Picture this: You add something to a conversation. You’re pretty pleased with yourself and pretty proud of your idea. You present it – let’s just say it’s in a meeting or professional situation. Everyone is fine with it, no parades or huge cheers. The meeting moves on, and then, not 5 minutes later, someone says the same idea, presenting it as their own. It’s received with accolade – you presented the exact same idea! Sure, they said it a bit differently and maybe had a lot more confidence when presenting it.
And worse – no one remembers you said it. At least, no one mentions that they already heard the idea, and it seems like it’s too far gone to bring it up without sounding petty. You sigh and the meeting ends, and it’s just another situation where someone either steals your idea or you don’t feel heard.
Sound familiar? Happens more than you think, and often happens when women speak up in male-dominated spaces. Call it what you will, it’s a problem, and there are a few ways to work on being heard, speaking up, and dealing with the feeling when someone steals your idea.
Before we get into that, it’s important to keep one thing in mind: first, most ideas, if not all, aren’t original. Everything is a remix of past experiences, other ideas, and more, so it’s important to note when this happens. If you were about to write about something and someone else “steals” it – think about the probability of it. Did you talk to that person about it? Did you post about it on social media? If both are no, then chances are this person just thought of a similar idea.
This is specifically for those times where you say something, and someone says just about the same thing. They 100% heard you, were present, know about the idea, and present it as if it was their own. Now that we’re on the same page, on to the tips:
Nothing good happens when you get angry and upset in professional moments. While I am behind the idea of understanding your emotions and being aware of them, you do need to keep them in a place where they don’t get in the way of professionalism.
It’s also completely natural to get upset when someone takes your idea and presents it as their own. Give yourself some grace and time, and if you need to take some time away from the situation to think about it, give yourself that time.
Stay In It
Our natural response to situations like these hits in the fight, flight or freeze place in human emotion. Since we already talked about staying calm, it’s important to not bail on the moment and not just freeze up. By affirming the idea and adding to it – especially since it was yours in the first place, you’re assuming good intent (maybe they just didn’t hear you?) and staying in the idea.
If the person is deliberately being malicious and an idea thief, that’s another situation entirely. Most people aren’t like that, so assuming good intent and adding to the idea keeps you in the situation.
Reflect on The Why
Why weren’t you heard? Go internal rather than external, and try to understand what happened so it doesn’t happen again – or so you can work on it. Did you say it quietly? Were other people talking? Did someone interrupt you or step on what you were saying? If those are all no, think about the culture of the meeting. Are people cutthroat, stealing ideas from everyone? Is the person that presented your idea known for this behavior?
The better you understand the why, the more you can work on this not happening again. If it’s you, work on being confident, specific, and concise when you’re presenting your idea. If it’s the workplace, can you be assertive and talk to that person? Is it worth it? Is there another medium you can submit ideas? Does it even matter? These are all ways to work on next time – this time, try to understand why it happened or happens.