I have been a member of a government scientific research team for several years. I have specialized skills that no one else on the team has. Although one other (I’ll call her Polly) team member’s formal job description includes this type of work, Polly has only performed this type of work with extensive assistance from me. Polly is the designated leader of the research team, so she is often in a position to communicate (verbally and in writing) with outside sources on behalf of the project.
My problem is that I am not getting proper credit for the work I have done.
In the spirit of openness and teamwork, I have always shared my results with Polly and the rest of the team. This open approach has contributed to my difficulty. Polly understands the theory behind the specialized skills I have, and she is often in a position to communicate results and progress to the outside world. She lacks the technical and hands-on experience, but only another specialist would realize from talking to her that she hasn’t actually done the work herself.
I feel like Polly’s actions have prevented me from getting recognition for what I do. I’m not sure she does it intentionally, but most of the time, when she is asked by outside people for this type of information, she will not refer them to me… she will answer them herself. Sometimes she will ask for my input so that she can answer them, but it never seems to occur to her that she should refer questions directly to me. I suggest this approach when I realize what is happening, but it doesn’t always work. Keeping information to myself runs counter to my inclination to share with the team, but I am trying to be more circumspect with respect to sharing new ideas and interim results.
There is also a certain amount of butt-covering that has been going on for years, both by her and by my supervisor. Because this type of work was formally supposed to be part of Polly’s job description, neither she nor our supervisor wanted the higher level superiors to know that she was in fact NOT doing this part of her job (because it would make both of them look bad). I am not convinced that our supervisor has completely stopped covering for her, but I do think he is doing better.
This situation has contributed to a false impression in the minds of our outside customers and colleagues that it is SHE who has been responsible for what I have done. (I have recently learned this from several impartial third parties.) At most, people may see me as a mere pair of hands to do the work (a technician), not an authority on the subject or someone who is running this part of the show. Consequently, I have been left out of email communications, invitations to join advisory groups, and missed out on award opportunities and prestigious invitations to give talks on the subject. These things are all key forms of recognition I need to advance in my career. In actual fact, I have been passed over for promotion twice, while in the same time, my coworker has been promoted. I have spoken to our supervisor about these slights, and when he can, he tries to remedy the situation by getting my name added when I am left out. But even since I became conscious of these patterns and make attempts to correct misinformation, it persists. I do not want to be viewed as a whiner or a victim, but having to point out every time I’m left out of something is getting REALLY old.
I have told Polly directly how I feel when I am left out and how this has affected my career advancement. Her behavior has not changed. In general, she is not particularly introspective, and in both personal and professional areas lacks the ability to connect her actions to consequences. She is chronically late meeting deadlines and has trouble finishing writing assignments and lets things go. Often, I am the one pushing her to complete our shared assignments. My leadership efforts are not being recognized or respected.
This situation has been extremely difficult for me because in spite of this, I consider Polly to be a friend. In light of the fact that we are both Christians and profess to live with certain principles, it is really hard for me to feel part of a team where my skills are not being recognized. I believe that I demonstrate in a concrete way how much I value the unique skills that she has. Is it too much to ask that my coworkers talk me up when they get the chance? I just don’t see why she has to take credit for my work to make herself look better. Obviously, this approach has worked for her, so she is not motivated to change. Other than trying to speak up for myself and my own interests, I am not sure what else I can do. Because our area of specialization is so narrow, a transfer is not likely. I like what I do… I just want to be recognized for my efforts.
Thanks for any advice.
Hiding my Light
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY ‘THE POWER OF NICE’ CO-AUTHOR LINDA KAPLAN THALER
Dear Hiding my Light,
We believe the power of nice can take you far in both life and in business. But with that said, there are some situations where no matter how nicely you behave, there might be other factors to consider. While it’s clear from your letter you have done everything “right” in your professional environment, it is important to remind you that being “nice” doesn’t mean being a doormat.
My first advice to you would be to go straight to the top boss, and, without malice, let him or her know exactly what your contributions have been to your company. You must stand up for yourself and the stellar work you have done. As for your co-worker, you should be empathetic with her, but be open and honest and see if you can have a candid conversation about the situations that have transpired. Typically when someone is stealing the credit, it is a sign of insecurity and fear. By talking openly with Polly, it might defuse her concerns and she may be more amenable to working together in a way that benefits the both of you. Maybe even offer to share the credit going forward, in other words, offer up the idea that everything the team does is authored by “the team.”
But ultimately, you may need to accept the fact that this simply may not be the right place for you to work. With talents like yours, you must believe in yourself and have the confidence to know that you can find employment elsewhere. You have to be willing to accept failure or at least the prospect that every job does not work out, otherwise you are left hamstrung and immobile, unwilling to take a different path.
I had a similar experience at my former ad agency. I tried to make it work, but co-workers undermined me at every turn and I just had to accept that it wasn’t going to work out. If not for that “failure,” I would have never thought of starting my own company, and ultimately it was the best move I could ever have made.
You have clearly planted many positive seeds in this position, and remember, while you might not have seen them flower immediately, trust that they will reap rewards bigger than you can imagine down the line. Those rewards might not be clear to you now, but when they ultimately reveal themselves, you will be glad you believed in the power of nice.
Nice means moving forward with clear-eyed confidence that you can get what you want. So in your case, you may need to move forward to another position or company, but when you act with confidence and with kindness, your goals are not as far away as you might think. Thank you for writing to Office Politics.
Wishing you the best of luck,
Linda Kaplan Thaler
Linda Kaplan Thaler is coauthor of the bestsellers, The Power of Nice (2006) and also BANG! Getting Your Message Heard in a Noisy World (2003). Linda is also Chief Executive Officer and Chief Creative Officer of The Kaplan Thaler Group, which she founded in 1997. KTG has been ranked by industry publications as the fastest-growing New York agency and touted for its breakthrough creative and immediate results. Linda Kaplan Thaler has been responsible for some of the most touching, relevant and famous commercials during her 25 years in the advertising and entertainment business. A native New Yorker, Linda was a Phi Beta Kappa and Magna cum Laude graduate of CCNY, with a BA in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Music.