Confronting a Co-Worker who Stole Your Idea

May 10, 2021

Confronting a Co-Worker who Stole Your Idea

If a co-worker stole your idea, is confronting him the right route? After all, you can’t let people get ahead by copping others’ ideas.

In the last post, YOU floated a new product idea with Emmett, your co-worker. He pooh-poohed it which discouraged you from presenting it to your mutual boss, Len. At the next staff meeting, Len praises Emmett for the same idea and assigns Emmett to work on developing it.

You make it to your cubicle before you explode to your office neighbor, Brenda.

You: The gall of the guy! That was my idea!

Brenda: (smiling) Emmett?

You: How did you know?

Brenda: Welcome to the club.

You: Huh?

Brenda: The Burned-by-Emmett Club. We’re all members.

You: What did you do?

Brenda: (shrugs) What can you do?

But in your cubicle, you can’t settle down. The gall of the guy! I can’t believe it! And even: what a group of cowards—no wonder Emmett gets away with it. The more you think about it, the madder you get. No way. No way! You jump up and head to Emmett’s cubicle.

Confronting Emmett who stole your idea

You: I’ve got a bone to pick with you!

Emmett: Oh, yeah?

You: That was my idea.

Okay, so let’s pause for a moment and think of the possible outcomes of this conversation.

Emmett says:LikelihoodBecause:
Oh, my gosh, you’re completely right. How can I make it right? NILHe’s done this before.
My idea was completely different from yours.MediumHe sort of acknowledges the conversation but you are likely to degenerate into a “No, it’s not,” “Yes, it is,” fight.
You’ve got things completely wrong. I came up with the idea and floated it with you.MediumThis revisionist history switches your roles and what can you say but “No, it was my idea,” “No it was my idea.”
(blank stare) I have no idea what you’re talking about.HighYou spend the time arguing about whether you ever discussed it rather than the theft of the idea.

I know, I know. You want the first outcome. In fact, you deserve it. But it’s supremely unlikely you’ll get it, given how Emmett operates. You might get variations of the other options listed but basically it comes down to Emmett telling you that you misinterpreted the conversation or that it never occurred at all.

Idea stealers

They are unfortunately more common that you might hope for. Sometimes there really can be a genuine misunderstanding. The other guy might have forgotten or overlooked your role. If this is a good culture, you might stand a chance of getting some satisfaction. However, in most work places, I think you are out of luck.

So, another option is to complain to your boss. That’s the next post.

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