my coworker rejects any ideas that aren’t her own, then suggests them herself

A reader writes:

I have a colleague (a peer) who fights a raging battle against any ideas that don’t originate from her. It’s actually to a point of absurdity.

Last week I suggested we make a process more efficient by dividing it into two steps. This change was implemented, and she called a meeting two hours after the change was in effect to explain what a hot mess this change had caused. I suggested we revert to the previous process and troubleshoot what the hot mess was. The two-step process fix was halted, and the troubleshooting instead was determined to be the initial problem with the first process.

I am writing to you right now while on a conference call with her where she just brilliantly suggested that our solution should be dividing the process into two steps. Her language was different (“two macro pools”) but it means exactly what I had initially suggested. There was a long silence and then she asked me if I was aligned, and I said I was. Someone else in the room not aware of the previous process change I had suggested actually called her a “hero” for this suggestion. Meanwhile, I got a bunch of texts from direct reports saying, “Didn’t she shoot you down when we tried this thing last week?”

I did not do anything beyond say, “Yes, that works for me.” Because this is NOT the first time this happened with her and I have seen her do everything she can do to block ideas she didn’t come up with and didn’t approve. Part of me wanted very much to say, “Hey, I am totally aligned because that’s the suggestion I made last week that you shot down!” But I know that if I did that, it would end up derailing what actually would result in change for the company that would benefit everyone involved. (The “hot mess” two-hour thing was not something I’m sure we should have pulled the plug on in the first place because I am still not certain it was hot, it was a mess, or that it had anything to do with the process change.)

Then again, I don’t want to seem like a pushover to my team. And I don’t want to BE a pushover. Any suggestions for dealing with this?

When she proposes things that you’d already proposed yourself earlier (and had her shoot down), one option is to react the way you’d react if you were assuming good faith on her part — which might be honest confusion and/or the assumption that you might be missing some key difference in what she’s proposing versus what you proposed.

For example:

* “I think that’s actually the same as what we tried last week. But I wonder if you’re proposing something slightly different and I’m just missing that?”

* “That’s really similar to what I was suggesting earlier, but I think you had concerns about X when we talked about it?”

These have to be said in the same tone you’d use with a colleague who you liked and respected — meaning calm, not defensive, and genuinely curious — since otherwise they’ll sound snarky. Snarkiness wouldn’t be unwarranted, of course, but (a) this is more professional and (b) this might actually get under her skin in a more satisfying way.

It’ll also be quite satisfying to the other people in the conversation, but that’s just a side benefit.

There’s a chance that if you do this a few times, she’ll get the message that you’re calling her out on what she’s doing and she might back off. But assuming that she doesn’t, the other option is to talk to her about it privately. You don’t want this to be a big confrontation because you have to work with her, but you could approach it from the perspective of “I’m genuinely confused about why this keeps happening” (as opposed to “you are ridiculous and possibly delusional”). For example, you could say something like: “We’ve had some weird miscommunications lately and I’m trying to figure out if there’s anything I can do on my end to help stop them. Quite a few times lately, I’ve proposed an idea and you’ve argued that we shouldn’t do it but then later proposed the same thing yourself. For example, it happened with X and with Y. It’s making me wonder whether I’m not being clear enough what I’m proposing, since you’re reacting to it one way when I suggest it and a totally different way when you propose it. Clearly there’s a disconnect somewhere, and I’m trying to figure out how it’s happening.”

The point here isn’t necessarily that you genuinely think there’s a disconnect; it’s to name what’s happening and let her know that you see it, which may make her less inclined to do it.

If you had good rapport with her, you could just point out the whole dynamic — “I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but you tend to argue really hard against ideas that aren’t your own” — but I’m betting you don’t have the kind of relationship where that would go over well.

In fact, I’m not even sure it’s worth having the private conversation with her above. It’s an option, but it might not be one that gets you anywhere, so whether or not to bother is a judgment call based on what you know about her.

But if you have any kind of line to her boss (or if your own boss does), it’s worth pointing out this behavior to her. This is really something where a manager needs to step in and address what’s happening, and tell her to cut it out.

{ 251 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Document Document Document

    Put everything in writing so that when it’s time for your performance review, you have evidence that you suggested the same ideas. I’m not sure if you and this colleague share a direct supervisor, but you need to protect yourself.

    1. Jam Today*

      That is it. Put meeting notes — especially where process is being suggested or changed — into notes and email them out to everyone in the meeting for review and feedback, for two reasons: 1) make sure everyone understood what was agreed-to, including you, and 2) CYA for when she pulls a stunt like this.

    2. Gotham Bus Company*

      Make sure to copy others on the team PLUS the boss, and archive all emails on the subject.

      1. JokeyJules*

        i’m with you on this. It’ll hopefully bring the issue to the bosses attention firsthand

      2. Michaela Westen*

        And keep copies in a place where you can get them if you’re fired. Always prepare for the worst!

    3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Yes, Yes, Yes. If possible you should send out an email on all this when you can. When you suggest a process send an email “In today’s meeting I suggested we do X – any follow up thoughts on that?”. When you implement your idea send an email “Following up with last months meeting today we will implement X, please let me know how it goes or if you have any suggestions for improvement. When she kicks up a fuss send an email “We are hearing that there is problem Y with process X, what are everyone’s thoughts?”. When she suggests it as her own idea you can pull out the emails (which she was cc:ed on) as proof she was aware of every step of your plan.

    4. And So it Goes*

      Ditto, Ditto, Ditto. Great suggestion, Det A.S. Let me add to that. I would suggest being a little more direct with her when this happens again: “Great suggestion, can you tell me just how this is different then (excuse my grammer) what I recommended two days ago?” And keep repeating this mantra every time she pulls this stunt. She will eventually get the hint. If she doesn’t, then a conversation, with documentation, needs to occur with your boss.

      Good luck!

      1. Sam.*

        I recent asked a peer, “Can you expand on that? Because I’m not immediately seeing how that differs from X idea we discussed earlier.” I tried for a neutral/genuinely curious tone, because it was certainly possible that there was some deviation that he just hadn’t made clear yet. There wasn’t, but as he continued to talk, it became clear to others in the room that it wasn’t a new idea and they shut it down without me saying anything else.

        1. Sarah*

          A coworker uses, “Can you help me understand?” as her code for “You’re making a fool of yourself and I’d like to give you a chance to do so fully.” It’s not aggressive, it gives you the chance to ask questions, and you can usually highlight whatever BS is going on without putting anybody on the defensive.

    5. Clorinda*

      BURN IT WITH FIRE! I mean, Detective Amy is right: document everything. Tomayto, tomahto.

  2. Hills to Die on*

    How frustrating! God yes, please do say something and give us an update. Do not let this go unchecked, for your own career and dignity. Hero my foot. Please give us an update.

    1. Jesca*

      Ya know, why can’t these people just go away LOL!

      But honestly if this were me? I would likely use some political capital on this and make it A Big Deal. I would go to my boss and be like we suggested and tried to implement X, as you know. Then Coworker shot it down and said it created havoc and was a catastrophe. Actually use her seriously dire words. Then go over what she turned around and said at this meeting. I would say to my manager, “while I can give the benefit of the doubt that she is not doing this on purpose, it is still her responsibility as an employee of this company to remember the things she says and does. This was a huge waste of company time and resources, and we should probably head this off before it creates an even bigger mess later on.” Cuz honestly? It will. But most importantly, making it A Thing actually draws attention to the behavior more so than anything else. And I only say go to your manager, because it sounds like this affected a lot of other people.

      1. zora*

        THIS PART: “This was a huge waste of company time and resources”
        Because it is!! It’s not just her being a jerk (which she is) but it is having an actual effect on the company and people getting work done. Management should absolutely step in, but maybe they need someone to spell it out for them.

