Breaking the silence: how to talk about Imposter Syndrome in the workplace. [Episode 034]

With 15% of people having considered quitting their job in the past week due to Imposter Syndrome (yes, you read that right), it's long overdue that we remove the taboo in talking about it in the workplace. It triggers shame for those running it, and embarrassment for those who want to suggest to a colleague or loved-one that they might need help with it.

So how can you raise the topic, whichever end of this you're on? How can we remove the taboo? What do people really need (hint: it's not what they're usually offered) and what are five super-common bits of advice to avoid? Plus get a free guide for line managers and HR professionals with how-to on this.

What You'll Discover Today

  • The biggest problem with discussing Imposter Syndrome in the workplace
  • The solution most people are being offered - and why it's the opposite of what they need
  • The mistake I'm seeing too many companies making
  • The 3 pillars of Imposter Syndrome in the workplace, and which one is easiest to start with
    Suggestions - asking your boss for help
  • How to move beyond 'tea and sympathy' and learn how to truly support people in clearing Imposter Syndrome
  • 5 bits of bad advice (super-common) and what to say instead
    How you can truly help people to set themselves free from Imposter Syndrome

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Note: this is an AI-generated transcript, so please forgive typos.

Welcome to Episode 34 of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast with me, your host, Clare Josa. And today, we are talking about breaking the silence. How to talk about imposter syndrome in the workplace, whether you want to talk to your colleagues or ask your manager or HR professional for help. With 15% of people, according to my research, having considered quitting their job in the past week due to imposter syndrome, yes, you heard that right, it's long overdue that we remove the taboo in talking about it at work. It triggers shame for those running it and embarrassment for those who want to suggest to a colleague or loved one that they might need help with it. So how can you raise the topic? Whichever end of this you're on? What do people really need? Hint, it's not what they're usually offered. And what are five super common bits of advice to avoid? Plus, I've got a free guide for you. If you're a line manager, HR professional, or someone who's there in a helping capacity with step by step how to for raising the discussion. So you know that 15% I talked about who've considered quitting their job in the past week due to imposter syndrome?

I've got a stat for you. One in 20 have considered quitting their job today. 1 in 20. Most majority of them don't tell you this because they fear being judged. They feel ashamed. They're worried about being blackballed or overlooked for opportunities to shine or being criticised and judged by their colleagues. It doesn't come up in exit interviews when people quit because no one wants to sit there and say, "Hey, I feel like I'm fundamentally flawed and I'm leaving because I'm not good enough". And a lot of the time people don't even realise it was imposter syndrome that was making them want to quit because we convince ourselves that the reason is real and logical and not in any way that painful. So what we're going to cover in today's episode is how to break the taboo. We're going to talk about the biggest problem with discussing imposter syndrome in the workplace, the solution most people are being offered, and why it's the opposite of what they need, the mistake I'm seeing too many companies making, the three pillars of imposter syndrome in the workplace, and which one is the easiest to start with, practical suggestions for asking your boss for help, how is a line manager or a support professional to move beyond tears, sympathy and learn how to truly support people in clearing imposter syndrome, and five bad bits super common of advice to avoid.

I remember a couple of years ago at the beginning of lockdown, I had done a virtual keynote with an organization that was renowned for being pretty competitive. I got to the end of this session, we'd had about 300 people join us live. It had been absolutely incredible. They were so engaged, inspired, ready to take action. One of the senior directors got on as the outro to say goodbye and thank you, Clare, and said, with the greatest of respect, I don't even know why we had this session. You just need to grow up and pull yourself together and get the job done. Obviously, that was like us all jumping into a Wim Hoff level of ice cold water bath. It also showed that that organisation, at the most senior levels, still was running a very strong taboo over imposter syndrome. And this is exactly why people are scared about speaking out. The taboo, the shame, the judging of ourselves, the fear of others then judging us, that we will be overlooked and blackballed for promotions and opportunities to shine, holds people back. And because imposter syndrome is an identity level issue, not just a mindset thing, when we're running it, we feel shame.

