KATE ATKIN

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kate@kateatkin.com
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I was recently a guest on the ‘Gin and Topic’ podcast hosted by Sarah Cruise  of Eloquential and her stepdaughter Áine.  It involves remote tasting of a gin chosen by the guest, followed by discussion of an interesting topic, in this case the Imposter Phenomenon (billed, as ever, as a Syndrome).  Surprisingly the podcast sounds reassuringly coherent, obviously not too much gin was tasted! https://podcasts.ginandtopic.com/1735676/8413785-skegness-impostor-syndrome

 

Kate was recently a guest on Creative Reboot podcast, listen to the podcast at https://creativereboot.co/episodes/season-2-episode-2-imposter-syndrome-with-guest-expert-kate-atkin/

Kate-Atkin-by-Helena-G-Anderson-980x709

Topics covered included …

The difference between imposter syndrome and imposter phenomenon, and why imposter phenomenon shouldn’t really be referred to as a syndrome.

Reasons for experiencing it, and the very real difference between self-doubt and imposter doubt – self-doubt is normal if you don’t have evidence and experience of what you’re doing. Imposter doubt sneaks in and makes itself felt after you have plenty of evidence that you do, in fact, know how to do this thing.

Putting our successes down to something external (thinking people are just being kind, or nice), and not internalising our abilities and how good we are.

Reasoning our way out of something if it doesn’t fit with the world view we already have. If you’ve outgrown your expectations and done more than you ever believed you could, imposter chatter (we love this description of it!) can increase.

The things we expect to have an impact on us, conditioning and narratives we carry about ourselves, which we don’t even really know, and how idle comments from others can cut really deeply when they hit on these narratives.

I was recently a guest on Derek Arden’s Monday Night Live chat show. In this extract, Kate gives a brief overview of the nature and causes of Imposter Phenomenon chatter, together with some tips for overcoming the difficulties that can result.  The video can be found on my video page.

In this newsletter you will find a call for participants for my PhD research, an review of tips for the imposter phenomenon and a short overview of courage.

Time has flown since my last newsletter, which was back in September when I was celebrating my 20th year in business.  In these difficult times, I feel very fortunate that work has continued apace since then – indeed many of my clients are moving to online delivery as their ‘new normal’.

 

 

Call for Participants in my PhD Research

Over the Christmas period, with celebrations curtailed, I managed to focus on my PhD research into how people who experience the Imposter Phenomenon in the workplace deal with their ‘Imposter Chatter’.  As you probably know by now, the Imposter Phenomenon is where someone who is successful nonetheless experiences inner feelings of being unworthy of their success or position and thinks (erroneously) that they will be ‘found out’ or exposed as a fraud.

I am now (at last!) at that exciting point in a PhD where I can switch my focus from reading and thinking about other people’s research to actually doing some of my own. The first part of my research consists of a short online questionnaire that takes about 15 minutes to complete.  I am seeking people who are in middle management or above, in the financial and insurance sectors, to complete this questionnaire. If you are interested, you can find more at angliaruskin.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/imposter-phenomenon-study-1.

If you know someone else who you think might also be interested, please do forward the details to them.

Based on the results from this questionnaire a number of people will be invited to partake in the second part of the study which involves a short interview.  However, as the link above explains, completing the online survey does not result in any obligation to participate in the second part of the study!

Thank you for your help.

 

Imposter Tips Revisited

I have been interviewed for a number of podcasts recently and during these discussions some of the interviewers have picked out their favourite imposter tips, so I thought I would be helpful to list a few below.
 

1. Stop comparing yourself to others

As Charlie Mackesy writes in The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse (my favourite book of 2020), the Boy asks, “What do you think is the biggest waste of time?”.  “Comparing yourself to others” replies the Mole.

This is something I try very hard not to do, but it is easy to slip back into old habits. However, in this tip I discuss the need for us to start to compare ourselves to ourselves.  At the start of the new year many of you will have created resolutions or set goals for 2021. But how many of you reflected back over the past 12 months (and what a year 2020 was!!)?  Have you looked back to see what you learnt in the last 12 months? What skills did you use? What helped you to grow as a person? We are often too busy looking forward or looking back with negativity that we forget to find something positive about ourselves.


2. Label it “imposter chatter”

Creating a label, whether for the internal voice or simply calling it “imposter chatter” can be really helpful. It isn’t a syndrome; you don’t suffer from it… we experience imposter chatter every-so-often. Recognising it for what it is puts you in the driving seat to change the internal chatter.