      2. Tim Tam Girl*

        I like this a lot. I don’t normally suggest going straight to the manager with Personality Nonsense, but Jesca shows why this is more than just Personality Nonsense:
        1) Your new process was implemented
        2) She stopped it immediately, using catastrophic language
        3) The group then took time and resources away from other work to troubleshoot the process (which I assume either isn’t finished yet or didn’t find anything, from your uncertainty about whether or not any issues existed)
        4) She then raised it herself in a broader group situation, without noting that something extremely similar had just been tried and that she herself had stopped it claiming that it had caused a ‘hot mess’.

        To me, 4) is the biggest issue not because it’s stealing credit from you (though that is obviously very important and unfair), but because it means one of the following:
        a) She doesn’t realise that your process and hers are the same process, which means that she doesn’t see that the same negative outcomes are waiting in the wings; this indicates that she doesn’t actually understand either process
        b) She knows that they’re the same and is suggesting it herself even though she believes yours was deeply flawed (because she wants to be seen to be Doing Things?), but isn’t considering ways of avoiding/fixing the issues she had identified the first time around; this indicates that she doesn’t actually care about the outcome
        c) She knows that they’re the same and is suggesting it herself because she never actually believed that yours was deeply flawed and wants to claim the good idea for herself; this indicates that she doesn’t give an eff about outcomes or company resources *at all*, and that is a dangerous person to have around

        Ugh. Good luck, LW. I hope we get an update from you because I think a lot of use have worked with someone like this (or will do so in the future), and it would be very handy to know what approach you took and how it shook out.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, usually people like this are just annoying but if she actually called a meeting to explain how this idea was terrible and made people waste time on both that meeting and on reverting back to the old process and troubleshooting before suggesting the exact same thing… that’s a genuine problem that actually has a negative impact beyond simple annoyance!

  3. JokeyJules*

    I had a partner in a group project once, who wouldn’t really be paying attention when we were brainstorming ideas and shoot them all down, and then reiterate an idea someone already introduced (and that he had previously shot down) as if it were entirely his own creation and idea and also brilliant and “clearly the way to go”.
    Sometimes, when we aren’t actively paying attention we still take what is said aloud in and just think we came up with them on their own. Not a defending, but it’s a thing that does happen. Perhaps she isn’t paying attention and is discounting the ideas to cover up that she isn’t paying attention and making it seem like she is a contributor?
    I’m with Alison that you should speak point these things out to her. Intentional or not, it’s not helpful personally or professionally. That must be so frustrating

    1. Oryx*

      Except in this case, it was something that had already been implemented so it goes beyond not just paying attention.

    2. Mike C.*

      I’ve done this before, but it’s really easy to say, “Oh, my mistake. I totally support her idea”.

  4. QualitativeOverQuantitative*

    I like the first idea of politely asking how this idea is different from the one you proposed. Putting her on the spot and forcing her to defend what she is doing is likely to put a stop to this behavior. No one likes being called out. Good luck! This sounds miserable.

    1. Liz T*

      It’s an important question after all! If the first “version” of the idea didn’t work, we’d want to make sure the second “version” is different, right?

  5. alice*

    I had a boss do this before with everyone that worked under her. One of us would come up with something, we’d present it to her in a team meeting, and she’d shoot it down. Then in a meeting with her and her boss(es), she’d suggest the idea, acting as if it came from her. Our solution in this case was to either only present our ideas via email with the whole team including upper management cc’d or to request a meeting with everyone including the higher ups. She was furious about it, but we all got the credit we deserved (this was in marketing where a good idea was pretty crucial to keeping the job and having it stolen had serious consequences).

    1. Hills to Die on*

      If you copy your boss or others in the company when you suggest ideas, it will allow you to be the hero. Especially if you can go directly to your boss without involving her at all. I know that may not always be possible, but do it whenever you can. Do you have regular check-ins with your boss? Talk to her about your ideas either before or after you implement so that she knows they are coming from you.

  6. Mike C.*

    “Why do you keep shooting down ideas and then suggesting them yourself later on?” is also a great question to ask in a group setting.

    Also, if you have direct reports pointing this out to you, you really need to address this stuff in the moment or you’re going to start building resentment when these repeated political changes affect them directly.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I am all for direct communication, but I feel like that is a far too aggressive way to initially broach the subject.

      1. Washi*

        Agreed. There are exceptions, but at the office, your actions should be with the intend of getting the best results, not of proving who is right or winning a dominance contest. This kind of aggressive response, right off the bat in front of others, is more likely to start an I-said/you-said argument and reduce the OP’s own credibility than go anywhere productive.

        I could maybe see this language working with a close peer one-on-one, like “dude, you know that’s what I just suggested last week!” but I don’t think that’s the situation here.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      Yes, but very adversarial. I agree that a softer approach is fine initially. If it continues, this is the route I would go. And I agree that it’s important to note that your direct reports are watching. Have credibility with them so that they know you will stand up for them because they will see you standing up for yourself.

      1. Mike C.*

        Yeah, I can see how this is adversarial, but I would also point out that having ideas shot down and repurposed is also adversarial. Not in the “two wrongs don’t make a right” sense, but in the “it’s sometimes ok to have an uncomfortable conversation to stop something that’s even worse”. And like I clarified above, not as a first strike.

      2. uranus wars*

        I agree it can come across as adversarial, but with OPs reports starting to notice I’d say it has to come down to a heavier hand that will get the point across.

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      I’d play dumb as Alison suggested first, but if she didn’t get that hint I’d escalate to something like that.

    4. Anon for this*

      I think your first point/suggested language is pretty adversarial, and Alison’s language would yield the same results in a safer, more faultlessly professional manner.

      I think your second point, however, is extremely important.

    5. Bea*

      This is where I’m at.

      Stealing credit and ideas is cutthroat behavior that is potentially damaging to the OPs career or at very least holding them back in ways. Protect your contributions when this happens!

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I do this after I’ve done the first two things Alison suggested (feigned assuming good intent confusion, then a direct conversation). I use a totally flat/direct affect when doing it. It’s definitely hostile, but sometimes it’s necessary to escalate or call something out publicly.

  7. Temperance*

    My favorite phrase in these situations is “how is that different from what I suggested at X meeting?”, because it puts the onus back on her and doesn’t allow her to keep steamrolling.

    1. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

      Exactly. And even if she had some nonsense argument about word difference, everyone present can evaluate what she’s saying compared to what you’re saying, and the message (that she’s just repeating your ideas as her own) gets across.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I love this, also. I had a coworker who was a massive jerk to me—she would argue over stupid and little things (but only in front of others), scoff and roll her eyes at me, and then repeat what I had said a few days later. She became my BEC right quick.

      Calmly deploying your phrase is excellent and satisfying, because it requires her to explain why she’s being miserable instead of you having to explain that you proposed the idea, first.

      1. LawStudent13*

        What’s BEC stand for?

        Sorry for being off topic, I frequently see it on this blog and my brain automatically goes to bacon, egg and cheese, but it’s hard to imagine that a massive jerk can be compared to a delicious breakfast sandwich…

        1. Shades of Blue*

          B***h eating crackers AKA a person you can’t stand, even if they are just sitting there doing nothing (eating crackers).


        2. Ego Chamber*

          I thought it might not because I didn’t know how common the term was outside this blog, but Google pulls the definition we use right up (it’s literally the first result).

          I’m not trying to be snarky or anything, but when I encounter a term I don’t know, I Google it, and if Google gives me nothing likely, then I’ll ask. I don’t understand asking first, and then waiting over 10 minutes to get a response if there’s an alternative where I can get the information immediately instead—I might just be really impatient though.

          1. kittycritter*

            I feel exactly the same way – I rarely ask a question of others that I have not attempted to Google first :)

          2. PersephoneUnderground*

            I don’t know- I usually do Google first myself, but if I’m pretty sure Google will be useless (like with acronyms there can be a million different meanings, or if a phrase is too close to something else that I know isn’t the answer) I might skip it. I’m pretty surprised the correct definition came up! There’s also that I might not recognize it as the correct definition even if I do Google it. I mean, BEC takes a bit of explanation to make any sense :p So, hey, benefit of the doubt here.