It's one of the biggest emotions. What if they find out I'm not good enough? What if they realise I am a fraud? So part of my mission when I work with organisations on this is to remove the taboo. My dream is to help to grow a world where asking for help with imposter syndrome and its ugly friends is as acceptable as asking for help with Microsoft Office. Then the solution is another part of the problem. The solution that most people are being offered if they do ask for help is actually the opposite of what they need. They're being offered even better coping strategies. If you look at Google, it is full of probably millions of articles and interviews from people who want to make a difference, well-intentioned, round of applause, thank you. But they're teaching people how to build even better coping strategies. They are helping to keep them stuck by saying, here's how to handle imposter syndrome, here's how to deal with it, here is how to succeed despite it. And these coping strategies mean that the person first has to experience the imposter syndrome. Then they have to remember, yeah, there's a coping strategy I'm meant to be using.

And by that point, it's too late. They've already self sabotaged. That whole process reinforces the neural pathways that keep us stuck in imposter syndrome. What people actually need is solutions to clear it out, stopping looking at how to make the symptoms less painful and dealing with what's running below the surface so that the surface level symptoms disappear completely. I've got a bit more on this if it's a topic that interests you. In Episode 33 of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome Podcast, all about speaking up in meetings and why your mind goes blank. That's Episode 33 if you're in your podcast app and you can go directly to it by clicking the link in the show notes if you're not in your podcast app. Then there's a problem I'm seeing in a lot of organisations. A mistake I'm seeing companies making, and I need to put my ever so slightly serious hat on for this because it's a really big deal. And it's not just me that thinks this. The people who run the UK's Mental Health First Aid Certification Association have published a report on exactly this recently. A lot of organisations are focusing on training huge numbers of their team members as Mental Health First-Aiders.

The problem is Mental Health First-Aiders are qualified to do what's called catch and pass. Catch somebody who's in or on the brink of a mental health crisis and pass them on to a professional to help them. What I'm seeing instead is a lot of organisations not realising they're using their mental health first aid as unqualified, unsupported counsellors. It's why having a mental health first aid is not enough. They are not trained to help people with imposter syndrome. They are not trained to help people prevent burnout. They don't have the supervision and support that they need to be able to do that work. But I'm actually seeing organisations making them responsible for creating wellbeing initiatives based on their mental health first aid training. I've got a whole podcast episode on this over at my Soultuitive Leaders Podcast. It's Episode 26. You can either find it, look for Soultuitive Leaders Podcast, Episode 26, or there's a direct link to it in the show notes. It's all about why having mental health first aid is not enough to clear imposter syndrome. Right, okay, serious hat off and soapbox back in the corner. So there are three pillars of imposter syndrome in the workplace, and one of them is the easiest to start with.

From my last six years of research studies, these three pillars are the culture, the environment, and personal habits. The culture might be an organizational culture, a national culture, faith based culture, family culture. That's all about how the world works, what's right, what's wrong, what's important to us. The environment is the physical and practical embodiment of this. How does that look on a day to day actions and living basis? The personal habits is the stuff that's inside us. Now, all three of these contribute towards imposter syndrome, but the one that's easiest to start with is the personal habits. And that's what I want to talk about today. And it's where I focus a lot of my work when I'm working with individuals, obviously with organisations, I get to work on the culture and the environment factors too. So in essence, the real problem is most of the advice on imposter syndrome keeps people stuck because it focuses on building better coping strategies rather than clearing it out to be truly free from it forever. So what can you do if you think you're running imposter syndrome and it's getting in your way and you want to talk to your boss about it?

The first thing is I recommend you take my Research Evidence 'Back to School' card. It is free, yours is my gift. You can find it at Now, this tells you which of the three types of imposter syndrome you're running, the self sabotage you're running, it gives you your imposter syndrome score and a personalised action plan, all of it for free. What you can then do is just answering those questions is going to give you a deeper level of insight. That helps you to then have something a bit more evidence based to share with your boss, rather than just going and saying, I think I might be running this and being worried they're going to talk you out of it. You'll have something you can actually waive onto their nose. Then when you talk to them, present to them the solution you want from them. It's really unlikely they're actually going to know how to help you. And you go into them saying, Hey, I'm really struggling with this horrible feeling and I need you to fix it for me, is likely to put them into the stress response and they might get defensive.

