What To Do When Someone Takes Credit For Your Work: 7 Tips To Be the Better Person

Being Blinded

Lately I learned about this person X who tried to take credit for something I’ve accomplished. X tried to put me down behind my back, saying that I used to be terrible in thing B, then tried to claim credit for my expertise in it today.

It didn’t feel good hearing about this from a third party, T, to whom X told this to. What X didn’t know is that T is actually my personal friend, who promptly told me what X said thereafter. “That doesn’t sound like the Celes I know,” was T’s thought when she heard it, after which she asked me if it was true.

When I heard what X said, I felt attacked and wrongly painted. I wondered, “How many other people could she have told this to?” Because X is prominent in her own field, it creates a “he-said-she-said” type of scenario where it’s questionable who’s telling the truth. Now that I’m becoming more known in my line of work, it becomes quite damaging when people spread such things about me—especially things which are untruths.

As I often say, we cannot change other people. We can only change how we think, feel, and act and lead by example. Hence, rather than feel angry towards X, I thought about how I could make the best out of the situation instead.

#1. Take it as a form of flattery

As the saying goes: “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” ~ Charles Caleb Colton.

For X to want to take my credit in B, that means she recognizes my ability in it today. Otherwise, why would she want to steal my credit for? It would have been silly if she thought I sucked in area B and tried to take credit for it; this would only make her look lousy.

Not only that, X could have taken credit from many other people but didn’t. Instead, she chose to take mine. I imagine people only want to associate with the very best, so if X tried to steal my credit in B, that probably means she thinks I’m doing very well in it today. I can only take that as an affirmation of my ability!

This would be the same if someone tried to take YOUR credit in something. If you’re not good in it, why would people try to take your credit? Take it as praise for your ability, albeit invisible praise.

#2. Look on the bright side

I always believe in seeing the best out of every situation I’m in; this situation is no different. This belief is also in line with principle #4 of my how-to-be-happy guide: 10 Timeless Principles for Lasting Happiness.

So if I were to put this principle into action:

  1. Geez, someone took my credit in something I worked hard to achieve!” can be flipped into “Hey, someone is trying to take my credit. That means I must be doing something right!
  2. I thought X and I were friends. How could she say such things about me?” can be flipped into “At least now I know what X has been doing. I should be careful with her the next time.
  3. Someone is trying to tarnish my reputation. I feel so wronged.” can be flipped into “I have a ‘reputation’ to be tarnished. That means I’m becoming more important!
  4. X said this to T. She has probably said this to other people, people who probably don’t know me. These are people who are going to walk away with this wrong image and with whom I can never get the chance to clarify the facts with.” can be flipped into “At least I got to clarify the facts with T. It could have been worse, such as if T assumed I was such a person and didn’t bother to clarify with me.” 

This reframing made me realize that things weren’t as bad as I thought. Actually, I’m pretty lucky to have a friend who looks out for me and bothers to clarify such wrong sayings with me! How many people have friends who do that?

Similarly for you, think about how you can see the bright side of the situation. It’s like the glass-half-empty-half-full scenario, except that it’s not half-empty or half-full—it’s full-full (half with air, half with water). Everything can be positive; it’s just a matter of the lens you choose to view it. And if you choose to see things cynically, then what’s the h*ll point of living? I want you to be happy and it has to first start from your mentality.

#3. Be happy you learned the truth

Some people may say that they rather not know things that make them unhappy. However, I see this as avoidance. I always believe the truth will set you free. It’s the same in this case.

Why do I say that?

Imagine you are an ostrich. A cheetah spots you and sprints towards you, ready to make you his next meal. Do you: (a) bury your head into the sand and hope everything will go away, or (b) run for your life?

Most of us will say (b). However, do you know that many of us act like (a) in real life? When we learn about an unpleasant truth, we turn our heads away and pretend we didn’t hear it. We lament about the truth and wish we didn’t know it to begin with.