          3. AnnieB*

            Bitch eating crackers is easily googleable, but BEC gave me Botanical Environmental Consultants and Botswana Examinations Council, so I don’t think it’s as simple as googling something that’s easily explained in person.

    3. Kind of new here*

      This seems like the most obvious solution to me too. I kept thinking I would just bluntly respond to her idea with, “please explain the difference between this and the ‘hot mess’ we just rolled back?” Or perhaps, “Let’s learn what’s working and not working from the ‘hot mess’ situation we just rolled back before launching an entirely new process.” Ideas often fail, even good ones can struggle to get off the ground. It’s not productive to drop a new process entirely just because it isn’t immediately running smoothly. This kind of behavior fosters a culture in which people stop coming up with new ideas and process improvements and just keep their heads down so as not to make waves. I just left such a culture and have no desire to return.

  8. Courageous cat*

    This is deeply annoying. Unfortunately my hunch is that if she’s using “slightly different language” to rephrase it, then she’ll latch onto those slight differences with all of her might as to why her ideas aren’t the same as yours.

    Just something to possibly be prepared for. I think Alison’s responses are perfect.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      That’s a good point. Be prepared for this and have answers ready so that so doesn’t split hairs with semantics.

      1. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

        If you have this conversation in “public,” I wouldn’t even worry about it. Hair-splitting is usually quite obvious to the listener, even when the speaker thinks they’re making a brilliant, incisive distinction. It’ll only emphasize your point more as she tries to talk her way out of it.

        Plus, it leaves space for there to be a real, non-trivial difference in the two proposals, and you come out looking gracious either way.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        OP: How is that different than what I suggested last week?
        Coworker: It’s completely different. You suggested two steps and I’m suggesting two macro pools.
        OP: Yeah, I got that, but how is the process different?
        Coworker: It’s different because… because… IT’S DIFFERENT BECAUSE THE WORDS ARE DIFFERENT!
        OP: … cool. O_0

    2. Original Poster*

      OP here. This is the problem. I am worried that even asking her politely, “How is this different than what I suggested?” in a friendly, please-explain-it-to-me way will derail the solution from happening. She’s extremely attached to the idea that SHE come up with the winning idea. I might need to jump to Allison’s suggestion of involving my boss–though we have different bosses, and this will just lead to involving executives in what feels petty to me. Documenting EVERYTHING is problem what I need to start doing, though!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In that case, you might just go with a brisk “Yeah, that’s what I was suggesting last week too, so I agree, that’s a good idea. So anyway, about implementing this, blah blah blah…”

          1. Observer*

            And if it doesn’t then it becomes MUCH easier to loop the bosses in to say “Hey, I suggested x, now she suggested it and NOW she’s trying to derail instead of moving forward.”

            The boss may not care about you losing credit, but they WILL care (assuming a basic level of competence) about solutions being blocked and that’s what’s happening here.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I agree with Alison on this and just want to say, UGH, I’m so sorry you have to deal with her! She sounds insufferable in this specific context.

        1. Tableau Wizard*

          Could you even add something about “one of the pitfalls we encountered was X, but I think we could try again and avoid that by Y?”
          Again, i think the tone of this would have to be just right.

        2. soon 2 be former fed*

          I don’t get this. Careers are made out of accomplishments. Idea stealing sabotages this. The co-worker is behaving terribly and advancing her career at the expense of the OP. Altruism is well and good, but volunteering or something may be a better outlet than weakly challenging this nonsense. Women have to stand up for themselves, sometimes against other women.

      2. Mike C.*

        Doing this the first time is going to feel awkward, but you’ve got to have some faith that you’re being rational, your coworkers will see that you’re rational, and that this will stop.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Yes. Also OP got multiple texts asking her if X wasn’t the idea she’d already suggested ergo other people do recognize this happening.

      3. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

        It’s not petty if you’re coming across as having no ideas on how to solve the company’s problems and she has all the answers! If your potential raises, promotions, recognition are at risk…. petty away, OP, petty away.

        1. Opting for the Sidelines*

          It’s also not petty if she is killing the morale of everyone around her. As a boss, this is stuff I WANT to know.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Likewise. Manipulation, deception, showboating, stealing credit…none of them is a good look and I would definitely want to know if staff were doing this.

      4. Temperance*

        I think that’s okay, though, because then she gets seen as the person who tanks everyone else’s ideas.

      5. premocon*

        Would it really be possible for her to shoot down your suggestion for a green tea pots with tiny red dots, later suggest mint teapots with tiny scarlet dots, & then immediately do a 180 when you mention the strong similarities between the two suggestions?

        I do understand that you just want to see good idea get implemented & don’t want to risk not implementing them because of a difficult co-worker, but this is extremely problematic. One co-worker has that much clout? If so, this is a serious problem.

      6. Soupspoon McGee*

        I think you need to reframe how you think about this. Speaking up in the moment might derail the discussion in that moment, but continuing to let her behave that way will derail the whole process of change at your company whenever she’s involved. There’s a real long-term cost (money, time, political capital) of her stopping new processes, pulling together people to analyze them, then re-implementing them. This is the time to use your political capital.

    3. BF50*

      Usually reasonable people can spot that BS.

      I’m picturing an interview Vanilla Ice did in the 90’s. “No, the Queen song goes da dunt da dun da da dun dun and my song goes da dunt da dun da da dun dun da. They are obviously very different”.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I can’t believe I remember that exact interview (or a very similar different interview on that exact topic), but I do. Because he referred to “a little change” and I yelled at the TV admitting you CHANGED it is admitting you STOLE it; calling it a CHANGE means you didn’t accidentally come up with the same thing yourself!

        I may have some unresolved issues about this.

        1. pleaset*

          It’s more extreme than that – he hums one version and has to pause to remember which one it was before identifying it.

          1. BF50*

            That’s way more details than I remember. :)

            Mostly I remember that this was the first time I’d heard of the controversy since Vanilla Ice wasn’t really my jam, and I hadn’t really discovered Queen yet, but everything he said convinced me more that he was a lying thief. I had no dog in the fight before he opened his mouth, but I was pissed by the time the interview was over. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

        2. LeighTX*

          I remember that also! My now-husband and I were watching the interview in my dorm and he also yelled at the TV: “THEY’RE THE EXACT SAME!!” Hearing something stolen from Queen was obviously something that affected our psyches deeply, that we remember it so clearly. :)

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            From Queen *and* David Bowie, and I hope the ghosts of Bowie and Freddie Mercury are haunting his lying little ass.

    4. Chatterby*

      I’d have laughed and said “Of course I’m aligned with my idea!” during the meeting, then approached her after and said something along the lines of “I like that you’re now on board with this and supportive of my proposal, but next time, let me know if you’re wanting to pass something of mine to the higher ups, and we can work on the presentation together.”

      1. Essess*

        My wording would have been similar but in front of the others to make sure they were aware of it, “Of course I’m aligned with it. I proposed it to you last week.”

        1. JerryLarryTerryGary*

          Exactly. Just a bemused, “Of course I’m still in favor. Glad we agree [glad you think we can avoid doom you predicted earlier]! And now…”
          Adversarial is satisfying but won’t get you what you want. Just act like she thought it over and now is on board- ‘cause that’s what she should be saying.

  9. neverjaunty*

    OP, isn’t it interesting that she has bullied everyone into keeping mum about her taking credit for your ideas and disparaging you?

    Politely calling her out as AAM suggests is not only necessary – it’s critical to your career success.

    And don’t meet with her privately. With someone whose elbows are this sharp, all you’d be doing is warning them that they need to up their game.

    1. CM*

      ^^^ THIS.

      I know it’s easier and seems more productive to just go along, but it’s really important for your career and in the long run, for the organization, to push back on this behavior.

      Be factual and ask clarifying questions — you can say things like, “When we tried this two-step process last week, you raised objections X and Y and we rolled back the process as a result. Can you explain how X and Y are addressed by your new two-step process?”

