Imposter syndrome: studying makes you better at work

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Imposter syndrome is a slightly misleading name that describes a burden of anxiety and a chronic lack of self-confidence that leads to an unhealthy feeling of “sham.” Therefore, it is characterized in the affected individual by a constant questioning of his own success. It is a feeling that we can all experience at some point in our lives, but people with this syndrome face it almost constantly, believing that they do not deserve what they achieve or have. However, according to a new study, these people tend to be better employees because they compensate by accentuating other characteristics of business success.

The “compensating” traits in question that were noted in the study were sympathy, empathy, and a spirit of collaboration. All of them contributed to making an employee “better” in the eyes of their superiors, compared to their peers. The results were published in the Academy of Management Journal.

Since the term was invented in 1978, researchers have found that imposter syndrome affects people from all walks of life, but it tends to be more common in women and ethnic minority groups. It can profoundly harm a person’s well-being, as it is associated with anxiety and low self-esteem that are harmful to health. For a long time it was thought that it could also affect professional performance, but no one has yet tested this hypothesis experimentally. Today, such a study shows rather the opposite.

Better interpersonal skills

In his new study, Basima Tewfik of MIT’s Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Mass., Measured “levels of imposter syndrome” among 155 employees of an investment consulting firm in the United States. Participants received written statements such as “At work, others think I have more knowledge or skills than I think,” and were asked to rate how often they thought they would apply it.

Then, Tewfik asked his superiors to rate the performance and interpersonal skills of the participants by asking how much they agreed with statements such as “This employee creates effective working relationships with his colleagues.” In general, employees with imposter syndrome were considered to have better interpersonal skills than their more confident peers and were considered equally competent.

In another experiment, Tewfik asked 70 doctors-in-training to take the story of a patient with a migraine or a sexually transmitted infection, played by an actor. Those with high levels of imposter syndrome, as measured by questionnaires, were just as likely to make a correct diagnosis as those who did not.

Independently evaluated video recordings of interactions found that physicians with imposter syndrome were more likely to make statements acknowledging the patient’s pain, ask follow-up questions, make eye contact, nod, use open hand gestures and speak in a receptive and pleasant way. tone.

According to what Tewfik explains in his study, people with imposter syndrome may have better interpersonal skills because they unconsciously try to compensate for their self-perceived incompetence by being kind and “quiet.” Perhaps it is this positive side that in some way contributes to success.

However, this desire to prove yourself runs the risk of causing stress and overwork … Tewfik would now like to try to understand how we can regulate the anxiety that results from it so that we can begin to fully discover the interpersonal benefits associated with it. So what can be withheld for the moment: For those concerned, finding the right balance between “benefits and harms” of this deep feeling, rather than psychologically exhausting trying to eradicate it in vain, could in a certain way. personal and professional well-being.

Academy of Management Journal

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