The problem isn’t that we know the truth; the problem is that the truth isn’t what we want to hear. Hence, rather than fault the truth, we should learn to deal when reality isn’t what we want.

In this case, I was initially not happy to hear the truth because the idea of someone bad mouthing me is infuriating (X said I used to suck in area B which is untrue). Back when I was in primary school, I had a very “good friend” who betrayed me by bad mouthing me. This incident with X opened up childhood wounds which had never been fully healed. 

Upon reflection though, I realized it was better that I learned about X’s bad mouthing and credit stealing, because this helped me learn about X’s character. Now I know I should not get too close with her or trust her on other matters. I also know that she probably said this about me to some other people, which means I should be more conscious of how I portray myself in front of others in the future.

Check this out while you’re at it: Ask Celes – What Do We Do When We Have Been Betrayed by a Friend?

#4. Outdo yourself

This is my run-of-the-mill approach for people who replicate or take credit for my work at PE.

For example, there have been people who, after seeing the success of my 30-day programs (Live a Better Life in 30 Days and Be a Better Me in 30 Days ), started their own 30-day or 31-day programs on their platforms. There have also been people who copy my articles and claim them as their own or do not give due credit.

I’m never bothered by such replication actually. Why? Because I know that the content I offer is top-notch and people will have to come to my site to get the best material. I also know that people who copy (without innovating) will always remain as followers; they can never be ahead of the pack since they have to wait for others to show their cards before they can do anything. 

It’s like how Apple is regarded as the innovator in the technology market, specifically mobile phone devices. It revolutionized the smartphone market in 2007 when it released the world’s first mainstream touchscreen phone (iPhone). Even though brands like Nokia, Samsung, HTC, etc. followed suit with their iterations of the product, Apple is now the market leader for smartphones. People look towards Apple for innovations when you talk about technological devices.

Smartphone Market Share 2012

Date source: comScore MobiLens; Article: Apple Inc. (AAPL) Ranks No. 1 In U.S. Smartphone Market

Worth reading: 11 Life Lessons to Learn From Steve Jobs

So someone took your credit. Perhaps other people really thinks that he/she did the work. How can you outdo yourself then? How can you create something that is even better than what you did?

Take this as a challenge to become better. I always believe we are all as good as our last accomplishment. Rather than mop over this unfortunate incident, buckle up and get working on your next big thing, such that you can wow people several times over relative to your last accomplishment.

Inspirational Quote: "The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something." ~ Randy Pausch

More inspirational quotes at Personal Excellence Quotes

#5. Let go of your human ego

The reason why we’re having this discussion is because the human ego is involved. Else, none of this would even matter.

Credit or no credit… to be honest, it doesn’t matter in the end. The human form is impermanent. Life is impermanent. Everyone is going to die at some point. Would people stealing your credit matter at that point? Accomplishments are only but a passing moment in time; so is the “stealing” of credit of those accomplishments.

Ultimately, the separation you see between each of us, country and country, male and female, light and dark, etc. is only in the mind. All of us are made up of the same raw ingredients, whether you realize it or not. Atomically, we are made up of atoms whose provenance can be traced back to thousands of different stars in our Milky Way. Elementally, we are made of the same elements as those stars, such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. Spiritually, we are all made of energy. We are all one and the same. We live in this same world. And we are all part of a bigger whole.

Recently I learned of a betrayal by a friend (which ironically happened after I answered the Ask Celes question: What Do We Do When We Have Been Betrayed by a Friend?). I wrote about the incident here: What To Do Someone “Stabs” You in Your Back.

While I was initially annoyed by it, not the bad mouthing per se but that it was done by someone whom I thought was a friend, I let go of the misdeed after a few hours. Life is too short to get hung up by such petty matters.

Whatever others do is their business; as I said in the opening, I can’t control how others behave, only myself. While I can’t stop people from speaking poorly about me, I can control my actions. I can continue to be a kind person to others. I can focus on doing good in this world. And I can change even the most tainted, tarnished impressions of me by being a better person, one step at a time.