3. Collect AND review your positive feedback

While some people collect their positive feedback, others find it so excruciating to read nice things about themselves that they delete the email instantly.  Please don’t!!  Do collect your positive feedback into a dedicated email folder and take time every-so-often to review it. While at first it may be a bit “toe-curling”, in time it does get easier to read the good things people say about you. It’s even more useful if those good things say what you have done well, or why they think you are good at what you do.

In addition you can “yes and…” the feedback rather than “yes, but…” it.  All too often we dismiss the positive feedback by saying (usually internally) “yes, but they would say that wouldn’t they” or “yes, but they’re just being nice” or yes, but it’s because I worked really hard” or “yes, but it was a team effort” and so on and so on…  Instead, try saying to yourself “yes, and I learnt XYZ skill by doing that” or “yes, and I used XYZ strength” or “yes, and I enjoyed XYZ aspect of that task”.

 

Some key points about courage

I’ve been reading a lot about courage recently as one aspect of my PhD research is looking at the role of courage in dealing with imposter feelings.

The first thing I’ve noticed is that there is no agreed definition of what courage is.  If the academic world can’t agree on what courage is, what hope have the rest of us? One of the definitions Rate (2010) is:
(a) a willing, intentional act,
(b) involving substantial danger, difficulty, or risk to the actor,
(c) primarily motivated to bring about a noble good or morally worthy purpose.

An interesting discussion in the research is whether there needs to be fear involved for an individual’s actions to be considered courageous?

There are different types of courage, but the main three main ones are physical, moral and psychological.

Physical courage may seem obvious, as in the “man saves woman from drowning” type of headline.   (As actually happened last year in China when a UK diplomat did just that – see here for the BBC news report)

Moral courage is often cited as that exhibited by Rosa Parks in defiance of the Jim Crow race laws in the USA.  I think there must also have been an element of physical courage in her choice to sit in a ‘white only’ seat on that bus. Similar displays of moral courage have been exhibited during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

Psychological courage is often exemplified as the courage needed to give up an addiction or get out of an unhealthy relationship.  In these cases, the individual is escaping from a very negative situation. However. I’m interested in how psychological courage is relevant in positive situations. For instance, does it take courage to accept positive feedback, or courage to change the view you have of yourself as a result. Could we call that ‘positive psychological courage’?  Please do let me know your thoughts.

There’s more to come on this topic as I delve deeper into the research.

I hope you’ve found the above useful/interesting and please do pass along the link to others you know to take part in my research.

https://angliaruskin.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/imposter-phenomenon-study-1

Be you. Be safe. Keep well.

With thanks

Kate

Credit: Helena g Anderson

I recently came across research by KPMG entitled “Advancing the Future of Women in Business: The 2020 KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Report“. Now, don’t get me wrong the report makes interesting reading and is spot on with its research.

It’s just that, well, it seems to me that it perpetuates a few myths…

First of all, the report refers is all about women experiencing imposter syndrome.

Myth one: it isn’t a syndrome, not really. While most media outlets refer to it as such and it is in common usage (which is why I have imposter syndrome in my LinkedIn profile and my website, because that’s what people are searching for), it really is a PHENOMENON. I don’t mind anyone using the term syndrome, providing they also indicate that the imposter chatter is not a medicalised condition, and it would be great if everyone states that it really should be called a phenomenon (something that occurs at certain points in time or in certain situations). People don’t suffer from imposterism, they experience it.

Secondly 74% of the women interviewed report that they believe male counterparts don’t experience feelings of self-doubt as much as female leaders do. While that may well be true, it refers to another myth and a bugbear of mine…

Myth two: imposter feelings are one and the same as self-doubt. It’s just a confidence issue. No, no, and no again! the imposter feelings are not the same as self doubt, they are much more pervasive and should not be confused with what is normal, healthy self-doubt. When you are doing something for the first time, second or even third time wondering whether you are good enough, if it will turn out ok, or what will happen if you make a mistake is normal. Indeed, it is healthy. Normal self-doubt stops us from being arrogant, from taking unnecessary risks and keeps us self-aware. However, imposter-style self-doubt is so much more debilitating on the inside. This is when you have lots of evidence that says you are good at what you do, a string of successes behind you to prove that you are up to the job, and you still don’t believe them. That’s imposter self-doubt.

