How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Do you harbour a fear that, no matter how good you are at your job, how successful you currently are or how well qualified you have become, you are in fact a fraud: an imposter who will be found out one day and publicly exposed?  Imposter Syndrome is very common amongst successful people at work.  Imposter Syndrome is the fear you are not really that good at what you do, and that, one day, someone is going to find you out, call you a fraud and leave you to pick up the pieces of your shattered credibility and self-esteem.

Imposter syndrome affects those of you who are successful and effective at what you do, but can’t accept those truths about yourself.  You may be in a professional role which involves finding solutions to other people’s issues. You may be a supervisor, manager or leader. You may be in a technical role or be a specialist in your field.  Whatever job you do, you harbour an inner fear that you are not really as good as your customers / colleagues / clients / patients think you are, and that one day you will be found out. There may even be an inevitability to it. The cocktail of self-doubt and anxiety generated by imposter syndrome debilitates you, sapping your confidence, absorbing your energy and even keeping you awake at night.

Where does imposter syndrome come from?  Those of you who identify with this description have generated a belief that you are not as good as you appear.  But, and this is the crucial thing, those beliefs endure despite ample evidence to the contrary.  You are likely to be well qualified, effective at what you do, even successful at it, well thought of by colleagues and clients, with a track record of delivery and accomplishment – and yet you continue to doubt yourself and feel anxious about the possibility of being found out as a fraud.  You may even be waiting for the moment when someone publicly says: ‘Gotcha!’

So, how do you develop imposter syndrome?  I take the view that your anxiety is being fuelled by false beliefs about yourself such as: ‘I am a failure’ or ‘I am not good enough’. Beliefs like these can develop quite early on in life.  Because they pre-date your adult work successes – the qualifications you’ve earned, the jobs you’ve been offered and performed effectively, the successful projects you delivered or contributed to – you either don’t know that the false belief is there or, if you do know it’s part of your current thinking about yourself, you don’t know what to do about it.

Beliefs are self-generated principles on which you run your life, and they are not always consistent with the facts about you.  But the good news is that because those beliefs are self-created they can be replaced with more truthful beliefs which better serve your highest best interests. I take clients through three steps to address false, undermining beliefs:

  1. Identify your self-inhibiting beliefs.
  2. Replace those undermining beliefs with more truthful alternatives that better reflect your accomplishments, qualifications and skills.
  3. Generate and nurture a life-affirming mindset.

That mindset needs to be based on the truth about you:  the fact that they do have XYZ qualifications, have a track record of success, have been employed by x organisations for a total of y years, are effective technically at your job, are an able leader or manager or supervisor.

I coach clients to identify their qualities such as their passion, their willingness to commit heavily to bringing about positive outcomes, their dedication or desire to improve. Then we work on developing their skillset in areas where they genuinely feel under-powered and vulnerable.  I believe that confidence is learned skill which can be acquired even relatively late in life.

One of the benefits of working on your false beliefs is that, once you stop identifying yourself as a failure, you can start to factor into your self-image all the evidence which points to your being effective.  This opens the door for you to stop generating anxiety about a possible future failure when there is no current reason to do so, enabling you to use your energy to create even more success at work.  You really don’t have to live with the fear that one day someone is going to point to you and publicly cry ‘imposter!



Who To Trust at Work and Over What

Most of you won’t be able to get your job done unilaterally. You’ll need to work well with a range of contacts and colleagues to achieve outcomes of benefit to your employer. One of the issues you need to manage as you set about doing this is whom to trust, and over what.

Trust is a central issue at work and a very individual one. Different people decide to trust on the basis of quite different factors. But usually the decision to trust – in other words the choice to extend trust to a colleague or workplace contact – is based on evidence of behaviour that you have observed or experienced often enough that you have faith in it. Deciding whom to trust and over what is one of the ultimate judgement calls at work, and being wise over whom to trust and over what is a learned skill.

