Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace
70% of people will experience imposter syndrome – the gut-wrenching feeling of self-doubt and belief that they are not as competent as others believe them to be despite their experience, education, and accomplishments. They feel like a fraud and await the moment they are “caught” or found out. Even when others praise their talents, they still cannot shake their feelings and write off achievements as “dumb luck.”
People will pressure themselves to work harder and strive for perfection to avoid getting caught as an imposter. What if, instead of coping with imposter syndrome, people learned how to put an end to it?
Take the first step in ending imposter syndrome (IS) in the workplace by understanding the types of IS and implementing strategies to help others overcome the phenomenon.
Five types of imposter syndrome
IS is not “one size fits all”—it can appear in several interconnected ways. The five most common types are:
- The perfectionist: Perfectionists are never satisfied. They always believe they can be better and do better. Since perfection isn’t always realistic, they start fixating on their mistakes rather than their strengths. Even minor errors reinforce their belief that they’re putting on a facade.
- The superhero: These people link competence to success and commonly feel inadequate. So, what do they do? Push themselves to the limit. All the hard work and effort still do not resolve their feelings of “imposterism.”
- The expert: Experts always underestimate their expertise. Since they are never satisfied with their level of intelligence, they want to learn everything there is to know on a topic. These people may devote more time to a task because they spent too much time on their quest to “know it all.”
- The natural genius: These individuals pick up new skills with little effort and believe they should understand new information and processes right away. Their belief that competency equates to picking things up naturally makes them feel like a fraud when they face an obstacle.
- The soloist: These people are very individualistic. Their self-worth stems from productivity, and they tend to see asking for help as a sign of weakness. In their eyes, if they can’t succeed solo, they’re unworthy. If they accept help, they’re showing others they’re phony or inadequate.
Do any of these sound like you or someone you know?
Overcome imposter syndrome head-on
Both leaders and team members can experience imposter syndrome and the negative feelings that impact their work and environment. Fortunately, you can implement strategies to help overcome IS.
Share your feelings
Talking to someone about your distress can help you get outside context on the situation. Maybe you’ll find someone you can overcome IS with as you share strategies and challenges you encounter.
Avoid the urge to do everything solo. Turn to your peers to create a network of mutual support, and you’ll find your network can offer guidance, validate your strengths, and encourage your growth efforts.
Assess your abilities
Make a realistic assessment of your abilities in social and performance situations. Write down your accomplishments and skills, then compare that with your self-assessment (what you think about yourself). You’ll find that the realistic assessment of yourself is the one that shines!
Challenge your doubts
Ask yourself, “Are my thoughts rational?” Does it make sense to believe that you are a fraud, given everything you know is true about yourself? When IS feelings emerge, consider whether the facts support your beliefs.
Avoid a “comparison competition”
Whenever you compare yourself to others in social situations, it can turn into a “comparison competition” where you will find issues that fuel feelings of inadequacy. Everyone has unique abilities. You are where you are because someone recognized your talents and your potential.
Be a mentor and help others
It’s hard to encourage someone to see their unique talent, achievement, and creativity when it doesn’t align with their self-perceptions. Here are several strategies for mentorship that can help:
- Normalize imposter feelings: If someone confesses feelings of IS, welcome them to the club! Feeling like a fraud at times is normal. Remind them it’s okay to say “I don’t know” and ask for help.
- Be relatable: Go a step further and share your imposter stories (if you have them). It goes a long way for a mentee to discover that their mentor has also tackled the feelings of IS and pushed through.
- Positive affirmation goes a long way: Affirm and encourage your employees. The key here is to affirm the individual as a human being by acknowledging their inherent worth and then affirm them as professionals. Persistently call out their achievements and celebrate them.
- Counteract stereotype threats: Stereotype threats are when a person feels at risk of conforming to negative stereotypes about their race or gender. Marginalization can make people feel like imposters, regardless of how self-assured, smart, and confident they are. These feelings can be mitigated by reminding the mentee that their role is not affected by race or gender and never will be.
- Give and take credit when deserved: People with IS are more likely to attribute their success to luck or give credit to someone else. You may even notice them downplaying their talent and achievement. If you find someone doing this, give them the recognition they deserve and explain why!
Be who you’re meant to be
If you’re in the 70% of people with IS, remember your accomplishments are not a product of dumb luck or efforts to maintain the “illusion” of your success. Genuinely recognize and acknowledge where you are today, not how you think you got there. That was all you!
Don’t stop your journey there. You can always become an excellent leader and mentor who helps others overcome their IS feelings. With warmth, affirmation, and patience, you can help your team members see themselves through your eyes!
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Photo by airdone