How to overcome imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome can prevent your employees from bringing their best selves to work. As inclusive employers, our aim is to create workplaces where everyone can thrive, where employees don't feel held back. Negative thoughts about our abilities are at the root of imposter syndrome.

In this blog Sharon Cooper, Inclusion and Diversity Consultant, explains more about this and provides practical advice to understand, challenge and overcome Imposter Syndrome.

What is imposter syndrome?

Sounds a bit scary, doesn’t it? “Imposter syndrome” makes me think of something clinical and that there might be something wrong. A senior manager introduced me to this concept because she recognised the signs of imposter syndrome in me.

I did a bit of research into it, and it absolutely resonated. I couldn’t believe that other people felt the same! The best way I can describe it is that little (or sometimes loud) voice inside your head that chips away at your confidence.

Imposter syndrome can:

  • Make you doubt yourself.
  • Convince you that you don’t have the experience or knowledge to do your job.
  • Make you feel that you’re going to be “found out” at any moment, or that you are not good enough.
  • It can hold you back – maybe it stops you from applying for that promotion, from contributing in that meeting or volunteering for that really interesting project.

The term imposter syndrome was first used in the 1970s by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance and at the time was mainly applied to high-achieving women. 

However, it has more recently been recognised that it can affect anyone, no matter their experience, background, skill or expertise.

The International Journal of Behavioural Science found that more than 70% of people are affected by workplace imposter thoughts at some point in their life.

That’s a lot of energy poured into negative thinking. Imagine instead if that energy went into something more productive.

Are there different types of imposter syndrome?

Dr. Valerie Young has argued that there are various imposter syndrome types. She has categorised the types as:

The perfectionist

Those who set high goals for themselves may experience waves of self-doubt and worry. If a goal isn’t met or a task is not completed, this person may feel set back and defeated.

The super person

Those who sacrifice things for work and feel pressured to work long hard hours to prove their worth. This person could be a “workaholic” that aims for validation on their tasks to prove themselves.

The natural genius

Those who base how long it takes them to learn something to their worth. For example, if they take longer than expected to learn something, they feel shame and upset.

The soloist

Those who struggle to ask for help. Soloists can often feel that asking for help is a bad thing and that they can prove their worth without asking for assistance.

The expert

Those who measure their worth and competency-based on how much they know and can do. Experts usually have a fear of being “exposed” as not knowing enough and don’t know how much they can do.

Who does imposter syndrome affect?

Imposter syndrome can impact anyone at all. It is something that impacts many of us on a day-to-day basis and is not spoken about enough.

Although imposter syndrome can impact anyone from any background, research has shown it can hit women, people of colour, and those in the LGBTQ+ community harder.

It has been found that this is because when someone experiences systematic oppression throughout their whole life and begin to achieve things, it goes against that narrative that has been fed into the mind – which then results in imposter syndrome.

A person talking to another with a laptop screen and coffee, whilst the other person is listening.

How to deal with imposter syndrome

Although overcoming imposter syndrome can be a challenging thing to do, here are some imposter syndrome tips to help you get started.

Call out imposter syndrome

What I have found is that you can take that power back. That starts by giving it a name: ‘imposter syndrome’.

Learning techniques to challenge that negative voice in our heads allows us to push and stretch ourselves past that point we think we initially can’t reach.

Reframe negative thinking

I can recall a great example of how reframing my thoughts helped challenge imposter syndrome. I was a newly promoted manager and felt that I wasn’t coping very well.

I was chatting with another female manager and remember saying that I felt I was “winging it”. She very clearly told me, “No you are not winging it, you are thinking on your feet – that’s a valuable skill”.  It stopped me in my tracks.

Have confidence in your strengths

A great way to a great to focus on your strengths is by carrying out a strengths questionnaire.

Complete the questionnaire and focus on your top strengths, think about how you use these. Share the quiz with colleagues and have conversations about each other’s strengths – it’s energising!

Awareness can help overcome imposter syndrome

There is no quick fix to reset negative thinking. With awareness and support you can start the process. I attended a series of imposter syndrome workshops, where a group of women wanted to keep the conversations going.

We set up a network group called “energy angels” to do this. This group challenged, developed, supported and stretched each other.

It made us all more confident. Many went on to apply for roles they wouldn’t have considered before, and some were successful!

It’s important to say that recognising and challenging your imposter syndrome isn’t just about applying for different roles, it’s about being the best and most fabulous you and who doesn’t want that?

Helping someone with imposter syndrome

If you know someone around you who has imposter syndrome or recognise that they may be struggling with it, there are ways that you can help.

Normalise the feelings

As we’ve discussed, many of us are struggling with imposter syndrome anxiety. By raising awareness and talking about it openly, the feeling will become normalised. As a result, more people will feel as though they can express how they feel and that they are struggling.

Be encouraging

If you’re a manager, team leader or mentor, make sure you affirm your employees and counter any negative self-talk they have with encouragement.

Consider regular reviews

By having things such as reviews in place, your employee will be able to see their progress and how they’re doing, which could help with additional worry they are feeling. It is also a chance for the person to bring up how they are feeling and any worries or struggles they are having.

Be open

Sometimes, hearing about other people’s experience with imposter syndrome and how they tackled it can be a game-changer for others. Be open with your stories and talk about your challenges, you could be the reason someone starts to credit themselves more.

How Inclusive Employers can help

As mentioned, raising awareness is a great way to start the conversation, recognise people are struggling with imposter syndrome and encourage people to think about the topic.

Here at Inclusive Employers, we offer imposter syndrome training and can offer a variety of imposter syndrome resources to help raise awareness within the workplace. If you’re a member, speak to your account manager to see what we can do.

If you’re not yet a member, get in touch today to see how we can help.