Struggling with impostor syndrome? You’re not alone…
Impostor syndrome was a constant theme at the CIPR Inside Changing the Conversation conference last month. It was highlighted as something that holds internal communicators back. For example, one of the reasons we don’t measure is because we either don’t feel qualified to or we’re worried that it will show us up as the fraud we believe ourselves to be.
The same goes for challenging senior stakeholders. It’s an integral part of our job yet so often that little voice whispers in your ear “Who are you to speak up when there are far more important and capable people in the room?”.
Impostor syndrome is very real and can feel very crippling. Psychologists cite many reasons why people feel this way from the things we’re told about ourselves as children, to feeling different to everyone else because, for example, you’re the only woman in a room of men.
Internal communicators also have it tough as we’re working in a profession that is commonly seen as a nice-to-have and when you’re struggling to be heard or to have an impact every single day, it starts to take its toll on your confidence.
So how can we overcome this?
It’s good to talk
It can be tempting to think that everyone else knows what they’re doing. They don’t.
Many famous people have admitted to experiencing impostor syndrome from Maya Angelou, Tom Hanks, Sheryl Sandberg, Michelle Obama, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultzand even Albert Einstein.
“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.” Albert Einstein.
Next time you’re in an important meeting and are looking at every person around the table in awe and wondering why you’re there, chances are many of them will be having internal monologues about how today might be the day they are finally found out.
It’s perfectly normal to experience self-doubt and the more we talk about it and share experiences we can start to understand the root causes and focus on creating and maintaining workplaces that are nurturing and supportive.
“I have written 11 books but each time I think “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.” Maya Angelou.
Run your own race
It’s tempting to look at a colleague who has a master’s degree in internal communication or who has been working in the industry for far longer than you and feel daunted. It can lead you to believe that their contribution in a meeting or to a project will be more insightful than yours.
Instead, focus on what you bring to the table. So, you don’t have a qualification or 20 years of experience but maybe you’ve spent the last three months running focus groups and listening to employees across the organisation. Or in your last role you successfully communicated during a huge transformation project. Or you recently attended a conference and picked up lots of tips from the speakers and case studies. Your contribution will be just as valuable as anyone else’s.
And remember, you wouldn’t be in that role, involved in that project or invited to that meeting if your colleagues didn’t think you were capable and had something to offer.
Invest in your CPD
It can be useful to reference things like courses, qualifications, books etc when recommending an approach to a campaign or when challenging a stakeholder as it adds a layer of credibility to what you’re saying.
However, it can also help to keep your impostor syndrome in check, whether you mention it to others or not, as it will give you the confidence that what you’re doing and saying is grounded in a strong foundation of industry knowledge and experience.
And it doesn’t have to cost money – there are plenty of free events, webinars, mentoring programmes and online guides that you can access.
Ask for feedback
Scary as it can feel, asking for feedback can be a useful way of overcoming impostor syndrome. Hearing what you do well from colleagues and peers can provide a huge confidence boost especially if you discover strengths you didn’t know you had.
And learning where there are opportunities to improve can be empowering. It allows you to focus on those areas and remove some of those niggling doubts about your capabilities.
Feedback doesn’t have to be formal either. If you see a colleague doing a great job – tell them! They might have no idea that others think that and instead are convincing themselves that they’re out of their depths.
It’s also important to remember that we can’t be great at everything. That doesn’t make you a fraud in your role. That’s why it’s so great to be part of a team where you can play to each other’s strengths. And if you’re a solo communicator, build relationships with other teams where you can collaborate and learn, or consider bringing in external help.
Give yourself a break
So what if sometimes you don’t know the answer, or you say something in a meeting that doesn’t land well? It happens to everyone and it’s how we learn and improve. It doesn’t mean you’re an impostor and that everyone has finally found you out.
Take some pressure off yourself and remind yourself of all the good things you’ve done that day, week, month or even year. If it helps, keep a list that proves you are good at your job and refer to that whenever you’re having a wobble.
“I still have a little [bit of] impostor syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me. It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know?” Michelle Obama.
Ask for help
Sometimes impostor syndrome can be one element of a bigger issue and if you’re finding you are struggling with your mental health, don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether inside or outside your organisation. It’s important to thrive at work, not just survive.
When it comes to impostor syndrome it’s important to remember that you’re not alone and sometimes it can even be helpful to keep us grounded and driven to be the best we can be. But next time that little voice in your head starts whispering negative thoughts challenge it with all the great things you’ve achieved and then tell it to sit down and be quiet as you’ve got important work to do.
By Helen Deverell, for Alive with Ideas