Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
HUMAN RESOURCES / DEC. 12, 2014
version 2, draft 2

How to Stop Colleagues from Stealing Your Ideas

If you’re dedicated to the job, you might regularly brainstorm ideas that can increase productivity and help the company reach the next level. But if you’re not careful, some of your ideas can end up on your boss’s desk — without your knowledge. Unfortunately, you can’t trust everyone you work with. And sometimes, you have to stop colleagues from stealing your ideas.

#1  Know the personality of those you work with

As an honest person, you would never steal someone else’s idea and pass it off as your own. But other people aren’t always as honest. And if you overshare, someone may jump at the opportunity to steal your ideas and get ahead at work. For that matter, you need to be aware of the different personalities and behaviors of your coworkers. If you have gossipers in the office, back stabbers or people you simply don’t trust, don’t make your ideas known.

#2  Keep detailed notes about the idea

If you have a good idea, brainstorm and flesh out the details on paper. If someone steals your idea, they probably won’t have as many written details as you. And since it’s your idea, you’ve probably brainstormed possible solutions to problems that could arise, and you may already know how to implement the idea. Having specific details on paper is one way to prove an idea originated with you. However, don’t use your work computer when brainstorming ideas. It’s probably connected to a server or network, and depending on how tech savvy a coworker is, he may have the skills to hack your documents.

#3  Present your idea to two managers

Once you’re ready to share your idea, don’t approach a single boss or manager. Some bosses are sneaky and they’ll quickly pass off an employee’s idea as their own. For this matter, present your idea or suggestion to two managers at the same time or at separate times. This way, there’s proof the idea originated with you.

#4  Don’t keep information lying around your desk

If you share an office, or if your desk is in a high-traffic area, jotting down ideas on a sticky note or piece of paper can cause your ideas to end up in the wrong hands. Someone could read your suggestion, and take the idea to your boss before you have an opportunity. 

....and if your idea has already been stolen

  • Approach the person who stole your idea: You have to pick your battles. And if you suspect that a colleague stole your idea, you might hesitate approaching this person. However, a calm discussion can get to the bottom of the issue. For example, you could ask your coworker if he remembers you bringing up the idea in a past discussion. Most likely, he will deny stealing the idea, and he may truly believe the idea originated with him. In any case, keep the peace and don’t accuse. Get your coworker’s side of the story and then move on. You never know, he may realize it was your idea and apologize for taking credit that belongs to you.
  • Don’t be a tattle-tale: Your first response might be to run to your boss and accuse your coworker. But this behavior doesn’t leave a good impression. In the end, it’s about the success of the company as a whole. This doesn’t mean you have to be a silent person in the corner. If your boss likes the idea, maybe you can offer suggestions that will move the idea forward. The individual who presented the idea probably didn’t consider all the details. But since it’s your idea, you know ways to implement and make it happen. If you can present additional useful information, you’ll also be seen as a leader.

Knowing a colleague stole your idea can be frustrating and annoying, and you may lose trust with those you work with. However, even if the action was malicious and deceitful, there are ways to rise above the situation and prove to your boss that you’re a leader.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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