How To Take It Back

Dear Debra: After I spearheaded a major project for our division, my boss singled me out for praise I deserved. I don’t know why I did it—to be humble and nice, I guess—but I “shared” the glory with a coworker I felt sorry for who did barely a fraction of the work. Now, it looks like that co-worker (who has turned out to be manipulative and backstabbing), not me, will be joining my boss at the next inter-departmental briefing on this project. Can I recover from shooting myself in the foot? –Limping, 29.

What do you do when you’ve missed an opportunity and given away your credit? You need to fix that mistake. Here’s how one of my clients—Liz—did it.

A huge project opportunity came in. All candidates had to submit comprehensive pitch materials to the prospective client on short notice. Liz’s boss was away on a family emergency, so she was in charge of the pitch process.  She had to gather pieces from sales, marketing, publicity, financial and new media, but she was the architect of the whole thing and was responsible for making all of the creative and judgment calls. When Liz got the call telling her they’d won the assignment, the new client singled her out as a crucial factor in awarding the deal to the firm. When her boss came back, he said, ‘I don’t know who wrote this pitch, but it’s perfectly positioned. It’s a great job.’ Liz told him, “We all worked on it, it was a team effort, the usual ‘girl’ stuff.” But when she got back to her desk, she “felt like crap for not taking credit.”

Liz only spent about ten minutes “feeling like crap” before she wrote her boss an e-mail saying, “I don’t know why I couldn’t tell you this when you asked, but the truth is, I spearheaded that project—and I wrote that pitch letter.” The result? He reiterated that it was a great job and Liz “felt a million times better.”

Obviously Liz could have popped back by her boss’s office to correct her missed credit opportunity; repairing a credit mistake in person is another option to e-mail if you’re more comfortable stopping by his office to say what you wished you’d said earlier.

For now, weigh whether you can elegantly set the record straight with your boss. But the next time someone says, “This was a great job!”, you should reply, without missing a beat: “Thank you. I worked hard to nail it. I appreciate your comments.” Stop selling yourself short. Taking credit is key to being a serious contender.

Oh, and watch your back for credit thieves who make nice and then turn on you!

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