Dealing with Imposter Syndrome in the workplace

Over 70% of us are affected by workplace imposter thoughts at some point in our lives. If you think you might be suffering from imposter syndrome, know that you are not alone; Feeling like you don’t deserve your job or you don’t belong are common-place, but there are steps you can take to deal with imposter syndrome.

If you’re struggling with imposter syndrome yourself, or are trying to prevent it in your team or help others overcome it, we’re here to help. But first, let’s explore exactly what is imposter syndrome.

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a feeling of self-doubt, or fear of being discovered as a fraud. You may feel like you lack the skills required to do your job, you don’t deserve to be there, or that you’re tricking people into thinking you’re good at what you do. If you’ve ever sat at your desk and thought “I’m fooling everyone. I feel like a fraud,” you may be struggling from imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome at work

Although not exclusively, many people suffer from imposter syndrome at their jobs, or relating to their work life. Understanding what this looks like can be the key to moving through these thoughts and recognising there is no basis to feel this way.

Self-doubt and insecurity

Everyone will feel occasional feelings of self-doubt. But the key is frequency; if you’re feeling insecure more often than not, ask yourself if it’s a persistent, nagging, ongoing experience? Or is it a temporary, situational experience? If the former, you are likely suffering from imposter syndrome. 

Most people feel like an imposter at some point in their lives, especially in intimidating scenarios, like starting a new job, or presenting to a large group of people. But when it’s constantly interrupting your workday, it’s time to take action.

Feeling like a fraud

Those with imposter syndrome will likely feel like they’re ‘just pretending’ and that their cover will be blown any minute. Feeling like a fraud (or an ‘imposter’) and that you’re fooling everyone around you are common symptoms of imposter syndrome.

Fearing failure (perfectionism)

If you’re constantly reaching for perfection, or have a chronic fear of failure, you could be suffering with imposter syndrome. You may be triggered by a very small problem or setback that sends you spiralling into thinking you don’t deserve your job, or that you’ll never be as good as the people you work with.

Seeking validation

Do you find yourself constantly seeking validation from coworkers and managers? This is a classic sign of imposter syndrome, as you’re not allowing yourself to judge whether your work is ‘worthy’, but instead give the power to dictate whether you have been successful or not in the hands of someone else.

How to deal with imposter syndrome

Overcoming imposter syndrome is probably not something you’ll be able to achieve in just a day or two. But there are steps you can take to help manage your imposter syndrome and reduce those negative feelings. 

Share how you feel

Talking to coworkers about your feelings can be incredibly therapeutic, and you’ll often find that the other person will put your concerns into context. When you keep these feelings of imposter syndrome a secret, they may grow and grow, becoming harder to deal with. Sharing your feelings is a great way to recognise them, and they may be able to help you on the path towards overcoming imposter syndrome.

Afterall, a problem shared is a problem halved so they say!

Focus on what’s real

One of the most effective ways to combat imposter syndrome is to identify what is real, and what isn’t; what are the facts of the situation and what is something you’re telling yourself in your head. The Conscious Leadership Group refers to this as “facts vs. stories.” 

Although you may not be able to completely silence the imposter voice in your head, you can remind yourself of the facts. The next time imposter syndrome rears it’s head at work, remind yourself of the facts vs the stories. E.g. if you are feeling anxious about something you voiced during a team meeting, focus on what those around you actually said, versus what you’re telling yourself they think of you. If there’s no evidence to support how you’re feeling, try and push it aside.

Appreciate and acknowledge your achievements

Identifying your accomplishments and giving yourself credit where it is due can be a great way to deal with imposter syndrome. The cause of imposter syndrome can often stem from a failure to acknowledge one’s own worth, and the valuable contributions made to the business. Working on understanding your own achievements and appreciating the value you add can help combat feelings associated with imposter syndrome.

Remind yourself that your success didn’t happen by accident; you have earned your success through dedication, hard work and talent!

Surround yourself with positive affirmations

Sometimes, simply reminding yourself you’re good at what you do can be enough to snap you out of spiralling into an imposter syndrome shaped hole. Create a page in your notepad titled ‘Things I’m Good At’ and list out what you do really well at work, or things people have specifically praised you on.

Similarly, you can create a folder in your email and when customers or colleagues email you, either thanking you for helping them with something, or praising you on something you’ve completed for them, drop the email into this folder. Next time you feel yourself becoming anxious, open this folder, or flip to that page in your notebook.

New job imposter syndrome; how to deal with it

Dealing with imposter syndrome in a new job is especially common. You may know that some of the people who you will manage or work with have more experience than you which can feed into feelings of fraudulence. Deep down, you might know that you wouldn’t have been given the job if you didn’t deserve it/have the potential to excel in that role, but your initial thoughts may be:

  1. Everyone here knows what they’re doing and I don’t
  2. I’m underqualified for this job and it’s just a matter of time before they figure it out
  3. I’ll never be as good/know as much as everyone else here
  4. It doesn’t matter how hard I work, I’ll always be playing catch-up 

These thoughts can make you feel like an imposter and unworthy of your new position. It’s important to recognise this is a common feeling for lots of people, and happens to many of us in a new work role.

And especially when starting a new role, to be kind to yourself. There may be times when you forget something, or don’t follow a certain process, or perhaps a deadline has completely slipped your mind. It can be easy to slip back into old ways and feelings, but stay strong, and follow the steps we’ve outlined in this article to help deal with imposter syndrome.

Overcoming imposter syndrome

Remember, failure doesn’t make you a fraud. Even the best lawyers lose cases, the best athletes miss a catch, and the best actors star in flops. Missing, failing, losing and being wrong every now and then are all part of the job. Don’t let it define you or decide the type of person you are. Learn from your mistakes and move forward!

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