Imposter Syndrome at Work: 8 Ways it Can Show up
As we navigate our professional lives, it’s not uncommon to experience a phenomenon known as impostor syndrome at work.
According to research 82 per cent of people have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.
So What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern of thoughts, behaviours and feelings in which high-achieving individuals doubt their accomplishments and live in fear of being exposed as frauds. And this is despite external evidence of their competence and success.
Although it is an internal feeling of doubting one’s own abilities, having imposter syndrome at work can have outward implications at your workplace.
How do you know if you are experiecening imposter syndrome at work?
Here are eight ways it could be showing up and impacting your performance.
Recognising the Signs of Imposter Syndrome at Work
1. Working longer hours to prove one's worth.
Do you find yourself working longer hours than others?
Maybe you are the first to arrive or the last to leave your workplace.
Or do you have poor boundaries and allow work to find its way into your personal time?
While others succeed because of their intelligence, individuals with imposter syndrome believe that working harder than everyone else will compensate for their lack of natural talent.
When success is achieved, they experience a sense of relief instead of pride and continue to keep working harder without taking care of themselves. But all these excessive hours can lead to burnout and reduced productivity.
Tip. After success on a project, sit down and mentally take in your part or role in the achievement. Acknowledge your effort but also your experience and personal talent; this will help you internalise your successes.
2. A Persistent Drive to Overprepare
Do you constantly research and meticulously check every detail of a presentation, project or email before anyone else can provide feedback?
Individuals with imposter syndrome at work are motivated by the threat of being exposed for their incompetence.
They believe by being hyper-diligent, they can safeguard themselves from any possible failure. However, too much time overpreparing and fussing around can lead to time wasting and missed opportunities.
Tip: Place your attention on progress instead of perfection.
Plan your work before you start your day and allocate time for each task. When the time is up, move on to the next item in your calendar.
Do you find yourself saying to your colleagues, “It’s easier if I just do it,”
They might think you’re being considerate, but really you have an alternate motive.
You believe if you do it, there will be less chance of mistakes and consequently the humiliation of being unmasked.
But not delegating tasks appropriately means you end up doing more work, and can lead to burnout and resentment. It can also eliminate trust between team members.
Recognise those feelings of fear and speak to yourself with words of kindness and compassion.
Tip #2. Start slowly and delegate items that you can check over quickly. When you start to trust the process you can move on to delegating more significant tasks.
4. Procrastination to start and finish projects
Can you put things off until the last minute – telling yourself, “you work best under pressure”?
Maybe procrastination is your coping mechanism.
According to earlier research, this was an unconscious way to give yourself an out from the façade. A coping mechanism to relieve the performance anxiety you felt about possibly being exposed.
When you fail, you can blame it on leaving it to the last minute. However, when you do succeed, it strengthens the belief that you hoodwinked them again.
Tip: Acknowledge when the self-sabotage sets in and speak to someone you trust who can remind you of your value and past successes.
5. A reluctancy to speak up in meetings and share ideas.
Do you hesitate to speak up in meetings because everyone will be watching you when you do?
……And just as your inner critic convinces you to be silent, your colleague reads your mind and shares a similar idea to everyone’s approval. Now you chastise yourself for not speaking up.
Contributing ideas and asking questions can leave one in a very vulnerable position.
For the individual experiencing imposter syndrome, sharing one’s own thoughts in front of colleagues has the potential of being deemed as incorrect and therefore being unmasked in front of a large audience.
Tip: Monitor your internal dialogue, and choose to speak to yourself like a friend who needs support and encouragement.
Mentally rehearse speaking up in front of your colleagues and in your mind’s eye see it all going well.
6. Avoid taking on new challenges.
Even though your manager wants you to go for the promotion or take on that exciting new project, you can provide the best excuses as to why that’s not a good idea at this time in your career.
Individuals with imposter syndrome are likelier to sit quietly in their comfort zone, fearing that promotions and challenging projects make them too vulnerable to possible failure and others’ judgement of their work.
Tip: Make a list of all previous achievements and keep it handy to look over throughout your day. As you read over your list, acknowledge your contribution, recognise your abilities and internalise the feeling of success.
7. Prefer to stay silent and not ask for help.
Do you prefer to go to outside sources for help instead of asking your colleagues?
Here, your overly protective inner critic might be trying to save you from embarrassment, from others’ judgements or the fear of being unmasked.
Tip: Identify what your inner critic is trying to keep you safe from and ascertain if it is relevant today. Make friends with that part of you that holds your inner wisdom and choose to hear what they have to say.
8. Find it difficult to accept compliments.
Do you give yourself enough credit for your achievements? Or do you brush it off to luck, chance or just good timing?
Individuals with imposter syndrome tend to minimize their accomplishments. Even though they may seek approval from others, they are often quick to dismiss it and find it difficult making strong mental connections between themselves and their achievements.
Tip #1: Practice saying thank you after someone compliments your work. When this becomes more comfortable.
Go a little further and let them know that you appreciate them taking the time to recognize your hard work. Saying this out loud can help internalise the connection between yourself and your accomplishments.
Tip # 2: Rewarding yourself after you achieve your goal is another way of making solid mental connections between you and your achievements.
In conclusion, imposter syndrome is a typical psychological pattern that can affect individuals in their professional lives. It can manifest in different ways, from working long hours to refusing to speak up in meetings and impact productivity and mental health. Overcoming imposter syndrome requires recognising negative self-talk, speaking to oneself kindly, and acknowledging achievements. It is also important to seek support from trusted colleagues, mentors, or mental health professionals. By taking care of themselves, and recognising one’s abilities and worth, individuals can break free from the cycle of imposter syndrome and achieve success and fulfilment in their careers
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