        1. Lana Kane*

          “When we tried this two-step process last week, you raised objections X and Y and we rolled back the process as a result. Can you explain how X and Y are addressed by your new two-step process?”

          This is exactly right. It’s not confrontational, and does bring the issue to light and put her in a position where she has to explain herself, rather than you being on the defense.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Are YOU intimidated by her? People like that can be kinda scary sometimes. Other people have suggested here to practice that conversation in private so that when you have the live opportunity for it, it rolls off the tongue and sounds / feels natural.

        1. zora*

          I second this: practice this frequently, in front of a mirror. Pick a couple of different ways to phrase it and say it over and over and over, it will be so much easier to say it in the moment when you are nervous.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Which is another way of saying she’s a bully – but she isn’t your boss, she’s a peer.

        I suspect once you stand your ground with her you’ll find you have more support than you think.

      3. Genny*

        If you’re peers and have different managers, it sounds to me like you have a pretty good position from which to call her out using the techniques Allison and others have already mentioned. She can’t actually hurt you. If she starts stalling the project because it’s not her idea, that’s going to reflect poorly on her, not you, and that’s something else you can point out to your manager (who hopefully isn’t also cowed by Jane).

      4. Chinookwind*

        Our CFO is like that – everyone is terrified of her and she runs a tight ship. And she publicly yells at our payroll person in public. Others see her as being efficient because she gets things done. I am new and jaded enough to realize that she gets things done because people are afraid to tick her off and, as a result, our procedures are outdated, inefficient and not going to change before she retires.

      5. RUKiddingMe*

        Her team may be but you don’t need to be. Moreover like many others have said this can materially affect your career including raises and promotions. Do you really want this duplicitous, credit stealing person who apparently can’t come up with her own original ideas to be promoted to a position of authority over you someday? Think it can’t happen?

      6. Former Employee*

        Is her “ship” The USS Caine? Is she known privately as Captain Queeg?

        (Anyone who hasn’t seen “The Caine Mutiny” is missing out on a great movie including a truly remarkable performance by Humphrey Bogart.)

  10. gecko*

    It also means that she’s making herself less trustworthy when she points out problems with whatever idea you’re putting forward. And at the very least you might not want to capitulate as easily to making her proposed changes. Some options would be: “Hmm, I don’t think the root cause of the issue is this change. Before we roll it back, let’s do more investigation.” Or, “I hear you, but this sounds like shooting the idea down just on reflex. Could we pin that for later and come back to that possible problem?”

  11. Suzy Q*

    Alison is so much more diplomatic than I would be. I’ve had this happen in meetings when a man tried to co-opt my idea as his own, and I call him out on the spot in front of everyone. Hell to the no, asshole.

    1. Stormfeather*

      Yeah, I’d also fall down on the “diplomatic” and “professional” front here. Just hell no. I can’t imagine sitting in the second meeting and saying anything other than “So how is this different from my own idea that you shot down and called a hot mess? Except that this time it’s supposedly you coming up with it?”

      Of course I’m also more petty than I should be sometimes. -_-

      1. Whatsinaname*

        I’m with you. People trying to take credit for other people’s ideas and work just irk me. I’m old and crotchety, out of patience and out of sugar coating. I would call her out on it in no uncertain terms in front of everyone as in “So let me clarify. When I proposed this new process and it got implemented, you brought it to a screeching halt. Now you’re bringing it back to the table but as your idea. What gives?” I would probably also talk to my boss about what she’s doing.

    2. Bea*

      In my industry we don’t sugar coat much so I’m grateful it’s okay to just pop off without thinking you sound aggressive or may hurt feelings calling out some BS.

    3. KayEss*

      Yeah, my first thought on reading Alison’s response was, “Would this advice be different if the co-opting jerk was a man?” I can’t remember specifically if Alison has given advice on that specific situation, or what it was–since unfortunately I’ve read SO MUCH about SO MANY instances of it–but I was surprised.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oh, that’s interesting. I usually think people are wrong when they suggest the advice would be different if the genders were different, but in this case I think you might be right … there’s so much baggage around men doing this to women that I do think I would have taken a more aggressive tone. Interesting.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Well, women internalize misogyny too. There’s a slight differential in the actual social power, but Peer Manager is just borrowing the tools / role to do the same stuff. If there were no other issues, I’d give the same response to men or women doing this.

          I thought you softened it to help deal with OP’s concern about Peer Manager derailing the process. While you get a little more ‘oomph’ in peer support from allies who recognize the gender problem if you’re pushing back against a man, you still face a real issue with potential sabotage, and a softer response can bypass that.

        2. Ralph Wiggum*

          This struck a chord with me.

          Hearing that you’ll handle the same behavior differently with a woman than a man sends me the signal that you presume misogyny when a man exhibits bad behavior, instead of… I guess non-gendered bad behavior.

          As a man, I feel like I have to be extra careful about any gendered interpretation of my words/actions. Society seems to be far too willing to jump to judgement.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s not presuming misogyny. It’s accounting for the fact that a behavior is far more frustrating/disturbing when it appears to be based in well-documented bias.

            1. JamieS*

              Reacting differently because something “appears to be based in bias” is just another way of saying you’re “assuming it’s based in bias” which would mean you’re assuming it’s based in misogyny.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I mean, loads of things we all do every day, men and women, are based in bias because that’s how socialization works. It’s not an insult to say that; in fact, you have to acknowledge that to have any hope of combating it in yourself or others.

                1. JamieS*

                  Maybe some do but the bias in question is sexism and you’re the one who denied you’d be making that presumption. Also just because a behavior is socialized doesn’t make it right,

                2. cryptid*

                  Jamie, no problem, when men stop being misogynistic we’ll collectively stop assuming it’s a thing they’re doing.

                3. RUKiddingMe*

                  Jamie I’m assuming here that you are a male. If you are I would like to just say that maybe (not really ‘maybe’) you don’t have standing, at all to tell women about their lived experiences. If I am wrong and you are a woman…maybe (again, not really ‘maybe’) check your internalized misogyny.

                4. JamieS*

                  RUKiddingMe no I’m not a male. Although now I’m doubting my writing style since apparently it comes across as male. Also your post as a whole is extremely adversial.

              2. tusky*

                JamieS, people act based on assumptions most of the time, because there’s very little we can know with absolute certainty, especially when it comes to social interaction. We observe, fit those observations against prior experience/knowledge, and make a best interpretation as to what we are observing. What criteria do you propose we use for determining if sexism has occurred? Bias is often subtle, even unconscious, so we couldn’t rely only on asking people whether they their behavior was rooted in gendered bias, even if we knew they would always be honest. That leaves only subjective judgement, which isn’t any less valid.

          2. AMPG*

            It’s not about presuming misogyny in intent so much as it is about pushing back against sexism in the workplace in practice. Basically, even if a man is just generally being a jerk to a coworker, when he’s a jerk in this specific way to a female coworker, he’s adding to whatever the baseline level of sexism is in the environment (and it’s never zero). So his actions have larger ramifications regardless of his intent.

          3. Bob*

            This conversation got weird quickly. It’s not a huge injustice that a man has to consider before he speaks, that he might be adding to an unfair gender dynamic. It’s just part of being thoughtful and not contributing to unhealthy patterns. Being careful when you speak is a good thing, and doesn’t make you a victim.

            1. PersephoneUnderground*

              Thank you! It’s the same with other uncomfortable cultural or personal things- if we know a friend is getting over being dumped we will be more careful about complaining about our many suitors. It’s just consideration for others. And I know that I shouldn’t use “monkey” as a term of endearment for my husband even if he calls me “kitten” and he’s currently climbing a tree – I did once when we started dating because I literally hadn’t thought about it and would have used the same for any boyfriend in the situation, might even have used it with my ex sometimes. He stopped me and explained that you don’t call a black man that, and I was incredibly embarrassed and apologized. I didn’t get upset that I needed to be careful about my words, just never called him that again. Progress!