So for example, if you wanted them to fund and support you going through my hybrid coaching program, the Imposter Syndrome Bootcamp, take with you the prospectus. So you're actually giving them a concrete ask. You're not going in with a problem. You're telling them about a problem and suggesting a solution. You are much more likely to get support. By the way, if you want the prospectus for the Bootcamp program, it's in the shown notes, click the link and you can go straight to the download. Another really important tip is when you go to talk to your boss about this, you may or may not want to tell them in advance that that's why you want to talk to them. Remember, it's not a counselling session. You might find you've been bottling this up for ages, and suddenly you sit down and you talk to your boss and it all starts to come out. That's not their job and it's not likely to be something they're qualified to actually do for you. So instead, Marshall Rosenberg's inspirational work on nonviolent communication suggests a four part structure you can use. Try this out. I really invite you, play with this, write down some ideas, press pause after each of these bits and think about how you could structure raising the conversation with your boss.

Nonviolent communication starts with part one, the trigger. When this objective thing behaviour happens without judgment. So you are describing a trigger. What is it that can give you an example that your boss can identify with that triggers the feelings of imposter syndrome? Part two, state and describe the feeling. This is about naming it, and it's a really important tip. Avoid using phrases like such and such makes me. Eleanor Roosevelt said something that's a real throwing rotten tomatoes moment. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. You can replace inferior with pretty much any objective. Now, I appreciate there are times where it really doesn't feel like that's the case, but it is actually true. No one can make you feel like you're a fraud. No one can make you feel like you're not good enough. They can provide stimulus, but it comes from inside and your boss might react quite badly if they think you're blaming them or a colleague. Part three, state your need. Again, objectively, I need this. I'm going to give you an example of this in a minute. Number four, make a request, make it specific and be open to them suggesting alternatives.

So for example, when I have to give a presentation to the board, I feel scared that they'll decide I'm not good enough and a fraud. I've done a research back scorecard that shows this is imposter syndrome and I know I need help with owning my successes and building my confidence. We don't have anyone in house who can help me with this, so I would like to ask for your support to take Clare Josa's hybrid coaching program, the Imposter Syndrome Bootcamp. So this is an example when this is the trigger, I feel scared, you've got a bit of a bridging bit in there. I've done the research, this isn't just me making this up. I've got some evidence here. I know I need help with owning my successes. That's your need. What you're then asking for is a solution. If you've got fears and worries around speaking up about this, if you've got a good relationship with your boss, it's okay to share them. I'm nervous about talking to you about this because I'm worried it means I won't have a chance to go for that promotion or you won't ask me to do the next board pitch.

Talk to them about this. Remember, 60% of the population struggles with this daily or regularly, so there's a pretty good chance your boss is going to sit there and nod their head until it falls off and say, Yes, me too. And it will be a huge relief. If you're in the position where you want to help people with this, it's really important to be able to move beyond the team sympathy and the coping strategies to learn how to truly support people in clearing imposter syndrome. That is why I created my imposter syndrome first aid program. We've been running it for three years now, getting incredible results. It actually teaches you how to help somebody right there in the moment when they're about to self sabotage, and how to teach them preventative techniques for that foundation level work to be able to clear imposter syndrome out once and for all. It's so much more than, say, a Mental Health First-Aider of that catch and pass. You actually qualify to safely help and support people on the in that foundation basis. And the successful graduates from the First Aid program can go on and train in my Master Coach program where you can do the really deep root cause clearing work.

If you haven't joined that yet, link is in the show notes, by the way, if you want to join us, it's open twice a year and it's really wonderfully life changing. You start by clearing out imposter syndrome for yourself and then you learn how to support others with it. I want to share with you some advice that you can apply right away as a line manager, an HR professional or someone who's in that supportive role in an organization. The very first piece of advice is get yourself out of the way. How you feel about imposter syndrome is irrelevant to that conversation. How you feel about the potential fear of the person running around the corner to hide from you for the rest of time if you raise this topic is irrelevant. Get yourself out of the way. This is about them. Second piece of really strong advice is talk about specific behaviours that you're observing. You do not have to mention imposter syndrome, and they don't have to agree that they're running imposter syndrome. For example, in this morning's meeting, I noticed that you seemed to flinch when Fred asked you a question, and then you didn't share that idea that was great that you told me about.

