Can A Cup Of Tea Really Fix Imposter Syndrome? [Episode 47]

Do you want to offer more than a 'tea and sympathy' approach to your colleagues or clients with imposter syndrome?

25% of your team are actively thinking about quitting their job every single week as a result of imposter syndrome. Yet, untrained line managers, HR, and mental health first aiders are at the frontline of trying to fix their colleagues' pain.

In this episode, I take you through why tea and sympathy is an essential first step and what needs to come next to start clearing imposter syndrome, which is often caused by complex trauma, rather than a mindset-level issue.

Listen now to find everything you need to know about how you can help people with imposter syndrome beyond sharing the war wounds of your own experience.

What You'll Discover Today About Can A Cup Of Tea Really Fix Imposter Syndrome

  • Why tea and sympathy is only a first step and what else you can offer to support your colleagues or clients
  • The impacts of normalising imposter syndrome
  • Why your team are stuck in survival mode, using coping strategies to deal with it and are losing productivity as a result
  • The dangers of an untrained person trying to fix the deep causes of imposter syndrome and how this could be making everything worse
  • Why we shouldn’t be using mindset approaches for imposter syndrome
  • Why you need to fix your own imposter syndrome before you try help others
  • Key questions to ask when looking for imposter syndrome training (and red flags to watch out for).

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[0:00] Hello and welcome to episode 47 of the Ditching Impostor Syndrome podcast, back after a little bit of a break with the new season.
And today we're starting out about helping others, not just ourselves. So today is for you.
If you've ever either seen someone you care about who's struggling with imposter syndrome and you know how to do the whole he and sympathy thing, but you don't know what to do next, or if you don't know how to raise that conversation, You know that you want to be able to reach out and support somebody, but you're scared that they will hide behind corners every time they see you walking along the corridor for the rest of time.
So I had a rare experience recently where I was running an imposter syndrome keynote, and we actually had time after the keynote for a Q&A.

[0:48] Because normally everybody's diaries are crammed so full that as soon as the hour is up, they have to jump into their next meeting.
Now, that's a really bad idea because you go from this inspired, brilliant ideas, loads of breakthroughs, light bulbs going off all over the place, and before you get a time to integrate that, to process it and to start thinking about how you might implement it, you're suddenly back into your to-do list.
It's a real missed opportunity.
So for those of you booking keynotes or who want to book me to speak or who want to book somebody else to speak on a different topic, bear in mind if you're investing time, money and energy into a keynote speaker event, it's really important to make sure people book out that hour in their diaries afterwards to decompress and look at their action plan.

[1:36] So in this Q&A, there was a very brave senior leader line manager who put his hand up and said, I know I can get so far.
Somebody comes to me to talk about imposter syndrome.

[1:49] And I can support them with a bit of sympathy, a bit of empathy, I can show them, yeah, I've had this too, we can share examples, we can compare our war wounds, but then I get stuck.
The struggle of line managers in supporting those with imposter syndrome.

[2:01] What do I do next?
And the thing is, one in 10 people is thinking today about quitting their job due to imposter syndrome or burnout.
The two have got a causal link. This is according to our 2024 for imposter syndrome research study, and it's one in four every single week.
So if you look around at your teammates, 25% of them are experiencing imposter syndrome so badly that they're considering quitting their job every single week due to imposter syndrome and burnout.
So this kind of conversation that this line manager was having is happening thousands and thousands of times every single day just across the UK.

[2:47] So this is an incredibly common problem, but almost no line managers, HR professionals, mental health first aiders or anyone else in organisations has actually had training in how to handle the conversation.
So they revert to human nature and doing what we do best, which is a generous dose of tea and sympathy.
And there is nothing wrong with that as long as that's just the first step.
Now if you hadn't guessed from my accent, I'm a Brit, I'm from the UK and we are famous worldwide for our cultural belief that a cup of tea can fix pretty much anything.
Now what is a cup of tea great for? It is great for potentially improving your focus, that little hit of caffeine, increasing your fluid intake, yeah, though the jury's out about whether or not tea also dehydrates and whether it counts towards your X litres of water per day, it can reduce stress.
Yeah, that time out, that focus, that kind of, oh, stopping the to-doing and, doing a little bit of being.

[3:52] And when you're having that cup of tea with someone else, it can actually be great for a bit of sympathy, a bit of empathy, a bit of compassion, a bit of not feeling quite so alone with your troubles.
The limitations of offering tea and sympathy for imposter syndrome.

[4:02] A trouble shared is a troubled halved, is one of our favourite sayings here in the UK.
But there is one thing that a cup of tea is really bad at, and that is fixing imposter syndrome.
And yet it is the single most common tool that is used in workplaces these days to help people with imposter syndrome and it's not the line manager's fault.
So what happens in these tea and sympathy conversations is the person who has instigated the conversation or who's leading it, the line manager, HR professional, mental health first aider, whoever it is, that trusted colleague or mentor has taken on some feeling of responsibility inside that somehow they need to fix the other person.
They need to provide a solution. They can see that they're in pain.
They can see that they're struggling.
They can see that they're probably anxious. They're probably struggling with chronic stress.
And it's most likely impacting their performance, their productivity, and their well-being.

[5:00] They also know from personal experience, because the kind of people that people come to about this are often the ones who've experienced imposter syndrome themselves.
So these people know that but it can affect your personal life, your relationships, your hobbies, how you feel at weekends, particularly how you feel on a Sunday night and a Monday morning before you go back into the office.
So there is this understandable, enormous drive and urge to be able to take that pain away from someone else.
And in this tea and sympathy conversation, What then happens is entire organisations end up stuck in survival mode on coping strategies.
Because unless that person has actually had training in how to support someone to healthily and effectively clear imposter syndrome, all they've got is passing on their own coping strategies.
What has worked for them to succeed despite imposter syndrome?
Now there is a brilliant plus side for this. It helps that person running imposter syndrome to have the lightbulb moment that I love the most when I run an in-person keynote.
That moment where you see this ripple around the room of, it's not just me.