          4. tusky*

            I mean, maybe you (and people in general) should be extra careful about the gendered impact of your words/actions? I say that not to be snarky, but because impact is usually more important than intent, and because sexism is still rampant, so people clearly still have some work to do. Plus, if bad behavior is happening, then the problem is bad behavior, and focusing on trying to show that it isn’t sexism is a distraction, at best. (As an aside: people who regularly experience misogyny are typically pretty good at detecting it.)

        3. KayEss*

          FWIW, I think the advice could largely be the same, but with a side of “pay close attention to whether this is an indicator of sexism by this person or in the larger office culture.” I’m sure there are plenty of women who do exactly what’s described in the letter, and probably also plenty of men who do it irrespective of gender, but it’s SUCH a widespread sexism issue that it was almost disconcerting to read about it absent that angle!

          (Not in an “Alison dropped the ball” way but in a “wow, what alternate universe have I fallen into” way.)

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Right. Misogyny is a thing. Sexism is a thing. Internalized misogyny is a thing. Women being cast as opponents in order to keep us off balance instead of united against the patriarchy and its structure(s) is a big thing.

            It keeps us fighting each other instead of banding together against the powers that be/oppressors. Many, many, many women have drunk the kool-aid and therefore do things that sabotage each other instead of supporting one another.

    4. MLB*

      Agreed. I think she needs more directness. Playing dumb will probably not get the point across. In the meetings where co-worker asks if LW is on board with “their” idea, instead of just agreeing, I think she needs to call out the fact that it’s the same idea LW had last week. She doesn’t need to be nasty about it, just matter of fact. People like that will steam roll you at every opportunity and co-worker needs to be called out in the group since most everyone is aware that she does it.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. By agreeing the OP totally caved; she rolled over and exposed her belly to the dominant wolf. At the very least ‘oh of course I think it is a great idea, that is why I suggested it last week and it worked pretty well when we rolled it out then.’

    5. Temperance*

      I think it sucks in both instances, but it’s such a common dynamic with men that it has its own word (“he-peating”, in case you were wondering).

    6. neverjaunty*

      Agree completely, but the Just Asking Questions method is less about diplomacy than about calling them out in a way that makes you look like the Good Guy. “Thanks, Fergus, but im a bit puzzled – that’s exactly the same idea I presented ten minutes ago?” [polite smile, intense stare]

      1. Academic Addie*

        Agree, and I have great success with this strategy in my male-dominated industry.

      2. Washi*

        Yeah, if everyone is on your side and sees what this woman is doing, you can be blunt, but if you aren’t sure of your allies, the asking questions thing is safer…though often less effective :(

    7. Phoenix Programmer*

      I actually got talked to about this from my male manager when I did call out the idea stealer who was also a man. Got the old “abrasive” and “aggressive” in my performance reviews.

      In my experience diplatic works better as there is zero room to flip the script on you. “Well if you were not so abrasive people would listen to your ideas.” Wait I’m abrasive for calling out idea stealers but they only steal my ideas because I am abrasive. OK.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        “Boss, they’re clearly listening to my ideas, that’s how my ideas get passed on as someone else’s.”

        Diplomacy works best when you can find the exact wording that calls out an idea-stealer, leaves no room for doubt that they are repeating your idea, and is phrased neatly enough that no “aggression” can be claimed. Unfortunately “diplomacy” for a woman sounds a lot like Alison’s suggested scripts, which I personally think is too subtle for this kind of interaction and also a little apologetic where it’s not necessary (my read was kind of self-blaming “Did I make a mistake/cause confusion in conveying my original idea?” rather than the IMO more appropriate “Are you contributing something new to my originally proposed idea?”).

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I *really* prefer your “Are you contributing something new to my originally proposed idea?” to ‘Did I make a mistake’, for exactly the reason you state.

          Peer Manager is a bully. I think a more direct challenge is needed, even if *this* project gets scuttled. This is a big problem that needs to be stopped for future projects, not just this one.

      2. Persimmons*

        So apparently you’re a Time Lord. Maybe brush up the resume with your ability to crush the fourth dimension?

        1. PersephoneUnderground*

          Baha! That took me a sec but I love it. We really need a like button. +1 timelord reference :)

    8. Breda*

      One of the solutions to that problem might also work here: that is, talk to your other peers who have also experienced this and make a decision to have each other’s backs. Every time she re-suggests someone else’s idea, another person should chime in and say, “That’s what OP suggested last week! I thought it was a great idea; I’m glad you’re on board too.” (This doesn’t work as well if you’re the only two at your level, but if there are four or five of you, this might improve things for everyone while making sure the correct person gets the credit.)

      1. Breda*

        Welp, I see that several people below me have also suggested this! I promise I am not trying to be the Idea Stealer.

    9. soon 2 be former fed*

      I’m with you, Suzy Q. Idea stealing is completely unacceptable and I would shut it down, but I’m, a straight shooter in situations where someone is actively trying to harm me. There is a time for sugar coating but this isn’t one of them.

  12. Lisa Babs*

    Question. Does the OP have to cave when the coworker shoots an idea down? I mean can OP just use the phrase “Manager approved this new process so we are giving it a try for a week. If you have any problems take it up with them.” And with the “hot mess” ask them to explain specifically the problem so a solution could be made.

    I mean the process being stopped as soon as this a complaint was risen might have been the real problem. I mean the OP still to this day not even know what the problem was. If there is any way to stop this person from stream rolling anything she doesn’t agree with, would fix the problem I feel more than talking to her or calling her out on it.

    I mean we all have to at some time try something we don’t agree with at work. It’s part of working in a team. Maybe have the manager step in and enforce ideas she doesn’t agree with.

    1. Original Poster*

      Not really in this case–our managers (mine and the person I’m venting about) are extremely far removed from all of this–it’s really in the weeds for them both. We are supposed to collaborate and solve for these processes together. If there were other parties involved besides us and our two teams of direct reports, it would be easier to manage. :-(

      1. Antilles*

        Hm. With this additional context, then I think you need to be more straightforward about calling her out about it in the moment. Because if your managers are really far removed from this, their entire takeaway from the conference call is:
        1.) We had a problem X
        2.) Co-worker came up with a brilliant idea that fixed it
        Your contributions? Non-existent; if they aren’t in the weeds, they have no idea about the background of “OP suggested that first”.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          Right. You can still email them and say hey, I just want you to know what we have been working on. Here’s what I’ve done. Just FYI. They still know but don’t have to deal with it.

      2. drpuma*

        If your managers expect the two of you to collaborate, depending on how long you have been working together (ie, not years) that is actually a great way to open a conversation with your manager. “I know that you and Other Boss expect me and Pushy Lady to collaborate. Can we get some clarification on what that should look like? Because this is what’s happening right now, and I’m concerned that we’re not completing our assignments to your expectations.”

    2. Antilles*

      Does the OP have to cave when the coworker shoots an idea down?
      Not in the slightest. OP said this is a co-worker/peer. So if the coworker tries to shoot down an idea, OP is within her rights to either (a) push back, ignore Jane, and do it anyways or (b) respond with a polite “hm, I actually think this idea is a good one, but since we disagree, let’s grab Manager real quick and ask her to weigh in on this one”.

    3. Blue*

      Yes, I wondered about this. OP, it sounds like you didn’t push back at all – am I reading that right? If not, can I ask why? Is it just not worth the effort to challenge her?

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        OP said it was because she was concerned Peer Manager would undermine the process change again.

        1. soon 2 be former fed*

          And it is above her pay grade to worry about that. OP isn’t the impediment, idea-stealer is.

  13. Hiring Mgr*

    Also, if this happens again, don’t pull the plug on the new idea since you likely realize it’s just her doing the same thing (since you mention this has happened repeatedly, you probably should have just kept the new thing in place this time too).

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This is a good point. Two hours is hardly enough time to determine if a new process is effective or not. I’d suggest including a time line when you rollout something new.

      “We’re going to try X for two weeks start on Date and then we’ll meet to discuss the results.”

