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How to work hard without being a pushover

If you’re like most of us, you’re dedicated to doing your absolute best at work—day in and day out—in order to prove to yourself, your colleagues, and to anyone else who’s paying attention that you not only deserve the position you’re in but that you have every intention of moving as high up your career ladder as possible. After all, who doesn’t like a hard worker?

This often means that you not only give 100% effort on all of your work tasks and responsibilities, you also make every effort to help those around you—after all, smart employees know that a rising tide lifts all boats. It never hurts to gain a little good sentiment among coworkers, who hopefully see you as a strong link on the team chain and are more than willing to return the favor when needed. However, the truth is that this sort of good-natured and well-intentioned approach to work often comes at a price, and you may have to contend with an onerous species of colleague—the sort who will take advantage of your hard-working nature and use it to their self-centered advantage.

Does this sound familiar? After spending countless hours toiling away on a long and involved project a scheming colleague swoops in out of nowhere and takes all the credit for your hard work. Does this sort of thing happen often to you? If so, don’t feel too defeated—the truth is, hard workers are often vulnerable to this bad behavior, as unscrupulous and infinitely lazier coworkers seek to capitalize on every opportunity to take advantage of the efforts of others. But that doesn’t mean you should sit idly by and let them take advantage of you.

If you’d like to figure out some effective strategies for showing the world that you’re a hard worker who will routinely go above and beyond—but who will not be taken advantage of—consider taking advantage of the following steps.

Step 1—Diagnose

The first step to making positive change, if and when you feel as if you’re hard work is being taken advantage of, is to recognize that there’s a problem. This often means realizing that there’s a pattern of poor behavior on the part of a colleague—after all, a one-time thing where someone received a little more credit on a work project than they deserved might just be a miscommunication or harmless mistake. But if it continues to occur repeatedly, then it’s a real problem. Once you recognize that there’s an issue, you can begin to mobilize a strategy for dealing with it head on.

Step 2—Confirm

The truth is, sometimes we’re our own worst witnesses to a situation that directly involves us. Why? Because we often simply lack the distance needed to have a completely rational perspective. As a result, it’s helpful in situations like these to either get a second opinion from a trusted colleague or, if not feasible, to try our best and take a step back from the situation in an effort to objectively confirm that what we think is happening actually is. After all, the last thing you want to do is accuse a colleague of taking advantage of your hard work when it isn’t really happening (talk about awkward!).

Step 3—Confront (Carefully)

For most people, this is the trickiest step, and for good reason. Once you’ve diagnosed and confirmed the problem, the only way to effect positive and lasting change is to confront the situation—but be sure to proceed with caution. There is a broad spectrum of approaches you can take, depending on how pervasive the situation is, as well as your relationship with the person in question and your position and standing at work—as well as theirs. After all, how you handle this situation if it was a subordinate taking advantage of your hard work vs. your boss behaving this way will likely be vastly different.

This is why proceeding with caution is so essential. If feasible, try tactfully communicating your feelings regarding the situation to the person in question. Best case scenario, with minimal effort you nimbly eradicate the bad behavior. If this approach fails, then it may be time to step up your efforts, but don’t jump from a 1 to a 10 on the assertiveness scale out of frustration—try incrementally more assertive approaches (we’re NOT endorsing doing anything that will put you or your job in jeopardy here) to send a clear signal that you will not sit by and idly accept your colleague taking advantage of your hard work. It may entail talking to your boss or the other person’s boss about the situation if all else fails, or trying to avoid working directly with them whenever possible.

If it’s your boss or a superior who’s taking advantage of you, then the situation is even trickier. Simply put, you’re going to have tread lightly here. If your relationship with the superior in question is strong, you may stand a good chance of fixing the problem; if this isn’t the case, weigh your options and determine the approach that makes the most sense given your situation, always erring on the side of caution.

Step 4—Change

How you behave moving forward will send a clear indication of how much others can treat you at work. Simply put, people are far less likely to try and take advantage of a colleague who radiates strength and confidence than someone who’s more meek and reserved. Continue your hard work and eagerness to be a team player, but start sending clear signals that you’re not a person to be underestimated or mistreated. Whenever possible, try and protect your work from the involvement of others, and claim fair credit for your work when you can. Trust us, if handled properly people will start to get the message and will think twice before trying to take advantage of you—you may even garner some newfound respect from others in your work orbit.

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