Can you be sure that you’re accurately assessing your abilities in the workplace? Most of us will have heard of imposter syndrome – a term to describe a feeling high achievers have when they cannot recognize their success and are afraid of being exposed as a fake or a fraud. Sadly, a lack of confidence can prevent people from reaching their potential, or from even trying, as they believe others will be better than them.
Interestingly, a recent study showed that people are often biased in their assessment of themselves, and of others. Those who lacked confidence in themselves tended to over-estimate their competitors’ ability, whilst those who were over-confident over-estimated their own abilities. When lacking confidence, the more successful you are, the more difficult it seems to be to reconcile your achievements with your view of yourself.
Although it can affect anyone, it appears to affect women more than it does men. A KPMG study found that 75% of executive women reported having experienced impostor syndrome at times in their career. 56% were afraid that they wouldn’t live up to expectations or that people around them would not believe they are as capable as expected. Women can find more senior levels too competitive, especially if they feel uneasy about negotiating salaries, bonuses and promotion opportunities.
Anyone with Imposter Syndrome can immediately feel like an outsider if they’re in a workplace that is stereotypically or dominated by a different gender.
All this risks that they may choose to stay at a certain level or take their expertise elsewhere, so leaders need to be aware that their team and the organisation can miss out on this valuable resource.
Most people will have doubts about their abilities at some time during their career. So firstly, it’s worth checking any facts around why you might be feeling this way.
Could it be that you don’t have some of the skills needed for the role yet, and therefore training opportunities or additional courses will help you gain more confidence.
Do you feel listened to, and encouraged to learning from successes and mistakes? Do you feel psychologically safe to communicate openly? Do you have a manager/organisation that is committed to developing your career, and encourages a sense of belonging where you’re contributing?
If you find that this is the case, then take on the new training, and have the necessary conversations with your line manager. Your confidence levels will thank you.
Where the feelings of imposter syndrome, or a lack of confidence, are still prevalent, there are a few techniques you can develop to help yourself.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Identify your beliefs: Your beliefs, especially negative, will impact the way you think about yourself (your sense of self). Think about the following:
- In what areas are you confident?
- What two areas do you lack confidence?
- Identify two people who you think are confident.
- Identify two people who you think lack confidence.
What information can you glean from the way you’ve answered these questions?
Believe in yourself: Once you have identified some of the negative beliefs, look at what you can to do start believing in yourself.
- Challenge some of the negative beliefs about yourself. Our beliefs are often black and white (I always, I can’t, I never), but when you start challenging whether those thoughts are totally true (eg. Are you always, can you, do you sometimes…) you can start breaking down the negative feelings that could be holding you back.
- Acknowledge your achievements. Writing these down helps reduce negativity bias. We often forget how far we’ve come, so it’s useful as a reminder of what you have done and what you can continue to achieve.
- Accept recognition for your work, you did it.
- Commit to lifelong learning and development, which will help you feel more capable.
- Consider whether you may be being biased in assessing your abilities, especially when comparing to others. Look at your skills with a new mindset.
Calm the self-talk: Those who lack confidence or have imposter syndrome often have a lot of negative self-talk. To calm this:
- Remember you are not defined by your worst moment, so don’t let it turn into your story of who you are.
- Give your inner critic a name and identity of its own (you’ll have to ask me what mine is called!). Make it light-hearted or something humorous, as this helps you to think of your inner critic as lacking credibility, takes its power away and puts things into perspective.
- Work out some positive and powerful statements that are true about yourself that you can use as reminders when doubts creep in. Eg, “I can handle a challenge”, “I’ve got this”, “I will learn from this and make changes for the future”.
Develop your growth mindset: A growth mindset will ensure that you’re learning from mistakes and taking a chance to develop and practice. (A fixed mindset is anxious about going outside something familiar eg looking only at the deck of cards that you do or do not have. A growth mindset however, will look at all the cards you have and all the different things you can do with them.)
Take action: Anxiety and fear holds people back from taking challenges. The longer we procrastinate or avoid doing something, the more painful (in our mind) it can become. Once we take action, however, it’s usually nowhere near as hard as we’d imagined.
Get support: The KPMG report highlighted that 72% of executive women looked to the advice of a mentor, coach or trusted advisor when doubting their abilities to take on new roles. Who can you ask to support you?
I had suffered for years with Imposter Syndrome, so I know first-hand what it feels like to be constantly on edge and thinking that someone will find me out as the fraud I am. I learnt the hard way how to identify my personal thought processes and challenge those that weren’t helping me. Now, as a coach, I’m determined to help as many people as I can so they don’t have to suffer for years and can find a renewed confidence in themselves.
It’s time to start being the person you’ve been pretending to be up to now.