Thirdly, the report also states that: Imposter Syndrome is a persistent inability to believe one’s success is deserved or achieved by working hard and possessing distinct skills and capabilities but by other means such as luck or being at the right place at the right time. It is often accompanied with feelings of self-doubt, fear of success or failure, or self-sabotage. Which sadly perpetuates another myth, that of hard work being ok…

Myth three: If I work really hard, it will be ok. Many individuals achieve success through hard work and an element of luck, but those experiencing imposter chatter put their success down to luck and/or hard work – and not their own knowledge skills and abilities. Indeed, they put in extra effort to make sure the outcome is successful often to the detriment of the outcome (see Yerkes-Dodson law). The desire for perfection can mean they miss deadlines, procrastinate on important topics and get caught up in the detail. So letting go of the myth that you need to work really hard to be successful would be beneficial.

There are some great things in this report, and it is well worth a read. I am truly delighted to see top organisations taking the internal experience of imposter chatter seriously and commissioning reports on it. It’s just that I’d like them to be a bit more accurate.

A phrase by Dr Shima Barakat springs to mind: “fix the system, not the women”.

 

A couple of the useful bits:

47 percent reported experiencing Imposter Syndrome due to the fact that they never expected to reach the level of success they have achieved.

Research backs this up as IP is often experienced by those who have outgrown their childhood expectations, or society’s expectations, or indeed what is seen as ‘normal’ in the organisation. So from a diversity and inclusion perspective, banishing the myths that women don’t belong at the top would help; start creating allies and sponsors to encourage more women to reach for the top and when they get there to feel comfortable in that position.

72% of female executives relied on the advice of a mentor or trusted advisor when doubting their abilities to take on new roles.

Yes, and… mentors are great, having someone who can help you see yourself objectively can be really beneficial in taming the imposter chatter. AND having someone help you to review your successes, to accept them as deserved, to help you highlight your skills and your strengths. There’s so much more that a mentor and/or a good line manager can do.

If you’d like to know more about the imposter phenomenon please take a look around my website. I am currently researching the imposter chatter with men and women in the workplace for a doctorate and I also give talks and run workshops to help others acknowledge their internal chatter, identify where it might come from and how to covercome it. Imposter feelings can be lessened and overcome with time, and support whether from a manager, mentor or supportive other half.

 

The potential impact of the Imposter Phenomenon during the current crisis

In the current situation of a global pandemic we are all finding ourselves dealing with internal and external challenges.  Whether it is how to home-school, or keeping the kids occupied, worrying about older relatives, sorting out online or in-person shopping and that’s not to mention the worries, stress and anxiety that Covid19 may trigger from a health perspective… and then there’s the logistics and psychological impact of working from home.  Or if you are with one of the essential services and a key worker then you must be experiencing vastly different challenges from the rest of us, but challenges none the less.  If you are a key worker reading this, then I give you my wholehearted thanks for all that you are doing.

This blog will address the issue of the imposter phenomenon (IP), or imposter syndrome as it is often, though erroneously, referred to.  First of all a little about what IP is and where it might come from.  Then I’ll look at where it might show up, especially in the current circumstances and I’ll close with some suggestions that you can follow if you experience imposter feelings or if you manage others with those feelings.

The Imposter Phenomenon is an internal feeling of not being good enough, that you will be exposed as a fraud, even though the external evidence suggests you are really successful at what you do (Clance and Imes, 1978). Research indicates that these feelings increase can increase stress and trigger procrastination and maladaptive perfectionism – among other impacts.

The imposter chatter varies from person to person and from day to day or even minute to minute. It is not a constant feeling, nor is it at the same level all of the time. It can be experienced on a continuum from light to intense, and it is the moderate to intense feelings which create more issues and anxiety.

Causes of the phenomenon vary too. For some the cause can be hyper-critical parenting where you are never quite good enough and there is always room to improve, while for others it is hyper-supporting parenting where “you can do anything, darling” has been misinterpreted as “you must do everything, darling”.  It can be perceiving yourself as different from others around you, whether that is in upbringing, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation – to give just a few examples.  Societal expectations and messages weight heavily on others and for some it can be a misinterpretation of a childhood message such as “don’t get too big for your boots”, or “pride comes before a fall”. (I have unruly curly hair and my mum would often recite the rhyme “there was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead.  When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid”. As a child, I subconsciously interpreted that as “I must be good, because I don’t want to be horrid”, so feared making mistakes).

If you experience the imposter chatter, take a moment to reflect on what your own causes and triggers might be.  Are they true?  Are they still valid?  What has changed?  How have you changed?

You might like to take some time to reflect and re-write your own story.

Success comes with its own triggers.  For someone experiencing the imposter chatter, being promoted or performing well in a task or in a role can create an initial euphoria, closely followed by a sinking feeling or “oh dear, now I’ve got to live up to that”.  Indeed, Clance & Imes noticed that the more successful people were, the more prone to experiencing the phenomenon they were.