    2. Stormfeather*

      Yeah, I mean sometimes new changes ARE a hot mess when no one expected them to be or foresaw the problems… but this particular person has pretty much shot both feet off as far as pointing out those problems goes. Make her explain any further problems in great detail, or wait for OTHER people to point out that it’s a problem and why.

      (Although I realize the OP may not have any standing in this, it might be people over their head pulling the plug.)

  14. Cordoba*

    I had a colleague on a project team who did this same thing, our solution was the entire team would explicitly pitch every idea with the preface “Remember when Beavis said we should…” before launching into their proposal.

    At first it worked because he genuinely though they really his ideas and then was of course on board to implement them with no changes.

    After about 2 weeks he caught on that we were actually making fun of him, and then he actually stopped the behavior.

    So maybe try that if the rest of the team is onboard?

    1. SierraSkiing*

      A similar approach – the women working in the Obama White House all realized that they’d often propose something, it’d get shot down or ignored, and then a man would propose it as his idea and it’d go through. So they made a pact together that they’d make a point of attributing each other’s ideas correctly and noting their origin in meetings. “I agree, Chris, Chloe’s idea about X is a really good one. Let’s go with that.” Apparently it worked really well. Perhaps the team can do a similar thing here, where they work together to correctly attribute ideas? So when the Idea Thief says “How about we split the process into two steps,” someone else on the team can say “Oh, is that like OP suggested last week?” And OP can reciprocate when Idea Thief steals other people’s ideas. With the whole team working together, Idea Thief will be on the wrong side of the group consensus without much confrontation.

      1. Cassandra*

        Ack, sorry, crossing comments in the ether — this is exactly the “amplification” strategy I suggested below. Tying the comments together because it will give OP more search terms to find the strategy — and because I don’t want to be Credit Stealer!

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        So when the Idea Thief says “How about we split the process into two steps,” someone else on the team can say “Oh, is that like OP suggested last week?”

        I think this is great but I wouldn’t phrase it in the form of a question. “Oh, sure, like OP suggested last week.”

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Yes. It’s much easier to answer “no” to a question than it is to challenge a statement.

  15. Hannah*

    I definitely would approach this from a “How is this different than my idea we implemented last week?” type of approach…”this sound similar to my idea we implemented last week…you had X concerns…can you explain a little more about how this is different?”.

    This would drive me absolutely nuts! Probably goes without saying but if this woman isn’t your manager, make sure your manager knows to give credit where credit is due – document all your original ideas!

  16. echidna*

    My favorite line when someone presents my idea as their own is “Thank you for your support”. It works like a charm.

    1. Phoenix Programmer*

      Can you elaborate? I see this back firing. Especially when others in the meeting were not involved in the original pitch.

      1. echidna*

        The bare statement works when someone proposes the idea that you did 2 minutes before in the same meeting (no prize for guessing the genders involved).

        If context is needed for others who were not there, I use a flat statement (rather than a question) of the history: “(looking around at the others:) This was proposed in last weeks meeting. (looking directly at idea-thief:) Thanks for your support.” (no need to use the word “I” – it is more powerful if it is implicit)

        The key is to behave as if the idea-thief is openly and genuinely supporting your ideas – with out any sense of sniping or contradiction. Someone who didn’t realise what they were doing has a graceful exit, but an idea-thief won’t like it at all, and will start talking about how their idea is different to yours. It automatically puts them on the back-foot, acknowledging your initial idea in the first place and then explaining any differences. Supporting an idea does not preclude adding an additional tweak of their own – so even this does not contradict the flat statement.

        1. Emilia Bedelia*

          You can also use this as an opening to further push your own idea (as a refresher, for those who might not recall what happened at the other meeting). Eg, “That’s the idea I brought up at the meeting last week. Thanks for your support – it just further highlights the issues that I brought up last week with regard to the llama brushing issue.”

  17. irene adler*

    I work for the male version of this person.
    No getting around it because any attempt to call boss out results in being lectured on why your idea was NOT the same as his idea. In fact, he’s able to explain how your idea falls short by making up facts to prove how short-sighted your idea actually was. Later on, when you bring up these same facts, he tells you that your facts are wrong.

    I tried this: “That’s really similar to what I was suggesting earlier, but I think you had concerns about X when we talked about it?” Result: Boss explained how he would NEVER have concerns about X. Such concerns are unfounded. No one in the industry would bring up such a concern. It doesn’t exist.” I point out how he brought up X, and then he insists that I’m mistaken.

    It’s a no-win.

      1. SierraSkiing*

        Ugh. In that case, yeah, take ALL OF THE MEETING MINUTES. So you have something in your inbox saying otherwise when she tries to gaslight you that way.

        1. irene adler*

          Not knocking documentation.
          My boss will argue his way out of anything. Yes, even written documentation. A different word was used from what the boss’ idea was (formerly someone else’s idea), or the documentation is incorrect (mistaken attribution) or what’s written on the page isn’t quite the same thing (subtle difference- have to have advanced knowledge to understand and he doesn’t have time to explain). You name it. My boss can argue his way out of written documentation, witnesses at meetings when the originator of the idea brought it up, etc.

          1. Narise*

            I had a boss that would tell coworkers to do something and they would write it down and then later he told them it was wrong. They showed him their notes and he would state he never said that and they were still wrong. Not sure why he never did that to me but I told coworkers use email and don’t move forward without an email from him but sometimes a quick conversation is all they had time for so they still had issues with him.

            1. Totally Minnie*

              I had a grandboss like this once, and what ended up working in our favor was the fact that she worked out of a different building. We started asking all of our questions in email. Of course, she didn’t want to put her answers in writing, so she would try to call us instead. We started not answering when her name appeared on the caller ID. All of our voicemails were sent to us as email attachments, so there were a handful of times when she would claim that she never said a thing and I could just pull up the recording of the voicemail. It was incredibly useful. But it don’t think this technique could work with a person whose desk is three cubicles away.

              1. Massmatt*

                This makes for an awesome story but wow the dysfunction involved here is amazing! This is like lawyers on a racketeering case.

      2. neverjaunty*

        But she isn’t your boss – you don’t have to be deferential and you don’t have to buy her story. When she starts flailing and justifying you can dismiss her. “In other words, it’s the same thing. So, moving on…”and then go to the next topic or idea. If she pushes back she’ll look like the problem.

        1. irene adler*

          Yes, that’s the one thing in OP’s favor.
          And yes-good suggestion there! If you can move the conversation along and not dwell on the idea, then there’s a chance to get the co-worker away from claiming to have originated the idea.

    1. Decima Dewey*

      The version I’ve run into was a little different. The department I worked in didn’t have a supervisor and the higher ups didn’t plan to fill the position. So they just rotated two coworkers on my level, Naomi and Jeannie, in and out of the position. Whenever I made a suggestion, Naomi or Jeannie would say “Let’s wait until we have a permanent supervisor” (which, as I said, wasn’t going to happen anytime soon). Then I’d get dinged on my performance review for not making suggestions.

      Anyway, I noticed a few empty shelves here and then in our collection. I counted them up, and realized if we shifted materials, we could fix some tight areas and the collection would work better. Suggested it, Naomi or Jeannie shot it down. Months later, Naomi came to me all excited. Jeannie came up with this idea to shift the collection…. The same suggestion I had made, but when Jeannie made it, it became the best thing since sliced bread.

  18. smoke tree*

    I’m reading a book about con artists right now, so that might be changing my perspective, but I wonder if she is totally aware that she’s doing this. Apparently it is a pretty common phenomenon that people will mentally re-write events to make themselves look better. Maybe in her mind the new idea she’s come up with to solve the “problem” (that she created) is completely different from the original one and she’s just a genius.

    Not that this excuses what she’s doing–I think the LW should still say something, but it’s possible the coworker will just cling to the fiction that the idea was hers, all hers, all along.

      1. smoke tree*

        It’s great! It’s “The Confidence Game” by Maria Konnikova. However it may cause you to deeply question whether people are capable of making rational decisions (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything).

        1. Horsing Around*

          Not sure you need a book to start questioning that. Just interacting with people has been enough for me.

