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Faith Wood knows how to resolve conflict. Her years in front-line law enforcement taught her how to effectively de-escalate any situation to a successful conclusion. Faith will use her knowledge of conflict management to guide you through the often stressful experiences you may encounter in your personal or professional life. Her Conflict Coach column appears regularly.

Faith WoodQuestion: I’m working on a group project and am so frustrated with one of the team members. Instead of sharing collaboratively, this individual has been taking all the credit for himself. Recently, he turned in my data with his and made it sound like he alone has worked on the project.

I’m trying to be professional about all this, but it’s getting under my skin. What does one do when being provoked with such undermining and discrediting behaviours?

Answer: This question leaves me asking a few of my own:

  • Has he previously had an experience with you where he felt he wasn’t given credit for his work?
  • Is there a promotion opportunity hanging on this project that would motivate him to want to be seen as the more valuable contributor?

Regardless of those questions, I empathize with you. Finding out that someone is taking credit for your hard work and ideas can generate resentment. No one wants others to take all the glory (or the promotions) for a group project you spent an inordinate amount of time on. Perhaps this is the struggle with all group projects, from grade school to retirement.

When credit-stealing happens, your first instinct may be to broadcast the blatant injustice. However, it’s important not to lose your cool – for the sake of your career. A public outcry can backfire monumentally, leaving you looking like an angry toddler. Others may believe you’re a hothead who’s not worth the effort in the future.

Robert Enright, a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, believes resentment is an unhealthy response to injustice. He suggests resentment is like an unwelcome house guest who refuses to leave; eventually, it consumes your thoughts and distracts you from more important things.

So what’s a person to do?

Ask yourself if you’re being objective. This resentment over being mistreated may not be what it seems. Technology can fail, and omissions aren’t always deliberate or intentional. Begin by asking questions of the credit-stealer about how the omission occurred rather than going on the attack.

When you next meet as a group to discuss the project, you might be able to introduce key intelligence or questions that make it obvious you were part of the research. This will help the leader deduce that the project was most certainly more of a group effort than they may have been led to believe.

If people keep taking credit from you – or you think they are – make sure you’re not guilty of doing the same thing, even unwittingly. Practise attributing credit to source in every situation – including sound bytes. By consistently modelling what good credit sharing looks and sounds like, you can subtly shame others for not doing it. This helps to keep your professional integrity on display. And it will build trust with others.

Ultimately, you can defeat credit-stealers by making it clear who did what, so make sure your contributions are known to those around you and above you. And if credit-stealers persist, enlist your friends and colleagues to stand up on your behalf.

Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. For interview requests, click here.

The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

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