Given the current circumstances of the global pandemic, there are other triggers that may be causing imposter chatter in people.  For those working from home, it can be the fact that you no longer have the chance to run your ideas past your boss or co-worker in a casual “what do you think of this…” manner.  The isolation of home-working doesn’t provide a chance for someone to walk by your desk and break you out of a reverie, or to check whether you are ok when they see a frown upon your face.  Or you might be juggling with home-schooling, and feeling that nothing you do is good enough, feeling guilty about not spending more time with your children, yet equally guilty about not being able to focus on your work.

If you are a key worker, especially within the NHS, you might be enlisted to perform a role that you used to do and are qualified to do, but haven’t done for some time.  You might find yourself promoted from student into a front line role.  You might worry about knowing what to do at the right time when treating a patient with Covid19. You might experience IP feelings in some, all, or none of these situations – and I’m sure there are many more instances where the imposter chatter can rear its head that I haven’t mentioned.

So if you are experiencing the imposter chatter – and please note I say experiencing, not suffering from (“suffer from” is somewhat disempowering, “experiencing” gives you the option of choosing a different experience) – there is something you can do, both to support yourself and others.

Before I get to what to do, one thing not to do, counterintuitively, is to tell people experiencing imposter feelings that they are amazing. They may be doing amazing work, and you may see them as amazing people, but pause a moment… if you tell them they are amazing, while that might be true it  could exacerbate their imposter feelings as now they feel like they have to be amazing all of the time to live up to expectations. So be more explicit, give praise by saying WHY you think they are amazing and cite specific examples.  And look out for the dismissal of “oh, I’m just doing my job” or “It’s nothing really” or “anyone would have done it…”.  Encourage the person you are praising to accept the praise by gently reinforcing that they did that piece of work, dealt with that patient, calmed that customer down…  Be explicit about their actions, the impact they had on the situation, and the impact their actions had on you and the team.

Research indicates that an effective way of combatting your own imposter chatter is to gather positive feedback and to talk about your internal feelings with others (Lane, 2015).  Both of these you can continue to do, even if you are remote working, or in isolation.  Gathering positive feedback is about noticing; noticing when someone says something positive or you receive a positive email, tweet or text, and then noticing your reaction to it.  While you can collect any number of positive emails or texts, how many you have, or what they say, won’t matter a jot if you a) don’t review them and b) believe the praise when you do review them. So start to collect the positive feedback and notice your reaction.  Are you saying “thank you” out loud because you know that’s polite, but in your head you are making loads of excuses not to accept the praise?  Instead of internally saying “yes, but”, try saying to yourself “yes, and…” or  “yes, and I learnt this while doing that work”  or “yes, and I used this skill”, etc.

Knowing and using your strengths can also be of great benefit when combatting the imposter chatter.  Taking an online strengths profile, such as this one, can assist you. So can simply asking friends, family and colleagues to tell you your strengths.  Or may be able to spot them yourself by looking for the commonalities in the positive feedback you receive.

Key tips for Leaders and Managers

At this time, more than any other, remember the importance of regular communication. Everyone is busy, everyone is adjusting, and each person will be coping in their own way.  Keep in contact with your staff, by phone, online catchups, one-to-one meetings, a short text message as well as through the more formal (virtual) gatherings. Be a listening ear, even if you have heard it before.

Don’t try to solve the issues, unless specifically asked to do so.  It might be easier or quicker, but it can easily undermine someone’s self-confidence.

Reassure your staff that their work is of the standard you expect.  If someone is worried how they will be able to replicate something they’ve done or live up to expectations, gently remind them of their skills and training, ask them how they’ve coped if they’ve been in a similar situation, help them identify what they have done in the past that will be useful in the current situation.

And please do not give in to the temptation to make minor, unimportant, amendments to work that staff have submitted, as that can undermine their confidence very quickly.

It can be very helpful to provide an opportunity for staff to network (online at this time, obviously!) so they can share their feelings in small groups – try to simulate the “water cooler” and “coffee machine” conversations that are not happening at the moment.

Finally, remember we are all experiencing a situation we haven’t been in before.  Give yourself a break if that imposter chatter has reared its head, and then tell it to pop back down again as it’s not useful at this time.  Stepping up, using your skills and focussing on what you can control will help you be the best version of you that you can be right now.  And that is all that is needed.

Be you. Be safe. Keep well.

Kate

CLANCE, P. R. & IMES, S. A. 1978. The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15, 241 – 247.
LANE, J. A. 2015. The imposter phenomenon among emerging adults transitioning into professional life: Developing a grounded theory. Adultspan Journal, 14, 114-128.

Images: Helena g Anderson