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How to defeat imposter syndrome in the workplace

5 Feb 2019 By Victoria Sprott

Failure to accept your own achievements is far more common than you might imagine, writes Victoria Sprott

Imposter syndrome – a form of anxiety in which the sufferer finds it hard to accept achievements and success – has been estimated to affect seven in 10 people at some point in their lives. In the UK, it’s thought two-thirds of women have suffered from it at work in the last 12 months. 

It can manifest in a variety of ways, from downplaying achievements, to self-doubt. It might cause employees to be introverted in team meetings or too afraid to go for a promotion. 

Imposter syndrome can also be experienced in different ways, such as striving for perfection at all costs, finding it hard to ask for help or avoiding challenges for fear of failure.

Different types of people – from those brimming with confidence to shy personalities – are all likely to have experienced a touch of imposter syndrome. This can hold them back from progressing in the workplace and act as a self-imposed barrier to achieving milestones, such as a promotion or pay rise.

However, there are a number of methods that individuals suffering from imposter syndrome can adopt to root it out in the workplace. 

One of the most effective ways to combat imposter syndrome is through the language used when articulating ideas. Hesitant language like ‘might’, ‘perhaps’ and ‘I just’ automatically suggest an individual isn’t confident in their assertion.

People who might be suffering with imposter syndrome need to remind themselves that their opinions are valid and that they wouldn’t have been asked to participate if that wasn’t the case. Swapping tentative language for more assertive words, such as ‘should’ and ‘must’, is one of the simplest ways to defeat imposter syndrome in everyday speech.

Becoming a mentor to a more junior staff members can also do wonders to dispel any hint of imposter syndrome. Once employees start sharing their knowledge and expertise, they’ll realise how much they really know and how they can make a difference to someone else’s career too.

One of the most common worries for impostor syndrome sufferers is that they are underqualified for their position or that other team members are smarter or more knowledgeable. This can be easily countered by researching appropriate training programmes. 

Upskilling will keep them on track to achieve career goals, make them more competitive within their industry and is a great way to help the entire business evolve towards digitisation – something which is high on the agenda for the coming year. 

Across the board, employees suffering from imposter syndrome would benefit from taking a step back to list their achievements and see how far they’ve really come.

Individuals who continue to devalue themselves or pass off their achievements as luck should also be open to asking for feedback from their colleagues, line manager or stakeholders. 

This way, they can receive the confirmation of their true value to the business and realise their self-worth in the office.

Victoria Sprott is staff development and talent director at Robert Half UK

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