Overcoming Impostor Syndrome At Work

By Liz Reyer
Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

Q: While I objectively know I am doing a good job at work, I still have nagging doubts about my competence. I get good feedback and have actually been promoted a few times, but keep wondering what happens when I stop being able to deliver. How can I handle this?

A: Don’t sound so surprised at your promotions! Your objective self knows you’re a high achiever; now focus on deepening that belief.

When have you really known you’re good? Think of any times, no matter how trivial they may seem, when you know you’ve triumphed. Soak that feeling in, remembering it with your mind, your heart and your body.

What’s going on when the doubts kick in? There may be certain settings in which you feel less assured, notice what’s going on, who you’re with and what the dynamic is. You may have certain hot buttons that trigger insecurity, for example, if you have to deal with someone with a domineering or intimidating style, or even a subtle underminer. You may even have it occur when you’re with someone you admire, or who is very accomplished in some way. Perhaps in these circumstances you start putting yourself down in some quiet, internal ways. If so, catch the dynamic as it happens and shut down any negative internal messages that you might be hearing.

Easy to say, but how do you shut these thoughts down? A noisy mind can be like dealing with a toddler, so try distraction. If you’re dealing with someone you admire and you’re feeling small, focus on the substance of what you appreciate about them. Set aside comparison. On the other hand, if you’re dealing with a dominator, notice that this is not an effective way to influence people and, again, focus on the business matter at hand. In other words, shift your attention away from yourself until you can be positive.

Prevention is even more important. You’re not an impostor, so you really don’t have anything to worry about. Take time to focus on your strengths, even making a list that you can use. Get in the habit of reinforcing positive messages about yourself so that your brain gets in good habits. Spend as much time as possible with positive people who reinforce a positive view.

And then root out any diminishing habits you may have. While it’s good to give credit to a team for accomplishments, don’t do it at the expense of your own appropriate credit for a job well done. When you receive a compliment, don’t deflect it, that may feel quite uncomfortable at first, by the way.

It may also be useful to try to understand the origins of these feelings; it can be a good way to have it click that they are not relevant or useful, and that they may eventually serve to hold you back.

Finally, if you notice that you’re not stepping forward for opportunities due to self-imposed limits, take a deep breath and move forward through the fear. You’ve demonstrated your ability and strength, so let your past accomplishments set the tone for the future!
Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.

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