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How to Deal with a Credit Taker

Dealing with a credit taker may be one of the most aggravating behaviors you’ll come across at work. You know the type. When your boss or a member of upper management visits your office, the credit taker shines the spotlight directly on him or herself for work on which you helped or for which you were solely responsible. You watch dumbfounded, so shocked that your coworker would do this that you’re speechless. Credit takers may take many shapes, including a coworker who asks for your help but doesn’t acknowledge your contributions, a team member who takes 100% credit for completing a project your team worked on, or the person with the gift of glib talk who knows how to promote himself or herself to the omission of everyone else.

We’ve all worked with credit takers. We’ve all been frustrated by them. And we’ve all been caught off guard and allowed the person to steal the spotlight from us. The most effective way to handle a credit taker is to be prepared and speak up during the credit taking process.

Earlier in the day, the vice president of the company visited the field office. Kayla and her coworkers were busy doing their jobs while Julie, the most outgoing team member, was promoting herself to the VP. Kayla and her coworkers looked at each other in astonishment as they listened to Julie tell the VP about the directory she created because their entire team had contributed to the project. And, it wasn’t even Julie’s idea. Kayla wanted to step up, join the conversation, grab some of the spotlight back, and give credit where credit was due but she, like her coworkers, kept quiet.

Kayla didn’t think quickly enough to speak up and give the team credit for the project. What Julie did was not fair, as she undermined the entire team. The group was so upset that the members talked about what happened when Julie went on break. Rather than having the entire team confront Julie, Kayla offered to speak to her one on one.

Step 1: Think First
Before Kayla approached Julie, she thought about the situation. She found it difficult to understand Julie’s perspective because she would never behave that way. She decided to let Julie know how everyone felt, ask her to explain, and go from there. But she was also determined to get Julie’s agreement that she wouldn’t do this again.

Step 2: Gain a Better Understanding
After taking a deep breath, Kayla approached Julie: “I want to talk to you about what happened when Mr. Sanders was in the office today. Do you have a minute now?”

Julie nodded, and Kayla said, “Let’s go into the conference room so we can talk quietly.”

After closing the door, Kayla continued: “When I heard you take all the credit for the directory our team created, I was really shocked and so was the rest of our team. We all felt betrayed that you’d do that.” (“I” phrase) She spoke assertively, remained calm, and kept her facial expression neutral. “Rather than everyone talking to you about this, I volunteered to speak for the team.”

“I didn’t realize I did that,” Julie countered casually. “Sorry.”

“You mentioned that you didn’t realize you did that, and I can understand how that could happen (understanding), but I’m wondering why you would take sole credit for a team project,” Kayla said.

“It wasn’t a big deal,” Julie replied. “I’m sure Mr. Sanders knew that it was a group effort. I just happened to be the one available to tell him about it.”

Step 3: Define the Problem
“Okay,” Kayla said. “So what you’re saying is that you didn’t realize you took all the credit and that you were the one available so you became the team spokesperson.”

Julie shrugged her shoulders and nodded. She looked uncomfortable, Kayla didn’t let her off the hook. “Do you agree with that?”

Julie said: “Yeah, I guess so. I certainly wouldn’t do anything to undermine the team. I just happened to be available when Mr. Sanders stopped by.”

Step 4: Offer Your Best Solution
“Look Julie, we need to find a solution so this doesn’t happen again,” Kayla continued. (compromise) “Especially since everyone on our team felt angry and betrayed that you spoke only of your accomplishments rather than the group’s.” (“I” phrase)

“I’m sorry,” Julie said. “What more can I say?”

“Going forward, we’d like your assurance that if you happen to be the one speaking for the team, you’ll give credit to the entire group.” responded Kayla. “Speak in terms of ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. (compromise) Had you done that this time we wouldn’t have been upset. Will you agree to that?”

Step 5: Agree on the Resolution
Julie nodded. “Now I can see how what I did bothered everyone. Going forward, I’ll make sure that I speak more carefully and include all of us.”

“That sounds great,” Kayla said. “I’m glad we talked this out, and I’m also glad that you understand how what you did made us feel. (resolution) We’ve always been a strong team and now that we talked this out we can only become stronger.” (reconciliation)

“I’m going to apologize to everyone right now,” Julie promised.

Why This Works
Because Kayla volunteered to speak to Julie, it didn’t appear as though the entire team was pouncing on her. Kayla spoke assertively and remained calm. She was prepared for Julie’s answer that she didn’t do it on purpose and then asked Julie if she realized how that made the team feel. Kayla didn’t back down, but offered the suggestion that in the future, Julie speak in terms of the entire team rather than only of herself. When Julie agreed, Kayla offered phrases of resolution and reconciliation that ended their meeting on a positive note. By offering to apologize to the team, Julie isn’t likely to take credit for team accomplishments in the future.

Something to Think About
Credit takers are in it for themselves and don’t really care about others. Consider that any time you approach a credit taker, your coworker may become dismissive, as Julie was, or defensive. Be ready for these likely scenarios and you’ll be prepared to continue your discussion in an assertive, confident manner.

Applying the Approach
Apply the following principles when dealing with a credit taker:
  • Be on your guard. Circumvent your coworker by speaking up and taking or giving credit where credit is due.
  • Look for opportunities to showcase your own accomplishments. Often, credit takers are the more gregarious members of the group and find it easy to shine the spotlight on themselves.
  • Practice tooting your own horn by thinking through some scenarios and how you might speak positively about yourself. Practicing will help you learn how to promote your accomplishments in a modest manner, so that it doesn’t sound as though you’re bragging.
  • If the credit taker gets one (or more) past you, it may be time to address the issue by speaking to the person. Explain how it made you feel and follow the five-step process to negotiate a successful conclusion. And, if it’s a group situation, the better approach is to have one person speak for the group.
  •  If, after speaking to the credit taker, the behavior doesn’t stop, stay on your guard. Be prepared to offer your input when the credit taker starts again.
  • Bottom line, don’t be a wallflower. Be assertive and speak up for yourself, because if you don’t, upper management may never realize your contributions.

© 2014 Renée Evenson. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Difficult People, by Renée Evenson. Used with permission of the publisher, AMACOM, a division of American Management Association.

Learn more about this topic at these AMA seminars:
Assertiveness Training 

Communicating Up, Down and Across the Organization

About the Author(s)

Renée Evenson is a small-business consultant specializing in workplace communication and conflict-resolution strategies. Her previous books include Powerful Phrases for Effective Customer Service and Customer Service Training 101.