Help me deal with an evil coworker.
June 10, 2012 9:58 AM   Subscribe

I really need some advice on how to deal with a coworker who loudly takes credit for the work we do as a team, among other things.

There are three of us working as co-op software developers at a large company. We work alone in a small room and are given projects to complete together. We receive guidance from assigned employee 'buddies', but our team lead is largely absent. He just doesn't have time for us.

My problematic fellow co-op student, let's call her Suzy, seems to consider herself a one-woman show. We'll be working together on something, asking each other questions and throwing out ideas, and instead of working cooperatively with me and the other student, she'll ignore us and say things like "I know how to do this, just give me a few minutes and I'll have this finished." She always tries to claim the largest and most difficult portions of a task for herself and then brags loudly about having completed them, sending emails to our team lead about it. We were given some code to refactor and divided it up between ourselves, but she still found a way to weasel in and work on my code. She finds ways to take credit for my ideas. I noted to our team lead that there was information missing in a user manual, and she immediately said to him "I'll do that." She later started telling everyone that our team lead specifically asked her to do it.

The last straw for me was on Friday when she went ahead a took full credit for my idea. I thought I had figured out why something wasn't integrating properly and threw it out there to her and our other co-op student. I wanted input from them to be sure I'd really found the problem. She didn't answer, until 20 minutes later, when she said "I've found the problem" - and repeated back exactly what I had said. I noted "yes, that's just what I said 20 minutes ago, why don't I send an email about it and we'll see if they can try a fix..." But she said "No. I'll send it." And went ahead and sent it. I was mad because this is so typical of her, but I thought, fine, what matters is that it's going to get fixed. Anyhow, she copied us on the email and what it said was: "I" have found the problem, etc. Not "we", even though I was the one who pinpointed it and the other student helped as well. Things were pretty tense after that, but it was the end of the day.

I don't know what to do. Do I speak to her? If so, how? Do I speak to my very busy team lead who is going on a four week vacation in one week? This feels so petty and I don't want to be a part of any pettiness, but I also don't want to be made out as an idiot who hasn't made any contributions over the past 6 weeks. I'm tired of this kind of behavior and I want it to stop. I'm tired of everything being a competition with her. Please help.
posted by kitcat to Work & Money (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have regular check-ins (one-on-one with your team lead scheduled, to evaluate your performance? That's a great time to ask how you want to document your performance. Alternatively, send an email asking how they want you to document your work over the period of the co-op. These tactics only work so long as your coworker is the only one who says anything to the team lead, you know.

Also talk to your buddy. S/he may have dealt with this, and may have suggestions for what will work in this environment.

(What you realistically want is for someone in a higher position of authority to clarify for the entire team exactly what "working cooperatively" entails. If I were the team lead, getting this kind of stream of "me me me" would be very irritating, so you may actually have someone already on your side.)
posted by SMPA at 10:03 AM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

If I were the team lead I would definitely want to know about this.
posted by grouse at 10:11 AM on June 10, 2012

You need to be strategic about your work. If you solved the problem, email about it before she can. Own your successes. Be assertive.
posted by k8t at 10:15 AM on June 10, 2012 [13 favorites]

You've got to be a lot more strategic about your communications here. You know she's done this and she is likely to continue to do it... so you do not share your ideas to validate, you inform your lead you've got a solution you're testing to fully validate at the moment and you'll keep lead informed about the validation results...then you get input to don't give her the opportunity to take credit for the solution, only for support in ironing out the details.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:34 AM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

You need to be strategic about your work. If you solved the problem, email about it before she can. Own your successes. Be assertive.

Yep. Also, don't tell her shit if you can avoid it. Don't do courtesy cc's with her unless there's a clear professional reason to do it. People like that are poison and the only thing you can really do is mitigate their impact and put up walls between you and them.

I would talk to your team lead and see if you can get regular meetings with him, and if not that, ask if you can do regular check-ins where at the end of the week you send him a private email with a bullet point list of your accomplishments through the week. I wouldn't have any problem saying to him what you said above, which is that you don't want to be part of pettiness but you've noticed that a lot of what Suzy claims are her accomplishments are actually not hers but are the result of team efforts and you are concerned about you and your other team member appearing to produce nothing of value. That depersonalizes it somewhat--it's not you versus Suzy, it's Suzy versus The Team.

Don't speak to her about it. It's not worth it. You can't talk people into having integrity if they don't have any.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:38 AM on June 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

I like these answers. I want to note: I've tried to beat her to the punch, but she's just so damn fast! I'll keep trying, though. Also, I do have to be careful not to edge out the third guy in our trio. I want him to have opportunities to be successful and shine, too. I want us both to.
posted by kitcat at 10:40 AM on June 10, 2012

[Folks maybe don't turn this into a "what if the genders were different" discssion. That is a different discussion. Thank you]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:56 AM on June 10, 2012

She thinks she's better at programming and more insightful than you. When you find something in the code, it doesn't count until she sees it. She imagines herself to be the head of the group because of her skill. Ironically she's probably worried about you stealing her credit. I am not saying any of this is true; just what she thinks.