    1. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

      Oh I’d say she’s definitely doing this. We’re all the hero in our own story, and she may have effectively forgotten that OP made the suggestion first. That she apparently does it to everyone/ in every situation makes this seem like an overall problem of perception rather than a concerted campaign against OP. That does not make it acceptable (not that you’re saying it does), and one-upping behavior without the active intent to undermine has the exact same outcome. If anything, I’d say it means that OP just needs to be more careful with how she approaches co-irker, because this might be “the earth is flat” levels of groundless belief.

    2. einahpets*

      I’m reading another book that calls it our ‘tyrannical ego’ — we all have to justify our decisions with ourselves on a daily basis, and memory is one of the easiest ways our ego has of helping us to better justify bad decisions. It is a really interesting book: “Mistakes were made (but not by me).”

      1. smoke tree*

        Sounds kind of similar–the book I’m reading has a lot of discussion of our tendency to make decisions based on emotion and then try to find logical justifications after the fact. I’m actually finding it somewhat terrifying.

    3. PersephoneUnderground*

      Ha! My mother was reading a very short academic-type book about the nature of lying as part of a class and while the writing style is deliberately old-fashioned I really got a kick out of it. Actual title is “On Bull***t” without the stars. It talks about how people have been conning others forever and why they are believed. Can we bring up more on this in the open thread later? (I’ll post if I remember.) The whole phenomenon is fascinating, especially as it plays in the workplace.

  19. Hannah*

    When someone does this to me, I just say, “Yes, exactly. That is what I meant when I suggested X.”

    I do it in a tone that says “Oh, we must have misunderstood each other earlier, but hooray! We are both on the same page!”

    That way, I still feel that it is known that the idea was mine, but also I don’t end up looking petty.

  20. Cassandra*

    OP, I wonder whether the “amplification” strategy sometimes discussed with respect to women having trouble being heard in the workplace might help here.

    The idea is, when this happens and you or someone else speaks up about it, others are prepared to pipe up to support them. “Yes, OP brought this up last week, I think it’s a great idea!” is powerful, takes some of the onus for responding to Credit Stealer off you, and shows Credit Stealer that others are onto her game.

    Since you already have people texting you about what’s going on, I think quietly orchestrating some amplification could be feasible.

    1. Blue*

      I very much agree with that. I have a couple of (male) coworkers who have a tendency to do this kind of thing (not as obnoxiously as OP’s coworker, luckily), and I pretty consistently jump in with, “That sounds like the idea Violet mentioned earlier, which I thought was a really good one. Or did I misunderstand you, Violet?” which gives her the credit and a chance to retake the floor now that the individuals who privilege male voices are tuned in. I’ve had a number of people, both the people getting the attention they deserve and random observers in the room, thank me afterwards for doing that. When it’s my own idea, I have no problem jumping in with, “Yes, that’s what I was getting at earlier when we were discussing X. As I was saying, I agree that it’s really promising because…”

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Since OP is the only peer in these meetings, OP should look for opportunities to amplify her subordinates. For OP’s own ideas, she’ll need to be more direct; I like Hannah’s ‘Yes exactly, that’s what I meant when I said x’, though I’d add in a time frame like ‘last week’ or ‘when we first discussed this in March’.

  21. Narise*

    I went to college with a guy who could not state he was good at something without ending the statement that someone else was bad at it or not as good with him. We’d study case studies for marketing and business management and he’d go on about he knew all the ins and outs prior to the class but our classmates were not even understanding the basics. Truth was he was just average in his abilities and knowledge. I shared feedback towards graduation that this would be an issue for him in the work place but not sure if he ever took the advice, my guess is no.

    Loop your boss in as to what is going on and that you plan to start clarifying and addressing the issue with co-worker. Just phrase it as a head’s up I’m seeing a pattern and plan to address it when needed. That way if she goes to her boss your supervisor is already aware of the situation.

  22. Emi.*

    “Clearly there’s a disconnect somewhere.”

    Yup, there is! It sounds like it’s between your coworker and reality, but you don’t have to say that.

  23. Rachael*

    OP, I used to have a coworker that did this. Her favorite thing to do would be to take my procedures or process improvement, change a sentence, and present it as her own. I started saying things that were non aggressive, but clear that I had written them.

    “Oh, I’m glad you found my procedures. I also think that I might tweak section 1.2 to make it more clear. Which parts did you add your comments so that I know which comments are yours and I don’t change them?”

    “You are right. We should move forward with this idea. I’m glad you agree with me. I’m thinking that I might want to strengthen what I originally proposed and do “x””

    And so on. Make sure that it is polite, not accusatory, and clear that it is your idea.

  24. LQ*

    One question worth asking is…do you need the credit? It kind of sounds like you do because she’s shutting down projects just so you’ll go with her (exact same) idea. But sometimes it’s the 10,000th fight that day and it’s just not worth having. I have a coworker who tries to do this. But everyone knows there is no way she came up with that idea it’s something I suggested or laid out. And my boss, and his boss, and his boss, and her staff and my staff…they all know. My ideas are apparently always clearly mine because sometimes they’ll loop back to me from someone else or even on another team or another area (“Oh, we just started on an LQ project.”)

    That said it kind of does sound like you might need to pick the fight, or at least get her there faster. Sometimes even if you can’t get people to stop doing this, getting them to get on board (push them to steal it) in the first 30 seconds is more useful overall. Everyone else heard that you came up with it, and you don’t have to start and stop something from it.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      OP’s managers are off-site, so there’s a strong chance they *don’t* know. Sure, pick the battles, but OP needs to engage on this so that 10,000 becomes 100 becomes 1.

  25. Bones*

    Surprised it’s a woman doing it this time. Usually it’s men doing it with womens’ ideas.

  26. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    I have a coworker like this. I think it’s part cultural and part individual. Normally I’m a direct person, but I’ve taken the stance with this not to let it get to me.

    It is pretty blatant when it happens, as in I’ll hold a meeting about ChangeX, powerpoint and everything. Fergus will shoot down the idea and give all kinds of reasons why it won’t work. Months later Fergus will schedule a meeting and propose my idea.

    The first couple of times it happened my boss innocently would ask “what did you think about Fergus’ change/idea?” I would usually respond “Love it, that’s why I presented it 3 months ago” and would send my original powerpoint. We had a few laughs and I would generally make a snarky comment in the meeting about wondering how I didn’t think of this great idea.

    If anyone but Fergus did this I’d go with the scripts along the same lines as Alison’s and some of the other commentators. But Fergus isn’t going to change and it’s not worth my time to try and fight it. In a weird way it’s how I get what I want and I’m more concerned about the result than the credit.

  27. Purple Jello*

    Wonder if she is doing this to anyone else, or just to you? I would call it out whenever she does this: “How is this different that what I/Wakeen said last week?”

  28. hoho*

    I don’t think what Alison is suggesting is going to work well here. What I would do is:

    When she proposes things that you’d already proposed yourself earlier (and had her shoot down), one option is to react the way you’d react if you were assuming good faith on her part — which might be honest confusion and/or the assumption that you might be missing some key difference in what she’s proposing versus what you proposed.

    For example:

    * “I think that’s actually the same as what we tried last week. But I wonder if you’re proposing something slightly different and I’m just missing that?”

    * “That’s really similar to what I was suggesting earlier, but I think you had concerns about X when we talked about it?”

    These have to be said in the same tone you’d use with a colleague who you liked and respected — meaning calm, not defensive, and genuinely curious — since otherwise they’ll sound snarky. Snarkiness wouldn’t be unwarranted, of course, but (a) this is more professional and (b) this might actually get under her skin in a more satisfying way.

  29. Angela Ziegler*

    I had a boss that was like this, except she was the owner of the small store, so there was NO ONE else who could could keep her in check. We’d make suggestions and have ideas that came from a genuine desire to improve the store- even simple things like designing sales flyers (for free, on down time that she’s already paying for) to customers to promote the big upcoming sale. (There was no promotion of it except for a verbal comment at the register, which no one would hear or remember.)

