Q: I’m not sure what to do about someone stealing my ideas. During a recent business school project, I was teamed with another classmate who seemed to like my approach to the assignment. “Michael” generally followed my lead and seldom made suggestions of his own.
After awhile, I noticed that another team’s presentations were sounding very similar to ours. When I overheard Michael talking with them, I realized that he had been giving away my ideas. Although this felt like a betrayal, I decided not to confront him about it.
Instead, I sent the other team an email complimenting them on their progress and suggesting that we get together to compare projects. Now I’m not sure if this was the right thing to do. How should I have handled this situation?
A: Your current dilemma provides a textbook example of the problems created by unclear expectations. At the beginning of this assignment, you and Michael should have asked your professor whether teams were allowed to exchange information. If so, then the two of you could have agreed on what was appropriate to share.
As it was, Michael simply followed his natural inclination to collaborate, which seemed to you like a violation of trust. Even though you felt strongly about this, as indicated by the words “stealing” and “betrayal,” you elected not to discuss it. Instead, you invited the other team to a meeting without asking Michael’s opinion, thereby treating him just as he treated you.
To avoid replicating this muddle in the business world, make a habit of always clarifying expectations. And instead of bottling up resentments, learn how to resolve your concerns in a calm, professional manner.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at http://www.yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.