Imposter feelings bubble up when we feel we are not good enough. You can read more about it here. Previously, I have talked a lot about my personal experiences. Now I wanted to share some of the experiences people have been talking to me about, in response to the shift from office based to home working.

A key observation is that lot of my clients coping mechanisms have disappeared as the way we work has changed…

The pain of perfectionism in isolation

Imposter syndrome can make us second guess our work and expertise. The fear of getting it wrong and being found out as not good enough can leave sufferers stuck in non action or pouring additional hours and attention into work to make sure that it is just right and error free.

The casual conversations and support network we had as we walked past desks or bumped into people in the kitchen have disappeared. There’s no subtle way to ask for help or to get someone to have a quick check over what we’ve done or be a sounding board for an idea that might just not be right.

An imposter syndrome challenge is to feel a lot of should’s and guilt about not knowing. I should be able to do this, I should be able to solve that, I should know this. I should be able to juggle work and homeschooling. Asking for help over email or making a call can feel like admitting failure or exposing weakness.

It’s noisy sat here on my own

A key part of imposter feelings for me and my clients is circular thinking. Noisy unhelpful thoughts that go round and round. All of this negative chatter has got in the way of me writing, blogging and sharing. None of my notes or ideas have been good enough.

My clients have talked about their experiences in video conferences, sitting in silence with their ideas and opinions waiting for the right moment, then hearing their ideas voiced by others; or to have everyone leave the meeting and realise that they’ve not said anything.

Clients describe getting lost in their own internal dialogue, mostly triggered by fear and worry about what people are implying about them. Taking off the cuff remarks or reading facial expressions on screen as confirmation of the deep seated fear that you’re not good enough for your job, that you really don’t know what you’re doing.

How to help

These are my top 3 tips on how to support yourself and team mates who might be struggling with imposter feelings

  1. Normalise the fear of not knowing

None of us know what we are doing. None of us have been through a pandemic. Give everyone permission to ask stupid questions and minimise any fear or pain around not doing as good a job as you would normally do. This is particularly important for: anyone juggling homeschooling and work; anyone living on their own; anyone with family, friends or neighbours who may be at a greater risk to Covid-19; and anyone who may struggling with anxiety or depression. Which is pretty much, everyone.

  1. Create virtual kitchen conversations

The need for a quick check-in, a sounding board for ideas and that casual connection has never been greater, but seems to be the key thing organisations are struggling to successfully recreate.

Some things my clients have done include: give everyone a buddy, someone outside of the line manager relationship that they can talk to; encourage whatsapp for a quick chat with anyone; create ‘open surgeries’ a safe time for everyone and anyone to call the boss and ask that dumb ass question; create new rituals where everyone can get together each day e.g. morning stand-ups, lunch and end of day close off and beers.

  1. Talk about Feelings

There has been a lot of good content written about the current crisis and its impact on mental health. Regardless of your personal opinion what is clear is that we are all having ‘feelings’ and are all responding and being impacted at different times and in different ways. The best practice I have seen is where leaders have called each and every member of their business/ department to talk. To ask how they are feeling, to get a sense of each person’s personal set up. Who lives alone, whose a primary carer, who has young kids, who has underlying health issues. If you think your team is to big to do this, one of my clients called all 200 members of her team.

A lot of the personal and the private, that we don’t normally share at work has become really fundamental to our ability to thrive. Our ability to share our truths needs us to feel high levels of trust and safety in those that lead us.

Sometimes it is easier to share our feelings within a metaphor, and a simple technique for this is the ‘weather report’. At the start of each meeting you ask each attendee to consider the question ‘If your feelings right now were weather, what would your weather report be’. You model the process by going first. 

Responses can be anything from one word e.g. ‘stormy’, ‘sunny’, ‘foggy’ to a phrase ‘spring like optimism’, or description ‘clear blue skies, a bit blustery with rain expected later’ etc. The exercise provides an opportunity for people to: look inside themselves and reflect on their feelings; hear how others are feeling; and to build an understanding that we all have feelings and that those feelings can change from day to day. If a colleague shares they are coming into the meeting under heavy weather, it’s helpful to have this insight. We can be kinder, more supportive and any imposter sufferers can see that bad weather is normal and not a reflection on them.