So, if you want to work with her as an equal, start quietly fixing things and sending out e-mails. When you're assigned some code and she tries to take over, just say, "I've got this," and then get it. Force her to recognize and deal with your productivity.
posted by michaelh at 11:05 AM on June 10, 2012

Others have good advice, but I wanted to assure you that this is absolutely not petty. I was very much raised to believe it was best to be above that sort of thing, and that simply keeping one's head down and doing excellent work would eventually win the respect and recognition of others. I watched my father put that philosophy into for decades, until he was passed over for a promotion to a job he was already essentially doing, without the title or pay bump, in favour of a boastful but less skilled colleague. Don't be my dad! Nip it in the bud!

Take a page from Suzy's playbook--owning your work isn't a bad thing--but be professional about it. Being firm about taking credit for work you have actually done is neither petty nor boastful.
posted by looli at 11:15 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're not likely to get ahead worrying about whether the other guy is getting ahead too. True, it's great to avoid being a jerk, but not when the jerks either don't care, or would gladly throw you under the bus at the first opportunity. Sadly, you can't always tell the difference until the tread marks are already on your back. Ever consider that third guy might be planning to let you two eat each other alive and then step up for this own benefit? Stranger things have happened. It's not your job to make sure anyone else 'shines' too.

Llama makes an excellent point about integrity, doesn't look like this gal has it or recognize the value of it. Speaking with her about it would probably do no good and might actually make things worse. Instead of just grabbing credit she might turn on you, leveraging her own network to your disadvantage. You need to step up on establishing your own lines of communication and building confidence in management regarding your performance. Be casual about how you pull back from communicating with her and focus more on getting your work done right and seen as such.
posted by wkearney99 at 11:18 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hesitated from answering this because I'm not in your industry, but...I once dealt with a *supervisor* who did this to me (and I found a way to work with someone else rather than that guy...), and I've also seen other friends deal with similar Suzy type pple, so adapt what you can from this:

• Send a weekly status update by email to your team lead as to what you have done/completed . Ideally, the 3rd guy does this too and it corroborates what you have done

• Think of a solution to a problem and present it along with the problem.So when you noticed what was missing in the manual, present it to your lead along with "I would like to write material to be included in the manual or I can talk to the manual pple" or whatever solution is appropriate. Moving forward, you may need to do this all the time. I would do it by email to document it.

• Does this happen at meetings? The best thing that I ever saw was....a coworker writing out,printing, and bringing her ideas to the meeting. Immediately the male Suzy in this case started trying to present everyone else's ideas as his own...but the other person held up the written document and stated.,"Yes, as I stated yesterday, and fleshed out today...that is why I gave this printed copy to everyone..." The behavior became very, very obvious an it was done at a meeting with supervisors.

• Model better behavior. The best thing that I've also seen is people email "project X was a success, I really want to thank blah blah for help with X, and blah blah for help with Y, thank you support staff for the long hours, etc." (see, you can point out the positive activities of your coworker if you want).

To be honest, when I read about your challenge...I would really, really push for getting independent projects from your lead.

This sounds petty but I escaped the clutches of a supervisor who did what Suzy does by ... It did involve not ccing supervisor Suzy on stuff(and cc ing the next person up the chain)...and making sure to have the documentation showing that everything was completed and completed well. Then supervisor Suzy sounded like an idiot making suggestions or trying to take credit for things when they were long completed and pple up the chain knew it. I was eventually assigned to the supervisor higher up the chain. The gamble was worth it for me, YMMV.

On preview, nthing looli. I've actually seen pple *lose their jobs* because they did not have as much work documented and attributed to them, while everyone else on the team did. It sounds like you may be in a student situation(student coop?), but work on learning this behavior now or for future jobs.
posted by Wolfster at 11:24 AM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry, but I don't think you can worry about the third person getting ahead. At least not right now. The first step is to be more assertive about your own stuff. Like your Friday example: have your email ready to go, and once you've cleared it with your two teammates, click "send." Immediately. And that's only if you have to have their input -- if you know you have the problem and a pre-email review is not required, do something like koahiatamadl suggested. When projects are up for grabs, volunteer to take them on like Suzy is doing.

You're not being petty. You need to work on getting over this idea that you need to be polite and passive.

