Givers setting boundaries: how to stop narcissistic colleagues from stealing your credits at the workplace

I am a disciplined professional. I am both, an ideas person and a doer. I engage in a higher-level, sense of meaning dimension. I have worked in three main areas, since I started working at the age of 14. In government and politics, as an advisor to ministries and heads of state, designing and implementing strategies which affected public institutions and transform lives. In talent development, working as a university lecturer in Europe and the Middle East, designing professional programas too for community development and for companies. In the private sector, as an advisor to entrepreneurs and business men esigning and implementing strategies to be aligned with govermental mandates.

There was a life-changing event (another story to tell) that made me change my first career path, and with that, I also craved to stay out of the public eye. In fact, that was the reason why I wanted to live abroad. Anonymity was a bliss.

When I moved the fourth time, to the Middle East, I started to stand out for the quality of my work ( I am a workaholic – aren’t we all when things we work on really interest us?). But in not wanting to be quite in the spotlight something went wrong. With time, this behaviour degenerated in people thinking that I was a ‘doer’ whose work could be taken advantage of.

I used to invest plenty of time, years, helping others to i) learn how to do their job, ii) correcting their work, iii) giving them emotional support, iv) etc. And while this is all good and I enjoy educating people, there was something that was not quite alright, especially in a work environment, where people are paid for deliverables and have completion deadlines. Unfortunately, there are a lot of “agreeable takers” out there (Watch this 13:28 min TED Talk by Adam Grant to understand the givers and takers concept).

So, it is ok to be a giver, I think it is a personality trait, but you should also consider the following.

Giver rules

1. It is ok to be acknowledged. No, you are not being selfish by saying what you actually did. No, you do not need to share credit with the printing machine. It is ok to be acknowledged for your work. I have been asked to nominate people for some awards, even knowing that they haven’t done anything. Yes… thtey have been considering doing it…

Printer machine
Special thanks go to the printer, the retailer and the manufacturer. They all have a share in my new venture.

2. Market your work. No, you are not being an attention seeker. You are simply branding yourself, setting yourself apart and impeding “takers” from trying to impersonate you. I was recently exposed to a situation where someone (from now on X) was ok leading people into thinking that the work was being performed by her, that she was the one ‘in charge’. Whether this was done on purpose or not does not really matter. These people exist, so, market your own work. Brand it. Do not tempt Xs out there.

3. Understand cultural differences. I spent enough years living in a country (my third) where you could not really say ‘yes, I did that’ -at least, not in the environment I was in. Where you could be ‘too blinky’, ‘too much’, ‘standing out’ ‘too latin’ ‘too happy’ and people around would feel uncomfortable and say it -unintentionally transferring that discomfort to you! This reminds me of The Snake and the Firefly tale for some reason. In any case, in every culture, there is an acceptable way of gaining recognition for the work that you perform and the business that you bring to the company.

The snake and the firefly
Firefly: “So, why do you want to eat me?”  Serpent, “because I can’t stand to see your shining light.” Source:

But then, what if even with that you are being disregarded?

Well, I will tell you what Brian, relationships coach, told me this evening, and while his post talks about relationships, I can see plenty of similarities.

Set boundaries

Be clear about your role in the organisation. If someone is been paid to perform a certain activity, it is ok that they cope with learning how to actually do it. And If they can’t, they should look for a solution, not you. To you, ideas come easily. To others, they may not. In any case, mind your own business. This can seem quite evident, but it is actually hard. We develop defensive routines (Argyris 2002) to cope with life. In doing so, we adopt certain behavioural patterns and give the people we interact with a certain role. Meaning, you are allowing this behaviour. So, stop being nice! 

Set ground rules

Set your own goals and expectations. What can you tolerate and what you cannot. If what you consider should be done is not been fulfilled, then probably you are not a good fit in there.

Keep shining

Don’t you dare to put to head down, or to go ‘invisible’ to please the insecure narcissist. I have been ‘banned’ from guest lists not to make a taker uncomforable with my [too shiny?] presence. And you know what, it is ok. Learn to surround yourself by the right people in the right environment. Yes, you will feel their envious looks but, I bet that you are used to by now.

What if none of this work?

When feeling taken advantage of, givers stop giving. If you feel you are been disregarded by the people in your team or your organisation, then, it might be time to move on. Life is cyclical. So, probably this situation is here to show you that it is time to move on and have a fresh start in a healthy environment. Take care of yourself, observe your own feelings, reactions, and behaviours, and stay present.

Published by @digitalmisa

Digital behaviourist and technologist (PhD). I am passionate about talent development, especially when it comes to enabling women and youth to achieve inclusion. I have 20 years experience working in America, Europe and the Middle East from politics to government to education to management. I love writing, traveling, history, vegan tacos, and escaping to Italy every time I can!

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