People who are smart will “see” the truth at some point; those who don’t, well, simply won’t. And that’s fine as well. It’s not my job to please the world. Neither is it your job too.

Inspirational Quote: “You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.” ~ Winston Churchill

More inspirational quotes at Personal Excellence Quotes

Don’t let yourself be bogged down by petty human matters. You have a larger mission in life than to concern yourself with them. As Rene Descartes once said, “Whenever anyone has offended me, I try to raise my soul so high that the offense cannot reach it.” This is the rule I abide by too.

#6. Examine your insecurities

I know this sounds absolutely ridiculous, but the reason “stealing of credit” even comes up as an issue is probably because you have insecurities in that area.

For example, the reason why X’s comments bothered me was because I used to be undeveloped in area B. It was just something I never paid much attention it. Over time I became better in it through deliberate effort, and people began to acknowledge my strength in the area through constant praises.

Read: Skills Development

When X tried to claim responsibility for my success in area Y, I felt that she was taking away the hard work I had put in, and as a corollary, the praises which I had so worked for (even though I was not improving myself in B to get praises). X’s action revealed my “shame” that I used to be bad in that area. It revealed my insecurities surrounding B. It revealed a sore spot which had, all this while, been covered by external praises and acknowledgements but had never been truly addressed.

So, what do I do? I examined my insecurities in B. The reason why I was insecure in B was because I was rarely praised for it during my childhood; it was only something I improved in later in life. This lack of praise made me doubtful of my fundamental ability in B, even though I did receive praises later on when I improved my skill in that area.

My resolution for this insecurity, then, was to (a) accept I used to be undeveloped in area B, (b) not look upon praises as a validation of my capability in it. The latter principle is something I’ve written before in  How To Be The Most Confident Person In The World.

Upon doing that, suddenly, it didn’t matter what X said. It doesn’t matter even if there are 10 Xs running around Singapore today telling 100,000 people that I used to suck in B. I’ve come to terms with my past undeveloped capability in this area and I also acknowledge that I am good in it today, with or without people praising me in it.

Are you fuming that someone took your credit for something? Why? Is there an insecurity that has been unveiled, which led you to be so infuriated? Have you been looking for praise as a validation of your ability in something? Know that insecurities are merely misaligned beliefs that should be corrected and praise should never be a prerequisite to feel confident about something.


#7. Be smarter the next time

So someone took credit for your work this time. Well, that’s fine—learn from this incident and be smarter the next time then.

I generally don’t focus too much on separation-esque measures, such as getting patents, IPs, and the like, but you should protect your rights if there are people trying to copy your work or claim credit over what you have done.

If your project mate took credit for your work, then inform your professor about it so that you can be acknowledged for your effort accordingly. Avoid this person for future projects.

If your colleague took credit for your project, then inform your boss about it. Don’t talk about your new ideas in front of that colleague the next time, at least not before pitching it to your boss.

If your business partner told others that he/she came up with the business idea (when you were the one who did), then take a greater lead over your idea. More importantly, talk to him/her and clarify this. It’s not good to have grievances against someone you have to work so closely with every day.

If a competitor copied your marketing plan or stole your product idea, then do a better job safeguarding your business plans.

If your friend took credit for something you did, then either drop this friend, maintain a cautious approach with him/her, or talk to him/her about it.

Think about your “missteps” this time and learn how you can avoid them the next time. This will prevent similar situations from happening in the future.

Related Reads

My 2011 article on 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way is a great piece on how to deal with daily setbacks, including when people take your credit. Points #1, #3, #4, #8–11, and #13 would be particularly relevant.

My happiness guide 10 Timeless Principles for Lasting Happiness is a personal favorite which I encourage you to read as well. There’s also the manifesto version.

Do you have any past experiences where people take credit for your work? How did you handle them? Please share in the comments section. :)

Image: Colton Witt