So what is trust as it applies to the workplace? The following definitions of what trust is and what trust is not come from Mayer et al (1995). Trusting a colleague or workplace contact does not mean that you:

  1. Think they are infallible and therefore are unlikely to make a genuine error.
  2. Have complete confidence in what they say and do, or everything pertaining to how they go about their work.
  3. Agree with everything they say, every view they put out there, or every opinion or statement they offer.
  4. Can reliably predict how they will approach every circumstance at work in which they are involved.

Instead, to extend trust to a colleague means that, in the main, you have formed the view that your colleague or workplace contact is likely to:

  1. Approach their duties in ways that you can work with.
  2. Handle themselves with enough integrity for you to be comfortable working alongside them.
  3. Apply themselves consistently towards achieving the goals associated with their role.

So, how might this research apply to your work? Recall an instance of when you were experiencing difficulty working effectively with a particular colleague or contact. This person could be a peer of yours, a manager or a member of your team. Think back over your interactions with them and consider whether the difficulties between you occurred because you two had different values, different aims for the joint work you were engaged in, and / or different priorities. If any of these factors ring true then, in and of themselves, they do not point towards an untrustworthy side to your colleague, irking though working with them might prove to be. You two are simply sufficiently different that you find it requires more time and effort than usual to negotiate a viable way of working together so that you can get things done in ways which make sense to both of you.

But if that’s not it, and your difficulties with this colleague or contact occurred for another set of reasons, then perhaps it was because you were dealing with someone whose behaviour called their character into question sufficiently often that you came to view working with them as troubling or discomforting. In this case, evaluating their behaviour against criteria for trustworthiness might help you pinpoint exactly what character traits they exhibit which are problematic for you.

You might like to review your interactions with this colleague or contact using the following questions which I have developed from the findings of Drucker (1997) and Sinetar (1988):

  1. To what extent does your colleague or contact fail to act towards you with sufficient integrity? In other words, to what extent do they fail to act in concert with their stated beliefs and / or fail to do what they said they would do by when they said they would do it?
  2. To what extent do they fail to act reliably towards you? In other words, to what extent do they fail to keep their commitments to you or fail to act in a responsible manner towards you?
  3. To what extent do they fail to demonstrate active goodwill towards you? In other words, to what extent do they fail to act faithfully towards you or fail to honour their relationship with you?
  4. To what extent do they fail to be dependable in their dealings with you? In other words, to what extent do they fail to use behaviour which is, in the main, straightforward and steady?

How to Handle Workplace Conflict Straightforwardly and Simply

Some of you may look forward to resolving conflicts at work, confident that a well-handled discussion with your colleague will do the trick. But many more of you probably don’t look forward to tackling situations of conflict and disagreement with your colleagues, and may even avoid trying to resolve conflicts altogether so little confidence do you have that a positive outcome will ensue from the dialogue. In my work as a coach, I have found that many clients eschew conflict, so painful is it for them to handle.

Some of you will be able to point to occasions when the results of a well handled disagreement or conflict were productive for you or your team.  Iron does sharpen iron, and a resolved disagreement or conflict can bring about improved processes, innovations for customers, better dialogue between colleagues, enhanced products and services, and more productive and efficient ways of working.

But most of you will also be able to point to situations in which conflict and disagreement splintered your work groups, fractured relationships and resulted in a situation in which no effective resolution to the underlying issues could be found. Maybe certain issues in your team or workplace have never been resolved, and consequently there is unfinished business sitting between you and other people, circumstances which make some workplace meetings awkward, create discomfort, hinder productivity and reduce service levels.

So why might some conflicts be more difficult to resolve than others?

In my view it is usually because at least one of the parties sets their will against resolution of the issues.  Let’s take a look at some of the key factors that might be playing out in unresolved conflicts in your workplace.  You might like to select one unresolved conflict that affects you and consider it afresh in the light of the following factors.  Take a mental step back from the conflict and decide which of the following elements is in play in regard to the unresolved issues:

  • Is the conflict about disagreements over goals? In other words, do the different parties (you included) want to achieve different and apparently incompatible goals?
  • Is the conflict about what constitutes a fact as opposed to an opinion?  In other words, do the different parties want to give different weight to different factors in the situation?