I also like SMPA's idea of asking how you should document your performance. Don't run up the chain to whine about Suzy stealing credit, because then you're engaging with drama -- just ignore her behavior and ask what they want out of you.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:42 AM on June 10, 2012

First things first - you need to talk to your team lead. If i were the lead in this situation (I am one in a similar environment, being too busy to have eyes on everything and with a bunch of co-ops I trust to get stuff done) I would definitely want to know what's going on. Don't frame it as a bitch session about a co-worker, but set up a 1 on 1 with the team lead and discuss team dynamics. And ask for advice -- "I often feel that others are taking credit for the work I do, and I'd like to learn how to handle it better; I feel that I could be losing out on situations to prove what I'm capable of doing and I'd like to rectify that. " Something along those lines, but I'm not the best person to teach corporate-speak, so take with a grain of salt.

And as much as I hate to say this, because collaboration is the name of this game - but stop sharing with Suzy. Bounce ideas off your fellow co-ops you trust. (IM is a great way to do this, because it's private between a couple people and those excluded don't know they're being excluded.) Bounce ideas off your senior buddy. And on that note, the one thing Suzy has got right, even though she's doing it in a not-cool way -- you have to be your biggest advocate for what you've succeeded at. Don't tell her you're going to fix XYZ, just do it, then send the email "Hey guys - I fixed XYZ". I you want input, here's where you ask for it - "Feel free to take a look at commit ABC and tell me if you see anything you'd handle differently."

To directly answer your questions - don't speak to her, thats a conversation that the team lead needs to have with her, not you. Talk to the team lead -- busy or not, that's their job to help you here, and they can't do their job if they don't know the problem. It's not about being petty - it's all about how you frame the problem so it doesn't sound petty.
posted by cgg at 11:47 AM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is what revision control systems are for. Coworker claims credit for fixing code? Revision log says otherwise. Don't talk; code. Check in before saying anything.
posted by scruss at 11:55 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sounds like she's walking all over you, man.

You sound like a "we" guy. "We" do this. "We" are throwing a party. "We" did great work.

From a recruiting standpoint, "I" statements are much stronger than "We" statements. Similar to how men who talk about themselves at length are often seen as better leaders. It may not be pretty, but them's the breaks.

In your statement, there's a lot of passive/victim statements:
He just doesn't have time for us.
she still found a way to weasel in and work on my code.
She finds ways to take credit for my ideas.
she went ahead a took full credit for my idea.
this is so typical of her,

I read this as:
I don't want to bother him.
I am more interested in collaboration than competition.
She's a great self-promoter.
I did not stand up for myself.
I continually do not stand up for myself.

Basically, being liked is more important to you than winning. In her case, winning is more important than being liked. Nothing wrong with it; just two different styles of doing business.

If you prefer to be a follower, than be an outstanding follower. It sounds as if she is a natural leader, and really really hungry. After all, you are not asking how to outcompete her, but how to use the system to compete with her. As she does not need the system, she wins.

And there's nothing wrong with this at all. If you have a strong leader in front of you, then follow! The three of you may well generate greater accolades as a proper team than as three bickering individuals.

If you don't want to follow, then you have to compete. It doesn't seem like you can out-compete her head-on for whatever reason. Thus, compete in another way. Become a specialist. Focus on solving the Really Hard Problems. Slow and steady. Be a tortoise.

Machiavelli would say 1) induce her dependance on you. Give her all your great ideas and win her trust. Let her rely on you and stand on your shoulders. Then 2) when she needs you most, disappear. When it comes time to explain how she did something, let her flounder and collapse. Watch her squirm and then crush her by asking a few extra questions, just to re-iterate that her talk is bigger than her fame.

I doubt you could do it, though. You seem to want to win by fair-play and evenhandedness, thus the best advice is just to stop caring. Realise that you and she have different life paths; you are practicing skills of cooperation and she is practicing skills of competition. Let her take credit and just do your thing – get better at being the person you want to be.

This is going to happen over and over again in your professional life. You cannot 'win'. What you can do is be the best at what you want to be best at, and accept that life will recognise and reward you as it does. If you want a little sample, try to compete with her for a week and see how you feel. If you like that feeling, keep doing it. Chances are that you'll find that whilst you may be able to compete or win, you won't like the feeling that comes with it – because it isn't you.

As a friend of mine always says, "you can do great things if you don't want credit for them."
posted by nickrussell at 12:41 PM on June 10, 2012 [11 favorites]

Is the concern that there may be a permanant job and you're afraid that all of her "me, me, me" is going to win it for her? What's the pot of gold at the end of your "co-op" rainbow?

Focus on what you want to get out of this experience and go and get it. Keep a log of what you're doing, do a weekly update to the team lead, using your log as a guide. If he/she is responsible for an evaluation, this can be a great springboard for it.

No one won a race constantly looking back to see who was gaining on them. Also, most work situations aren't races. Being a team player and being able to work with others is actually more important than being the hero/diva in every scenario.