    Like OP, it was absurd the lengths she’d go in order to avoid following anyone’s ideas or advice. There was one instance in my 9 months there that she listened to a suggestion- and that was because I framed it as a question, so she felt like she had the idea all along. (She did not. I knew she came up with it after my comment but played it off as her ‘plan.’)

    This wasn’t limited to terrible decisions for her business, her employees, and the store. It didn’t matter if it would most likely give her more money at the end of the week- if it wasn’t her idea, she’d make up excuses to dismiss it. I actually believe she had some mental health issues going on with the crazy amount of *control* she had to have on everyone and everything, and how she’d commonly say things that weren’t quite right or just completely wrong. I think she *believed* what she was saying was true through some kind of mental gymnastics, but in the end we couldn’t trust or believe anything she said. (And I mean ANYTHING- even if you asked about the weather or something factual.) It was very frustrating and also sad.

  30. LadyByTheLake*

    Borderline snarky, but I’ve made it work for me — when someone else (invariably a male) makes the same suggestion that I already made and then they ask me what I think, I say “Since I said the same thing last week, I think it is the most BRILLIANT THING I’VE EVER HEARD!” I say it in a joking way and it always gets a laugh, but it gets the point across.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Or in the same vein, said with a smile, “Eh, I liked it better when I suggested it last week.”

  31. Technical_Kitty*

    OP, AAM has a great script, stick with that, but don’t meet this person privately to discuss. They know what they are doing, there’s no reason to give them a heads up they will be called out for their behaviour.

    And sometimes it may seem easier to go along, get things done and not get credit. Don’t let them get away with that! If it helps, think it as a project, you are helping this credit stealer be a less terrible person. It’s an activity you should devote time and attention to, not some thing to be passed on or left because it’s difficult.

  32. Interviewer*

    Does she have it in for just you, or does she treat everyone this way? Does she see others as valued contributors to the projects, or does she think she is the only one who does any work there? Documentation (agendas, meeting minutes, follow up emails, calendar appointments, project timelines with due dates, etc.) works to cover YOU, but if the rest of the team is getting equally snubbed, the right pieces with the right details can help everyone else, too.

    If you’re already doing some/all of it, then evaluate the notes as if it’s a post-project review – are you including enough detail for management (above her) to see what’s really going on? Is it saved to a central location where they can review it periodically?

    Good luck!

  33. Sue Wilson*

    Honestly OP, it seems like you are ceding control of your collaborative projects to her, and I think that’s your real problem. When you’re willing to collaborate, and your partner is not…they are acting like they are the final decision maker. It’s bad faith. That’s terrible for your ability to own your own authority, and for any reviews with your bossess.

    All these suggestions are good, but you’re going to need to have a little bit more confidence that you can not resolve a conflict with her without an equal amount of work from her. When she asked to stop the process the first time, you needed to ask her to justify it, and feel you had the authority to do so. You need to feel like you have the authority to dismiss her incredible justifications. I don’t think you feel like that right now, and I think that’s why you’re having such trouble with dealing with her and/or feeling trapped about your options.

    1. Massmatt*

      Great advice. OP, given what you have mentioned about your manager being out of the picture (that’s a whole ‘nother issue!) it is on you to defend your boundaries. Your coworker can’t be allowed to go on putting a halt to processes and then claiming your solutions as her own. Why did no one in the meeting you talked about know what transpired and rely on your coworker’s self-serving narrative? She is politicking her way to advancement at your expense. Unless you want her to be your next boss, you need to push back!

  34. What's with today, today?*

    I’ve known two people like this, and in both cases, I don’t think it was conscious. One was a former co-worker, who was generally clueless when called out. The behavior never changed, because she genuinely had no idea when she was doing it.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      …and didn’t see it as a problem.

      I’ve had behaviors that I didn’t realize were problematic, but people close to me explained the issues, and I learned to avoid those behaviors (and eventually figured out why they were problematic). But this was social stuff, and I cared about my friends liking me, so I was motivated to change my behavior even when I didn’t “get” the problem.

    2. soon 2 be former fed*

      Or so she said…in my culture we call it the “nut roll”. Like that rap song,”It ain’t my fault, did I do that?”

  35. PM*

    I encounter this exact scenario in my job not infrequently, both as a result of the personalities I work with and as a natural result of the role in which I work (a role that has a lot of dotted-line and peer ownership, etc). The language I use tends to be VERY similar to Allison’s suggestions, but with a slight addendum: I always start with an enthusiastic statement of agreement to the proposal, something along the lines of: “I love that idea, but before we hop into it, it sounds a lot like the idea we proposed/implemented at meeting X and you had Y concerns. Are you still worried about those, or no?” I think this works well for me because it helps to:
    A. Address any legitimate concerns in good faith
    B. Get out ahead of any perception (by the opposing party or otherwise) that I’m doing the exact same obstructionist thing (not liking an idea because someone else suggested it later) as the obstructionist coworker

    Also, I second that this is a thing you should flag for your manager – even if she can’t exactly help to solve it, it’s important for her to know that this is something that’s using mental/emotional/temporal energy on a regular basis.

  36. Totally Minnie*

    This feels like since the team is so intimidated by her, they’re letting her have all the votes. She is one person. She gets one vote. If everyone else is on board with an idea and she’s the only one who thinks it won’t work, let her think that. Let her complain and rant and throw herself a lovely unprofessional tantrum in front of everyone. She gets one vote.

    The trouble with this is that it’s really hard to make this kind of change on your own. Would it be possible for you to have a couple of conversations with some of your other team members before the next meeting to talk strategies? I know you’re not the only person who thinks this behavior is annoying and ridiculous, and I’m betting none of your other colleagues know what to do about it either. Can you get together to make a strategy so that there can be several of you who use the same techniques?

  37. only acting normal*

    I once had to propose a new process for an interview (for promotion to slightly higher than entry level admin). In the feedback about why I didn’t get promoted the manager kind of shredded my proposal to improve the “onboarding” process for new hires. A week later she asked me to implement it for the new hires into the role I didn’t get.

    Currently my MicroManager has a wicked case of “not invented here” (“here” being in his head). He tends to be extremely scathing of his direct peers (possibly he feels they’re his competition?), merely patronising to subordinates.

    In other life experience…
    The only way my mother (or my brother and I) could get *anything* (big or small) from my father was to plant the seed and let it be all his idea. If he thought it was our idea he’d either refuse or do the opposite out of spite.

    Dealing with these people is exhausting.

  38. small jar of fireflies*

    Since it was already implemented, is there still time to re-distribute any materials created or emails about the rolling out of the initial idea? “It looks like these materials will still work for the plan we discussed today.”

    And, in future, create the guides.

    (In my dream world, if her name were Meg, you’d print them out, white-out the subject and hand-write “MEG’S IDEA,” and go through the document whiting out “group” and replacing with “node,” then scan and send. But we do not live in my dream world.)

  39. LGC*

    I love this answer because it is so subtly evil (and I mean that as a compliment). Feigned confusion is an underrated weapon.

    Also, LW, just based off your quote of “her” proposal, I already want to fire your coworker into the sun. Does she ALWAYS speak in jargon? (I mean, I don’t know your industry, but the phrase “macro pools” is the most angering thing I’ve read all week on AAM.)

  40. Noah*

    This seems way too generous to me. I prefer: “Of course I’m in agreement. This is what I suggested we do last week.”

    I will do co-worker the kindness of not calling her out for completely flip-flopping on this, unless she demands it.

    1. small jar of fireflies*

      It depends. If the materials were previously made/distributed by OP, and it’s “the idea discussed” rather than “your idea,” and people can be reminded to go back to the identical email to check that they’re identical…

  41. nora*

    I used to have a boss with a related bad habit – she would come up with a terrible idea and wouldn’t recognize it as such unless I repeated it back to her while pretending it was my own. She could therefore shoot down the terrible idea and I’d have the freedom to do whatever the hell I wanted. It was a massive waste of time but it got the job done.

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