Let’s consider these two elements considering two more.  In either of these cases, the issues are actually resolvable, even if they might not seem so.  It will take some hard work, but an unresolved conflict which is about either or both of these bullets can be resolved.  Colleagues who might not find it easy to deal with one another will have to sit down and talk it through. They’ll need to be prepared to put their views on the table in a non-judgmental fashion, listen to other perspectives, seek to understand those perspectives, ask questions to clarify what they don’t understand and find a way forward.  Some compromising will be needed, some effort and some thinking. But it is do-able.

What other factors might be affecting the example of an unresolved conflict which you are considering? Here are two more:

  • Is the conflict to do with the key players (you included) having different personal values? In other words, do you value different things such as generating momentum and getting things done quickly as opposed to ensuring quality and mitigating risk by taking the time to plan?
  • Is the conflict to do with the key players having different ideas about which processes, procedures, strategies and tactics are needed? In other words, might they want to achieve the same outcomes but want to approach those outcomes in different ways?

If the answer is yes to either of these two bullets, then again, in either case, the issues can be resolved.  It will mean that the people at the heart of the unresolved conflict will need to talk through their differences, and have the courage to re-examine their own personal values and preferences. They will need to concede some points in order to hold sway on other, but progress can be made even from apparently entrenched positions.

In some more complex cases, the issues may involve all four sets of bullet points.  These issues will require time and application to resolve, but they can be resolved. Where there is a will there is a way.


How to Raise Your Profile Outside Your Team

You are good at what you do. You are techincally able. You’ve developed high quality relationships with many of the people in your team, people you work alongside day-in day-out. Consequently those colleagues who know you well recognise the value of what you do and how you do it. These co-workers regard you as being someone who applies yourself, understands your subject, has the skills you need to do a top job, has something to say, and is both competent and confident. They know your strengths and your areas for development. They have first hand, regular evidence of the value of the work you do. Within your department or your team you have influence and may even be regarded as an opinion-former on some topics.

But outside of your team it’s another story. You are not that well known and find it more difficult to get heard.  In fact, you may be seen as someone who doesn’t make much of an impact, hasn’t got a profile of any renown, isn’t influential.  It is possible that the reputation you have does not do you justice. Perhaps you don’t meet many senior managers in the normal course of your work. Or, when you do, maybe you struggle to sell yourself to them and don’t manage to cultivate the degree of positive regard you would like to have. You might think that your ambition and hard work go unacknowledged by those people whose decisions shape the future of your employing organisation, and you may be frustrated that your desire to play a bigger role in the organisation goes unrewarded. You may think that you deserve an opportunity to have greater responsibility and you may believe that you could do a more senior role. However, with your current profile, none of these things is likely to happen. And you don’t know how to bring about a situation where your reputation outside of your team or department becomes a more accurate reflection of your knowledge, application and endeavour within it. You are afraid that you will continually be seen as low key or lacking punch and therefore, unfairly, will be denied opportunities for advancement.

So, what can you do to change your image and manage your profile with the senior people in your organisation who don’t work alongside you on a day-to-day basis?

Firstly, create a plan. Who specifically do you want to raise your profile with? Over what issues do you want to engage with them? What messages do you want them to receive from you about your work and the benefits of your approach to it?

Secondly, enlist the help of carefully selected sponsors. Who do you know who you could approach for an introduction to the senior managers you want to speak with? What testimonials about your good work might these sponsors be willing to pass on? What forums already exist in your organisation where you might have an opportunity to speak with the senior people whose opinion you want to influence? What do you need to do to get an introduction to one of these events?