Why don't you call Suzy out on this bs? It doesn't have to be all drama and shit, you can just start teasing her about it. "Way to steal my idea, my lunch is in the fridge, you want that too?" "Hey Suzy, I've been working on this piece of code all morning, want to call "Team Lead" and tell him how you finessed it?" Get third guy in on this. She might actually believe that you haven't noticed. The next time she offeres to single-handedly solve a problem say, "Dude, chill out, it's not all about you all the time." She may have no shame about it, but at least you'll stop feeling like she's getting over on you.

Learning now how to deal with stuff like this will be the BEST part of your co-op experience. Everyone has to deal with difficult people, so the sooner you make your peace with it and get some skillz, the better off you'll be.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:18 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'd have a talk with the team lead, but frame it carefully. I don't care about complaining about not getting credit for stuff, I care about the perception of my performance. So I'd ask my team lead what their expectation for balance is with "own work" vs. "results of collaboration." I'd mention that I was worried that the team lead was absent busy enough to not be in touch with each person's contributions and that I thought that might negatively affect my feeling of freedom to contribute to work with someone else's name on it if it's a game with a scoreboard as "some people in the group" seem to see it.

You might find that your team lead does not care who did the coding, came up with the idea, etc., and only cares that the team functioned effectively to get a win, and you were an integral part of that. You might also find that your team lead finds credit-seeking behavior as very annoying and completely against the spirit they're trying to foster, and is considering axing the glory-hound.

On the other hand, you might find this, too: the taking on the toughest challenges? That's a good trait. Using the expertise available around you to drive your project/task forward? Good trait. For the most part, she's just stingy about passing the credit around. Does she think she's the assistant team lead or something? Or maybe she wants to be? There's a certain kind of person who, when nobody is in charge, can't help taking charge and doing the things like status updates, inter-department communications. I'm thinking your main problem here is the relative absence of the "adult supervision" that would make her claims impossible, and your worry over them nil anyway.

Remember, the only opinion that matters on the credit is your team lead. The people at the other end of the email - they don't give a shit WHO found it, nor do they write your performance evals. So don't worry about that.

(Hijacking my already-solved problem to get the credit, though... we'd have words. Like, directly, in a meeting with the team lead, with that printed email in hand, using words like "do not EVER..." But keep that kind of drama inside the group.)
posted by ctmf at 1:25 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

First off, stop sharing any ideas with Suzy --- stop any and all brainstorming with her around, because it sounds like that's one of the biggest ways she picks off your credit etc. (Also make sure not to leave anything written, whether on your computer or on paper, where she can get it: make sure you have a secure password to hide your own work behind, and do not leave any written notes in or on your desk for her to find.)

And stop asking her things like "would you like me to email Mr. X?" or "shall I tell Ms. Y?" Just do it yourself before Suzy gets hold of it and runs with it. CC her if you must, but only after you've let the higher-ups know you've solved the problem or finished the task.
posted by easily confused at 1:28 PM on June 10, 2012

> I thought I had figured out why something wasn't integrating properly and threw it out there to her and our other co-op student. I wanted input from them to be sure I'd really found the problem. She didn't answer, until 20 minutes later, when she said "I've found the problem" - and repeated back exactly what I had said. I noted "yes, that's just what I said 20 minutes ago, why don't I send an email about it and we'll see if they can try a fix..."

She already thinks she's the only take-charge person in the group. You asked her to validate your idea. To her, you basically asked her to supervise you. Quit doing this.
posted by desuetude at 9:13 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

A couple of things to consider:

1. In my experience, developers are often suspicious of people that constantly send out emails taking credit for things. Managers, not so much. If your supervisor is a developer, Suzy's stream of claims may be working against her.

2. Ruthless Bunny has a good point about the pot of gold you're going for here. Are you trying to land a job or trying to learn stuff?

If you're chiefly trying to learn how to be a software engineer, by all means, defend your credit, but don't get obsessed with it. Focus on trying to write good code, first and foremost. This will carry you further in landing jobs in general.

If you're trying to get a job at this company, sure, don't share with Suzy and email about your work (in a non-exaggeratory kind of way), but there's other ways to get your work noticed. Ask your lead to review some of your commits, both of code that you are proud of and that you are not certain of.

The lead will get a sense of what kind of code you write as a result and what kind of problems you are aware of. People want to hire developers that don't make their lives harder. This means that the hire writes code that they understand, and that even if she doesn't solve all the problems in every commit, she is at least aware of them.

It'll also lead to increased interaction and demonstrate an interest in improvement, rather than just grabbing cheevos, Suzy-style.
posted by ignignokt at 9:28 AM on June 11, 2012

« Older Glass and Game of Thrones   |   Drowning in flood insurance legalese Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.