Powerful Phrases to Deal With a Credit Stealer or Idea Thief

Mar 28, 2023 6 Min Read
 a man catching up with the idea thief

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Stop that Credit Stealer and Get the Recognition You Deserve

“I was in a meeting the other day, and one of the executives thanked my boss for the success of a project I’ve been working on all year. And you know what she said next? Thank you. I was sitting right there. She took ALL THE CREDIT! The really infuriating thing is that she had NOTHING to do with that project. It was 100% me. I wonder how many times she’s done that? Who wants to work for a credit stealer?”

“I can’t believe it. I shared my idea with a co-worker last night. And today, when our manager asked us for our ideas, that credit stealer immediately chimed in and shared MY idea as if it were her own. I didn’t want to look petty, so I didn’t say anything. But now, I’m really ticked!”

“This is the third time this year a coworker took credit for my idea. It’s demoralizing. I don’t want to work with all these credit-stealing meanies. I’m out of here.”

These are just a few examples of credit-stealing examples we’ve heard recently.

So Familiar

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, sadly you’re in good company. One of the most surprising findings in our Courageous Cultures research was the huge number of people (fifty-six percent) who said they don’t share ideas because they’re afraid they won’t get credit.

When we share this finding in our keynotes, you can hear always hear an audible, mmm hmm, sweep over the ballroom. And if there’s a cocktail reception that evening, there’s always a line of people eager to share their stories of stolen ideas, and credit-stealing co-workers or bosses.

What a tragic loss of innovation, not to mention the drain on morale and engagement.

Credit stealing is clearly a significant source of conflict and frustration in the workplace. Why? One big reason is that it’s not too easy to talk about.

We often hear, “What am I supposed to say? Stop stealing credit for my idea, you credit stealer! That just feels petty. So, I just let it go.”

Of course, if you don’t address a behavior, it’s likely to continue. In fact, it’s possible they’re not trying to be malicious or backstabbing. They might just be moving fast and forgot to thank you.

So today, let’s slow down and give you some empowering phrases to address this credit-stealing scene.

How to Address a Credit-Stealing Coworker


First, we know it’s not easy. You don’t want to look like you care about credit more than the work itself. But let’s be real. Recognition matters. You should get credit for your work and ideas.

Unless there’s been a distinct pattern of credit stealing, start with a bit of curiosity, and share what you’ve noticed.

  • “I noticed you brought up the idea about ___ in our staff meeting today. I’m curious, do you remember the conversation we had the other day when I shared this idea with you?”
  • “Well, the good news is that people seem to really appreciate our work. Do you think ________ (your boss, the executive team, or key stakeholders), understands all that went into this and who was involved?”
  • “I noticed you didn’t mention my role in this project. I’m curious why you chose to approach it that way.”

And then, ask for help in remedying the situation.

  • “It’s important that we all get credit for the hard work that we do. What do you think we can do to fix this?”
  • “I could really use your help ensuring everyone understands my role in this (project, idea). It’s going to sound much better coming from you than from me. How do you suggest we approach this?”
  • “I’m sure this was an oversight, and I’d love your help in making it right. Do you think you could talk with _______so they understand what happened here?”
  • And then, schedule the finish “Great, let’s catch up after our staff meeting later this week to hear how that went. Note: By scheduling a time to talk about it again you have a natural way to follow up without having to muster the courage to bring it up again.

What to Say if Your Boss isn’t Acknowledging Your Contributions

I (Karin) once taught an evening MBA class called, “Dealing with Difficult People at Work.” Every student picked one “difficult person” as their project to apply what they were learning. All but one person in the class picked their boss. And, the number one issue was their boss was a chronic credit stealer. More data that this credit-stealing feeling is widespread.

What was really interesting is most of these managers responded incredibly well, with an apology and a sincere effort to make it right. In most cases, they were just busy and overwhelmed and hadn’t thought about how important it was to give credit to their team.

When starting a conversation with your manager, it’s particularly important to show up curious– giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Here are a few phrases that can help.

  • I’m curious. Do you think ______ (their boss, their peer, or key stakeholder) understands my role in this project? I love this kind of work, so I want to ensure people understand what I bring to the table for future opportunities like this.
  • As part of my career development plan, I’d love to find the appropriate time to meet with (their boss, their peer, key stakeholder) so they know more about me and my work, and to gather some additional feedback about how I could be successful. Would that be cool with you?
  • I’ve been thinking about my leadership brand around here, and I wonder how well people really know me and what I do. In our next one-on-one, I’d love to talk with you about some of my key strategic projects and get your thoughts on how I can do a better job letting people know what I do and why it matters.

You may like this: Managerial Courage: 7 Practical Ways To Be A Bit More Daring

And this one works great if you have noticed a pattern with your manager taking credit. You’re not talking about the past, but just asking for help in the future.

  • “It’s really important to me that I learn to advocate for my ideas, and I’m not sure I always do that well. I wonder what coaching you might have to position my ideas so they’re more likely to be received?”

Read more: How to Have A Courageous Conversation With Your Boss

How to Apologise if You’ve Accidently Taking Too Much Credit


World Workplace Conflict and Collaboration


When work projects are moving fast, it’s also entirely possible you’ll find yourself on the receiving side of too much credit.  When this happens, work to prevent workplace conflict and hard feelings, by acknowledging the situation, apologizing, and doing what you can to make it right as fast as possible.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to take more credit than I deserved. Here’s what I’m going to do to make it right.”

Why You Should Try

Here’s the good news. Credit stealing conflict is some of the easiest workplace conflicts to resolve with one good conversation. If it’s an oversight or accident, people usually move quickly to make it right. And even if the credit-taking or idea stealing was deliberate, the culprit is less likely to continue the pattern once you’ve talked with them about it.

This article was originally published on Let’s Grow Leaders.

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Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick, and the author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers and Customer Advocates.


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