Dealing with a colleague who steals ideas you shared with him in a social setting. Question: Confront him, talk to the boss, or curtail communications?
Workplace fair play
The “open source” approach to creativity, in which we freely discuss our ideas with colleagues, has its benefits. But it’s an approach based on trust. And as Ernest Hemingway put it: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
On the face of it, your colleague appears to be scoring a little low in the trustworthiness department. But sometimes people forget just where they got an idea from. So I’d give him the opportunity to strengthen the trust between you by way of a candid conversation. Here’s an idea for how to get that rolling:
“You know that idea you pitched really well to the oversight committee the other day about the P4 synthesizer?”
“Well, that’s the same idea I shared with you two weeks ago at Jim’s party. And this is where I need your help. When I saw you pitching that idea and we hadn’t talked about it ahead of time, I felt that you maybe didn’t respect me. I think you know that I respect you and your ideas, but I feel that respect may not be mutual. I really value our relationship and I hope you value it too, so could you help me out here?”
How your colleague responds and how the conversation unfolds will either strengthen trust or further damage it. Either way, things will be clearer.
Developing trust requires some heavy lifting. Such candor doesn’t make for comfortable situations, but it’s how healthy relationships are built in the workplace and beyond.
Michael Carroll is the author of Fearless at Work.
Promoted to a leadership role after 12 years with the company. First responsibility? Lay off staff. (The corporate equivalent of winning the lottery and getting robbed on the same day.)
Leading through difficulty
The first thing to do is stop. When faced with an unpleasant situation, the last thing most of us want is to spend more time with it. But instead of depending on the typical HR layoff script, take some time, even 15 minutes, to check in with yourself and how you’re feeling. Pause, notice the sensations in your body and the thoughts and emotions you’re experiencing. There is both a real reason for the layoff and it will be difficult for those who are now unemployed. The most important aspect of leadership in any situation—especially the tough ones—is to be fully present.
When you sit down with an employee, listen. Really hear the dialogue as it unfolds. Be open to all that arises. A once-valued employee will probably express anger, fear, sadness, surprise, or disbelief. No matter what words you use—“This layoff is not about you,” etc.—there’s no getting around the pain of this intensely personal situation, and acknowledging that will go a long way toward creating a human connection. That’s what will make it easier for both of you to move through a highly difficult situation with dignity and grace.
Janice Marturano is the founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership