their own accomplishments. You want to be noticed, but not for being egotistical. However, there are plenty of ways to toot your own horn in a way that people admire and respect.
- Figure out what makes you interesting
Think about what makes you stand out at work. Do you have any hobbies most people don’t know about at work? Have you overcome any major challenges to get where you are? Figure out what aspects of your life make good stories. Sprinkle these tidbits of information into conversations at work, so coworkers see a richer picture of you.
- Create a compelling hook
Prepare how you’ll introduce yourself to new people. How can you summarize yourself in a sentence or two in a way that leaves others eager to hear more about what you do? When they have to coax more details out of you, no one will perceive you as bragging. However, don’t be too shy about opening up—when they ask, tell them more.
- Speak about recent accomplishments
When others ask what you’re doing at work these days, it’s the perfect opportunity to toot your own horn. Be prepared for those moments by mentally reviewing your latest accomplishments and current projects. Focusing on the work (rather than speaking directly about your strengths) will help you relax and start gushing about your achievements.
- Talk about your team
If you’re a manager, gushing about your team’s accomplishments shows you’re a great leader. Having pride in your team is a virtue for any leader. You won’t feel as self-conscious while focusing on them, though you’re actually speaking to your own leadership skills.
- Announce successes to organizational leaders
When you announce your successes to your boss or other leaders, no one will perceive it as bragging. They want and need to know what you’ve accomplished. In fact, it would be unprofessional not to tell them. Drop by your boss’s office; send higher-level leaders an email or give them a call, if the accomplishment seems important enough to announce to them.
- Believe in the importance of your role
When you truly believe in the positive impact you have every day, you’ll exude confidence and charisma. The enthusiasm you show for your work will draw others to you naturally. You’ll get boundless invitations to talk about how you do what you do. If you’ve gotten in a rut with your current job, reignite your passion for it by reminding yourself what you love about it and making small changes to liven up your routine.
- Get others to toot your horn
As you clue others in to your skills and achievements, they’ll naturally start tooting your horn as well, and your visibility will increase at work even more. However, it helps to ask for the support of people you trust. Cultivating relationships with advocates in your organization will build your credibility and help leaders take notice of you. Keep your advocates apprised of what you’ve accomplished, and if you’re after a promotion, tell them. People often take pride in helping others succeed.
If you were feeling awkward about tooting your own horn at work, these ideas will help those conversations feel more natural. Others will think it’s completely natural to share your achievements in these ways!