Lately, it feels like everyone – whether in CX or other industries – is talking about imposter syndrome, AKA the persistent inability to believe that your success is deserved or was legitimately achieved through your own efforts or skills.
In other words, it’s the gap between how you perceive your own competence compared to how competent you actually are.
In real life, imposter syndrome makes you feel like a fraud. And even worse: that the people around you will find out you’re a fraud.
But what if I tell you that imposter syndrome can be a good thing?
Before we dig into that juicy concept, let’s get back to basics.
The 5 signs of imposter syndrome
The main ways of coping with imposter syndrome can look like:
Overworking to make up for how inadequate you feel. You try to become a superhero.
Setting exceedingly high goals and feeling crushed when you don’t meet them. You aim to feel like a natural genius.
Never being satisfied with your level of understanding. You’re always trying to learn more so you become the ultimate expert.
Never being completely happy with your work. You fixate on flaws instead of strengths.
Preferring to work alone. You won’t request help for fear of appearing weak or incompetent. You’re doing your thing solo.
Do any of those points resonate with you? If so, you’re not alone. Studies like this one show that more than 80% of people have reported experiencing imposter syndrome at any given time.
Why imposter syndrome isn’t necessarily bad
Research by Wharton University’s Basima Tewfik shows that there could be an upside to experiencing self-doubt. The professor analysed the effects of imposter syndrome on people’s careers, both in terms of quality of the work and social standing among colleagues.
She discovered that people with imposter syndrome were actually rated more interpersonally effective than their peers who didn’t. Their managers described them as better collaborators who worked well with colleagues.
Basima also found that people who may have felt fraudulent while achieving or delivering performed at a similar level – or even outperformed – their colleagues in competence behavior.
Why? because they:
Were more empathetic
Were better listeners
Asked better questions
Held frequent eye contact
And so on.
Basima’s research so far suggests that this perceived competence gap – the idea that imposters are masquerading as someone more capable than they really are − may not negatively affect the quality of their work after all. And, if their self-doubt leads them to put extra effort into their interpersonal connections, it may even help them outperform their more confident colleagues.
In a world where collaboration is key for every high-performing company using lean methods, it’s a powerful discovery.
Imposter syndrome isn’t a disease, it’s a feeling. And feelings are fuel. They make you make certain choices, often for the better.
Harnessing imposter syndrome
When you first heard about imposter syndrome, you might have experienced relief. It may have felt good for a moment, finally having a name for such a familiar feeling.
But then, the second layer – the after effect – left you with the suspicion that you now have a problem to solve.
Except… you really don’t. The issue isn’t with you. You don’t have to alter who you are to be more successful; you just need to understand yourself a little better.
Imagine what we could do if we started thinking about harnessing this syndrome instead of fixing it or indulging in the negative feelings it provides?
It could motivate us to work harder to prove ourselves and work smarter to fill the gaps in our knowledge and skills.
How to limit the negative effects of imposter syndrome
It also goes without saying that the mental health effects of imposter syndrome need tackling.
Self-skepticism can induce stress, fear and lower self-confidence. The best course of action for professionals hoping to harness their potential is to step past the negative emotions and lean further into the imposter feelings.
Focusing on the perceived competence gap between you and your peers − and putting your energy towards closing it − might just give you the edge you’re looking for.
It might be a moment for confident humility, where we can recognise how little we know and yet have a strong conviction in our capability to learn.
That’s the perfect attitude for adopting a beginner mindset; a growth mindset where curiosity and compassion are the royal couple.
Voila! I hope you enjoyed reading this new point of view about imposter syndrome. If you want to learn more, I dig into the topic a little further on this podcast episode.
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