What to Do with Others’ “Resource Guarding Issues”

As those of you know who’ve been subscribing to all-things-wow for a while my dog, Seymour, brings me absurd amounts of joy.

One of the best things I’ve learned is the phrase“Resource Guarding Issues”: which is how his trainer described the insanity that ensues if you get too close to his rope toy, his tennis ball, his marrow bone….

When I heard this phrase it struck me that I know some people with resource guarding issues.

What do I mean by this? Well, it can range from the co-worker who refuses to share credit in a meeting, to the friend who suddenly can’t remember where she bought the raincoat you just admired, to the boss who refuses to acknowledge your contribution to a report, to the family member who won’t hand over the recipe for lasagna.

And it can make you nuts.

What do I recommend you do?

With friends and family members, there can be the temptation to call them on it. To say something along the lines of, “What? You don’t trust me?” I don’t recommend this, as it generally devolves into a weird conversation about incidents that occurred in the past—when you or others ostensibly ‘stole’/’took’ something from them.  (Sigh.) Instead, I would acknowledge that you understand why they might now want to tell you, i.e. “I can see why you might not want to—X is so particular to you,” and then explain how you plan to wear the coat/make the lasagna, etc. differently.

(It also helps to begin with “Would you mind telling me…?” as it can be hard for people to say, “Yes, I do mind.”)

With colleagues and bosses’ the stakes are higher.

First, it’s critical to recognize that this inability to share credit is not personal. For whatever reason, your colleague/boss feels like there isn’t enough praise to go around: insecurity is driving their choice.

With colleagues, I find it can be helpful (and incredibly, perversely, satisfying) to be the first one to jump in and give your insecure co-worker credit—to say to your boss, “I really can’t say enough about how much X put into this.” Why? Because someone who is secure enough to talk others up is seen as strong management material by higher ups. (And trust me, if your colleagues’ insecurity is visible to you, it’s visible to your boss, too.)

With bosses it’s trickier—as they are generally the gatekeepers of your next raise/promotion.

In these cases, it is critical to establish a paper trail of every contribution you make as a project comes together. This allows you when your review comes up, or you want to speak to your boss’s boss, to be very factual about what occurred; i.e. instead of “You/he always take all the credit,” (which sounds like whining) you can state, “As you can see on January 14th I sent the following, critical information.”

It won’t be easy, but it’s hard to argue with a paper trail.

Finally, regardless of the situation, isn’t it nice to know there’s a phrase to describe a behavior that has the potential to make us all so very insane??

Frances Cole Jones