I've done that thing too. Would it help you to talk about what was happening for you? So you're bringing it back to the behaviour. The person running imposter syndrome will be judging themselves. I am not good enough. You're talking about something specific. It's behavioural. There is no judgment or evaluation, and you're showing curiosity to open up the discussion. Third piece of advice, it's not your job to fix anything. You're opening a discussion to allow that person to have a conversation about their feelings and their needs. You might be able to share some solutions like the Bootcamp, or if you've done the First Aider Training, or they might want to read Ditching Imposter Syndrome or listen to it on the audiobook, or they might want some extra support with the Transformation Toolkit, whatever the solution, it's not your job to fix this. It's your job to help them feel safe, opening up that discussion and making sure you don't slip into counsellor and adviser mode. The third piece of advice, if they're open to it, it can be really, really useful to get them to do the Ditching Imposter Syndrome Scorecard because then you have a research based basis on which to start the discussion, to understand the severity, to decode how this is running for the person and understand what help they might need.

That is yours is my gift. It's theirs is my gift for an individual use basis at And then also for those raising the topic of the discussion, there's an advice guide that I've created that's really useful. It talks about five super common bits of advice that people feel they have to give when they hit T and sympathy mode, but they're really bad and they can actually keep people stuck. So that advice guide is yours as my gift and it includes how to raise the discussion, five bits of super common advice to avoid, and what people need you to be saying instead. As a whistle stop tour, the link to that advice guide, by the way, is in the comments, in the show notes. It's at For a tour, the five bits of super common bad advice, fake it till you make it. I've got an article for you on why this is possibly the worst piece of imposter syndrome advice in the world. Look in the show notes for that article. The second really common bad bit of advice is push on through the fear. I have got a whole podcast episode for you on this, Ditching Imposter Syndrome, Episode 29, "The truth about do it scared and why that's such dangerous advice".

Number three, using positive affirmations. Just think happy thoughts, happy vibes only, use positive affirmations. I've got a whole podcast episode on this. Episode 28 of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome Podcast. Have you been trying to use positive affirmations to overcome imposter syndrome? The fourth piece of common advice is, but you need it to perform. No. Episode 32 of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome Podcast is that what are the hidden benefits of imposter syndrome? Spolier alert, there aren't any. And the fifth one, incredibly common is use an alter ego to ditch imposter syndrome, pretend to be somebody that you're not. I have an article for you on this in the show notes. It's a must-read. And as I say, all of that and more. And the opposite that you need to be sharing with people instead is at link in the show notes. So that wraps up what I wanted to say today. I really hope you found that useful. If you feel inspired to become a certified Imposter Syndrome First-Aider to be able to help people on that preventative basis, moving beyond the tea and the sympathy in a way that inspires you and inspires them, make sure you download the prospectus.

It's in the show notes. And if you're interested, please apply as soon as you've read it, because it only runs twice a year and it gets booked up a long way ahead. Or I can run it in-house for your team for a minimum of 20 people. So join in the discussion. In the show notes, you'll find the link to where we're talking about this over on LinkedIn and Instagram. And I really hope that's helped you today with looking at how we can break the silence, how to talk about imposter syndrome in the workplace without everybody treating it as a badge of honour or turning into special snowflakes. I'll be back next time when we're going to be talking about how imposter syndrome harms teams and what you can do about it. I hope you have an amazing week.

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About the author

Clare Josa

Clare is considered a global authority in the fields of Imposter Syndrome, burnout and toxic resilience, and has been an international keynote speaker for over 20 years.

The author of 8 books, a reformed engineer and the former Head of Market Research for one of the world's most disruptive brands, she blends research-backed practical inspiration with demystified ancient wisdom, to help you create breakthroughs in ways that are fast, fun and forever.

Want to find out your Imposter Syndrome Score? Take Clare's free research-backed, quiz-style assessment and get your score plus a personalised action plan in the next 3 minutes.

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