What can be done to manage imposter syndrome? | NTT DATA

Wed, 17 March 2021

What can be done to manage imposter syndrome?

As part of International Women’s Day, NTT DATA’s Women’s Business Network hosted a webinar exploring the topic of imposter syndrome and self-doubt. Throughout the session, one thing became clear: imposter syndrome can strike for anyone at any time. A study from The Journal of Behavioural Science found that 70% of people experience imposter symptoms at some stage of their lives.

The pandemic has exacerbated this situation. Feelings of self-doubt are combined with the anxieties and insecurities that the past year has brought on, leading to increased stress and burnout. In order to confront this problem, we need to be open about it, and accept that burnout is not a badge. We need to explore how imposter syndrome manifests itself, and what we as individuals and as a wider organisation can do to manage it.

Recognising the problem

First identified by psychologists in 1978, imposter syndrome is a feeling of inadequacy that permeates into all aspects of our lives and hampers our ability to recognise our achievements and qualities. Initially believed mainly to affect women, it is now recognised as a syndrome that can affect anyone, regardless of position or experience. Our webinar referenced Clare Josa, an experienced coach and speaker widely considered to be the UK’s leading authority on imposter syndrome. Clare’s 2019 research study spawned the ‘4 Ps’ model, identifying key behaviours that can be used to help us recognise if a colleague may be struggling.

The model recognises the following behaviours as potential warning signs:

  • People Pleasing: Many of us can be guilty of letting a desire for acceptance inform our behaviour. When taken to extremes, this can disrupt our priorities and create stress.
  • Perfectionism: We set ourselves unrealistically high standards. This has been exacerbated over the past year, as we seek to manage work commitments alongside the pressures brought on by the pandemic.
  • Paralysis: When faced with major projects, we can often skirt around it until the last moment, especially when working remotely without the guidance and support we are previously used to.
  • Procrastination: Clare’s study found that avoidance of work outside our comfort zone was a problem for 62% of respondents. This can lead to late nights, last minute panic and the stress that often accompanies such behaviour.

As always, identifying a problem is only the first step. In order to address the issues around self-doubt and imposter syndrome, we need to explore what we can do both as individuals and as a business.

What can we do as individuals?

Openness is vital. We need to encourage one-another to be fearless, and not be afraid to bring our authentic selves to work. A great first step is to notice our own negative self-talk and remember the achievements we have made to get to where we are today.

Cath Harries, founder of The Coaching House, spoke poignantly at our webinar about her personal experiences with self-doubt, and our tendency to act like Teflon towards positive feedback and Velcro towards the negative. It can be easy to get lost in a cycle of negativity and lose an objective perspective on our work and ourselves. Something as simple as keeping a list of what we have done well can provide much needed objectivity.

Being able to recognise such behaviours in our peers is another small action that can have a large impact. Everybody goes through these insecurities at some point, regardless of experience or seniority. Through making ourselves aware of how these behaviours manifest themselves and tuning in to our colleagues, we can help foster a culture of openness that encourages all of us to address self-doubt in a considered manner. We should never underestimate the impact of empathy.

What can we do as a business?

When dealing with imposter syndrome, the crux of the matter is about being kind to ourselves. This is sometimes easier said than done, so it’s important for organisations to provide the best possible climate for this to happen. Businesses need to create a culture where its acceptable to be open about imposter syndrome. Realising we are not alone in facing such thoughts can be immensely liberating.

A great way of providing this support is through mentoring. Having a role model and a confidant who you can share these feelings with can be a huge help in managing self-doubt. For mentors, it can be equally rewarding using past experiences to help a colleague. At NTT DATA, we have implemented a mentoring scheme from RISE, an advocate group that aims to provide support and guidance for younger women. The communication and impartial feedback it provides can be a great tonic against imposter syndrome. We are also proud to partner with The Girls Network, whose mission is to empower girls by connecting them with professional female role models.

Self-doubt and imposter syndrome are the still the bane of working life for many people. By taking individual steps to look after ourselves and our colleagues, as well as creating a culture of openness and support within our businesses, we can start to tackle the problem head on and foster a more inclusive and nurturing workplace.


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