The impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that a large part of the population goes through, without distinction between women and men: 70% experience it at least once in their life. When the person suffers from it for a long time, the impostor syndrome harms their personal fulfillment and their professional accomplishment. Anxiety, burnout or even depression: the risks are proven. It is important to identify and remedy the phenomenon, which is observed particularly in the professional sphere, to avoid counter-productivity but also and above all to promote the well-being of employees at work.
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What is impostor syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a psychological state in which a person doubts his legitimacy. She thinks she doesn’t deserve her job, she attributes her success to luck, she doesn’t dare to express her own ideas. She is constantly afraid of being unmasked. This concept was theorized in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes.
Impostor Syndrome, also known as Autodidact Syndrome and Imposter Experience, is not a mental disorder listed by the American Psychiatric Association. Indeed, it is often a transient state, even a one-off phenomenon. When it persists, however, it deserves to be taken care of.
How to detect impostor syndrome?
The Clance scale assesses the intensity and frequency with which the phenomenon of the impostor interferes in the life of the individual. The test consists of twenty scenarios, the individual indicates how much he finds himself in each of them. Examples:
- “I’m able to give the impression that I’m more competent than I really am. »
- “I think I got to where I am, or got my successes, just because I was in the right place at the right time, or because of people around me. »
- “I’m afraid people important to me will realize that I’m not as good as they think I am. »
Beyond this test, the impostor syndrome is manifested by behaviors that are observed at work.
- The collaborator verbalizes his low self-esteem. With each professional success, he explains that he was lucky, that it was a coincidence or that it was someone else who did the majority of the work. On a daily basis, he devalues his function by claiming that it is within everyone’s reach or that it is useless. He denigrates his diplomas or minimizes the professional experience that allowed him to have the position he occupies in the company. The impostor syndrome is a form of modesty taken to the extreme, which serves as a defense mechanism for the collaborator. If he displays his incompetence, there is no risk that those around him will expect anything from him.
- He tends to be discreet, for fear of being “unmasked”. To this end, he avoids being the center of attention: he does not like to speak in meetings and he flees public praise. Consciously or not, the employee who suffers from the impostor syndrome can go so far as to be absent from the office during these anxiety-provoking situations. Because he deeply doubts himself, he prefers not to express his own ideas: he joins those of others to go unnoticed.
- The employee is not fulfilled at work. He feels out of place because he feels he does not deserve it, and he feels the constant fear that his colleagues and his manager will realize that he is fooling them on his real qualities. In fact, he suffers from an unjustified feeling of insecurity, which affects his well-being at work.
In practice, the person who is a victim of the impostor syndrome adopts two alternative work strategies:
- An “overdoing” strategy: she demonstrates excessive perfectionism so as not to be caught out, even though she is convinced that she is not up to it. In case of failure, she is reassured: her certainty of being an impostor is reinforced. If successful, she attributes the success to her hard work, not her skill.
- An “underdoing” strategy: the person with impostor syndrome procrastinates because he is convinced that his work has no value in the company. She comes to the office as a dilettante.
How to fight impostor syndrome?
Fighting against the impostor syndrome makes it possible to avoid the harmful consequences that result from it, both for the person who suffers from it and for the company.
- The incessant questioning of the collaborator harms his fulfillment at work and causes stress. When the phenomenon lasts, the collaborator is tempted to remedy it by avoidance: he multiplies the absences.
- The employee’s over-investment exhausts him, potentially to the point of burnout. When, on the contrary, he shows procrastination, he risks a bore-out.
- The collaborator who does not have self-confidence does not express his ideas. He is not a driving force in the company, which is suffering a shortfall.
- In general, the impostor syndrome is an obstacle to a professional career. Dissatisfied and anxious at work, the person tends to quit his job regularly.
To overcome his impostor syndrome, the person engages in work on himself in different respects.
Restore the real success factors
The person with impostor syndrome can use a pragmatic method: they list their successes, then they reflect on the factors that caused them. In a first column, she writes the causes that come spontaneously to her mind; in a second column, she notes the real factors. Questioning in depth its real value contributes to fight against the automatisms which lead to explain the success by external factors. The person also highlights the unjustified discrepancy between the image she projects and the way she considers herself.
Illustration: the account manager gets a promotion, he references it in his success table. In the column of spontaneous causes, he notes that his seniority justifies the promotion. In the column of real causes, he enters the reasons expressed by the company when announcing his promotion: his reliability, his regularity at work and the significant development of his client portfolio.
As their professional successes are duly recorded, the employee has a tangible summary of their skills. He refers to it regularly to gain self-confidence.
Prioritize a caring environment
The benevolence of the entourage helps to fight against the syndrome of the impostor. A benevolent person indeed tends to encourage and congratulate, and in any event sees the positive in every experience. Stimulating remarks and laudatory remarks reassure the collaborator, and improve his well-being at work.
It is also recommended to ask those around you about their strengths and weaknesses, so as to have an objective view of their professional profile. This exercise is also frequent in the context of skills assessments. External opinions help to undo the misconceptions that the employee has about himself, he thus carries out a useful questioning to advance his career.
In general, it is essential to flee harmful personalities. A tyrannical manager, for example, is particularly harmful to the employee victim of the impostor syndrome.
Dare to express your thoughts
The employee who suffers from the impostor syndrome has a lot to gain from speaking up at work. He makes the effort to intervene in meetings, or at least to talk to his colleagues or his manager when he has an idea likely to benefit the company. This is how he realizes his added value: his idea is taken into account, even adopted as part of a strategy, he understands that he deserves his place.
The collaborator confronted with the syndrome of the impostor compares himself to others to highlight his own shortcomings and devalue himself. The comparison is virtuous, but within certain limits: it allows you to gain motivation provided you are objective about your own professional achievements. Otherwise, it only maintains or even increases the feeling of inferiority.
How to help someone with impostor syndrome?
Helping a person with impostor syndrome first requires detecting it, understanding their behavior and adapting their management accordingly.
Secondly, it is important to know that when the impostor syndrome persists, it is probably because it is deeply rooted in the employee’s personality. The persistent feeling of illegitimacy, and the related fear of being exposed, sometimes stems from educational factors. Very high parental expectations, a lack of attention as a child or an abrupt social climb contribute to creating the impostor syndrome. People who find themselves victims of being underage, if any, are also prone to dealing with impostor syndrome. Helping the person in these situations is a difficult task and the results are observed gradually, over the long term.
The manager can act at his own level, by implementing good practices:
- Suggest to the collaborator that he suffers at work from his impostor syndrome, prove to him that he operates on the basis of a system of erroneous beliefs to convince him of his deserved place in the company.
- Restore its legitimacy by entrusting it with strategic missions, giving it a voice and encouraging its results on the basis of objective facts.
- Consider mentoring to foster personal and professional development. This practice, in any case, can be developed in companies to prevent, among other things, the impostor syndrome.
When the manager’s benevolence and efforts are not enough, the employee can initiate therapy. The psychologist is indeed the most competent to help overcome the syndrome of the impostor.
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