Thirdly, commit to selling yourself. When you speak with one of the managers whose view of you you want to develop, approach the verbal exchange as a sales conversation. Don’t regard it as a workplace chat. Or as a process in which you are a passive participant. It’s a conversation in which you are going to sell yourself. This is your opportunity to tell a senior manager about the value of the work you do, the outcomes your work creates for customers and your employer, and the fact that you are an effective, available member of staff who would like an opportunity to take on a bigger challenge. Pick one recent piece of work that you handled well and tell your senior colleague in clear, factual terms what you contributed to the project, what successes you had, and how those positive outcomes benefitted your organisation. Don’t give them some of the story, like what work you were involved in, and then omit the punch line: that it was you whose contribution was key in certain areas of the work, or that it was you who managed the project from start to finish. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that they will already know about your good work from someone else and be ready to reward you as soon as they realise who you are. Use the opportunity you have created to bring them up to date: tell your senior colleague what you want them to know about you and back it up with facts that prove your case.

Five Reasons Bullies Bully – And What To Do About It

Bullying in the workplace is a sad fact of life.  I take the view that factors inside the life of a potential bully, plus issues they perceive to be evolving in the workplace, can influence their decision to commence a campaign of workplace bullying.

Whatever their methods each bully has the same aim when they commence a campaign of workplace bullying: to remove power from the colleague they are targeting and retain that control for themselves. Bullies do this by trying to limit the behavioural choices open to the target at the time of an attack. The bully wants the target to feel so anxious that they don’t fight back, leaving the bully fully in charge of the interaction between them. If a bully can successfully do that, they are well on the way to introducing a bullying dynamic into the relationship whereby they use coercive behaviour to keep themselves in control, while the target’s anxiety keeps them on the back foot.

Here are five key contexts for the decision to bully:

  1. The bully starts to fear that they are failing at their job. There is no actual evidence to back up this fear, but his terror of failure and the humiliation which will result, clouds his judgement. The bully targets a successful and popular colleague in a misguided attempt to take the spotlight off his own shortcomings and place it elsewhere.
  2. The bully employs a robust workstyle and has a strong preference for working with people who favour similar values. She feels contempt for any colleague who doesn’t present themselves as able, active and confident. The bully targets an under-stated but effective colleague in order to punish them for being ‘weak’, and to bolster her own flagging self-esteem through a false sense of ‘power’.
  3. The bully becomes jealous of the successes of a colleague. Rather than work hard to learn the skills which would make his own success inevitable, the bully’s jealousy results in him targeting this colleague in an attempt to undermine her performance and prevent her from enjoying the rewards of her success.
  4. The bully fears that her role may be under threat from a talented colleague, even though that colleague is neither competitive nor ambitious. Rather than confront her own irrational fears, and apply herself more diligently to her work, the bully decides to target this colleague to eliminate the opposition.
  5. The bully is envious of the work of a colleague, but rather than learn the skills which will enable him to produce similarly excellent work, the bully targets his colleague, causing her to doubt her own competence and, eventually, under-perform. The way is now open for the bully to ‘rescue’ the target’s work and take over her role.

However, the good news that every target needs to hear is that a clean and clear expression of choice by the target at the time of an attack will alter the bullying dynamic in their favour. Even if their options are limited, targets have some choices open to them in the moment of an attack. It’s what the target says and does in the moment of being bullied that interrupts or maintains the bullying dynamic, and that is where their true power lies. A clean, clear expression of choice results in the bully relinquishing some degree of control and going onto the back foot so that the balance of power between the target and the bully alters in the favour of the target, sometimes sufficiently, sometimes decisively.

Learning how to use the influence available to them under pressure is a key goal for people vulnerable to workplace bullying. Learn how by:

  • Accessing free downloads on how to detoxify, recover from and combat workplace bullying.
  • Reading my award-winning bestseller Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying: Become Bully-Proof and Regain Control of Your Life for input on how to alter the bullying dynamic in your favour at the time of an attack, and how to regain your self-belief and self-confidence after a successful campaign.
  • Reading the only book to show you how to handle the complex dynamics in team bullying: Bullying in Teams: How to Survive It and Thrive for input on how to retain your dignity when you are attacked in a team situation, stand up for team colleague who is bullied in front of others, prevent a bully from controlling your team, and developing a bully-proof mindset.