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Imposter Syndrome

Anyone who has suffered from imposter syndrome will tell you that it can be paralysing, debilitating and severely isolating, leading to high levels of stress and anxiety.  

Imposter syndrome is defined as ‘a psychological occurrence in which people doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments and have a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as frauds’. 

A 2022 YouGov study found that as many as three in five UK workers had experienced imposter thoughts. 

However, for an affliction that mostly affects people whilst at work, it is not a subject that is discussed widely within the workplace. 

At ZeroLight, we’ve addressed this by including imposter syndrome as a topic of discussion in our regular company presentations from the Talent Team. We also tackle individual cases of this during one to one coaching sessions which are available for all staff to access. 

It’s important to us that imposter syndrome isn’t seen as something to be ignored or dismissed, but recognised as a part of working life that so many of us experience. 

Last year, when running a company workshop on coaching techniques, we covered the subject of imposter syndrome and asked the attendees (made up of over 30 staff ranging from Juniors to C-Level Execs) to raise their hand if they had felt the negative effects of this during their career. Every person in the room raised their hand. 

Showing the prevalence of imposter syndrome in this way is an important step to helping individuals understand that these feelings are common and widespread. Knowing that other people in your team might be dealing with imposter feelings, or those attending similar meetings to you might be struggling to speak up, is so important to creating awareness and empathy across the company. 

We want to make sure that ZeroLight is a safe place for people to overcome the symptoms of imposter syndrome. In a practical sense this can mean: 

  • Understanding that we all interpret and process information differently, so we can share data and insights in ways that resonates with individuals
  • Encouraging questions in meetings, with a ‘there are no stupid questions’ mentality so people can freely ask when they don’t understand without fearing judgement. 
  • Avoiding jargon and overly corporate terminology as this can isolate those that haven’t heard these terms before. 
  • Summarising our understanding of conversations as they happen, so that those involved leave discussions with the same interpretation. 

These are good steps for any workplace to adopt to help individuals to reduce feelings of imposter syndrome. However there’s also small steps that can help if you’re suffering from this yourself: 

  • It may be that you feel like an imposter because you are beginning to learn something and you aren’t expected to know everything yet. Familiarise yourself with the Four Stages of Competence to better understand the learning curve that we all go through when starting something new. 
  • If you feel paralysed in meetings and unable to contribute, go into your next couple of meetings with the intention of just listening to what is being said. When you are so worried about what you are going to say, you will stop listening to what is being discussed around you and miss out on crucial information that will develop your understanding of a situation. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most people love sharing their knowledge with you! If you’re not comfortable asking a question in a meeting, approach someone afterwards who can help expand your understanding. 
  • Observe your thoughts during times when you feel like an imposter and recognise where you are leaping forward to make meaning. You may think ‘I didn’t understand the subject that was discussed just now’ and then leap to ‘that means I’m terrible at my job’. However you’ve made your lack of understanding mean something way more than it does - instead think ‘I don’t understand this subject, I’ll go away and research this’. This way you aren’t pressing negative meaning on the situation but taking practical and positive action to resolve your lack of understanding. 
  • Be honest with yourself - have you prepared enough for the meeting, do you have your data and know what outcome you want to achieve? Or are you sometimes winging it? If it is the latter, there’s some development work to do to ensure that you’re more prepared and confident going forward. Sometimes you do need to improve and grow, accepting this and taking action will halt the imposter thoughts in their tracks. 

Imposter syndrome is a difficult topic to approach with others. It feels very personal. However if you are willing to open up about these struggles, you will find there to be many others who have experienced, and who are experiencing, these same feelings.