[6:17] I'm not broken. I'm not a freak. I'm not the only person feeling this way.
That in itself is incredibly healing.
But there's a problem that comes next. Is these conversations normalize coping with imposter syndrome, handling it, dealing with it, pushing it down, pushing it to one side, pretending it's not there, getting on with everything despite the self-sabotage.

[6:44] Instinctive behavior that comes up from imposter syndrome, because that is what everybody does. That becomes the expectation.
It normalizes putting up with imposter syndrome, pushing on through the fear, which can trigger anxiety, mental health issues, physical health issues, performance issues, mistakes, holding back on speaking up.
It doesn't actually fix anything. The tea and sympathy is a vital first step, but there need to be steps two, three, and four and beyond to actually help people set themselves free from this.
And the tea and sympathy approach risks that person walking away from the conversation, feeling that they've decided, okay, I can handle this.
I can find ways to push on through, meaning that potentially they're opening themselves up to years more of struggling with and suffering from the side effects of imposter syndrome.
It won't set them free and it teaches them that imposter syndrome is inevitable, that everyone has it and it's just something you have to deal with.
But there are side effects for the person leading that conversation too, for the line manager, the HR professional, the mental health first aider or maybe it's a coach or a consultant or a friend.

[8:02] They've taken on responsibility at some level for fixing that person.
They think it's their job.
They don't realise that actually helping someone to set themselves free from imposter syndrome is specialised, skilled work.
That is why the deepest techniques that I've developed that I share are only available for my imposter syndrome master coach certification programme because we consider it to be post-grad level work.
And it's completely unfair to expect an untrained line manager or coach to be able to work at that depth.
And it can even be dangerous.

[8:40] Because imposter syndrome is often linked with trauma, particularly complex PTSD, so complex post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a form of trauma that builds up through lots of small experiences.
And imposter syndrome, our research studies have found, is directly linked with this trauma.
For example, working with a toxic boss.
I've worked with clients where we've been working together coaching on my Stepping Up to Lead program, and they've been clearing out complex trauma from bully bosses from 10 years before that were triggering imposter syndrome today.
You never know what's going to open Pandora's box for someone when you're working with them with imposter syndrome, and it's incredibly important to have both the skills, but also to have had the practice in using those skills to be able to do this work safely and effectively in ways that create transformations that are fast, fun and forever.

[9:38] Rather than accidentally opening that Pandora's box and not knowing how to close it again.
So one of the things I often hear about is line managers, HR people, mental health first aiders, even coaches and consultants who for example have read one of my books like Ditching Imposter Syndrome or listened to this podcast or attended one of my masterclasses, who suddenly think they can go and use the techniques I teach to actually help people with imposter syndrome.
And they back this up with a bit of Googling and that kind of thing.
And the problem is that it's like you're trying to do a jigsaw puzzle with no picture.
You don't have all the pieces and it's almost impossible to fit them together in a way that's going to work.
That's why the courses I run and my book, for example, I've got disclaimers all over the place saying, please don't use this with other people, that requires a different depth of training.
It's just like one of my kids at the moment is going through their GCSEs.
That's an exam we sit in the UK at 16 in schools.
Imposter Syndrome: The Need for Deeper Tools

[10:38] It's like somebody who's just done GCSE maths trying to teach GCSE maths.
You would never accept a teacher that only had the level of qualification that they're teaching to you or your child.
Similarly, anybody who's working with somebody on imposter syndrome needs to have much deeper tools than can be taught in a self-help, self-study book or available for free on a public access podcast.
It would be irresponsible for me to share that deeper work in a way that doesn't have a safety net.
But this laudable, deep desire to help people means that they're trying to cobble together solutions because they want to be able to make difference in people's lives.

[11:21] Now, I'm absolutely not saying don't have that chat.
It's absolutely horrible if somebody you can see is struggling with imposter syndrome, if you just leave them be, to wallow in the mire of that pain, that worry, the catastrophizing, the mind story drama, the mind story fears.
But you need to let that chat be an essential first step on the journey towards setting themselves free from imposter syndrome, not a substitute for it.
It's really important when we're helping somebody in that position to know where our limits are, to know where we need to stop, to have people to whom we can refer them on who actually have those deeper skills to help them clear this out, and to signpost them to proven solutions, not just sharing yet more coping strategies.
And another well-intentioned but big mistake I see people making in these kinds of chats is passing on mindset-level coping strategies.

[12:23] So it can actually be irresponsible to try to use mindset-level tools to try to clear imposter syndrome because it's running at that identity level.
Clearing Imposter Syndrome at the Identity Level

[12:32] Who am I to do this? What if they find me out?
The mindset is the surface-level symptom.

[12:39] There are underlying root causes that we actually need to deal with because otherwise all we're gonna do is create yet more inner conflict.
It's not going to work for the person, they're going to beat themselves up even more and we can make imposter syndrome even worse to the point that it can actually start leading to a crisis.

[12:57] So it's not something that sympathy and pep talks can fix, but they can be a really important healing and helpful step one.
And when we're in that tea and sympathy mode, there's a problem with cobbling together DIY solutions.
So most of what you'll find on Google regarding imposter syndrome, is about building a better bridge of coping strategies to go over what I call the imposter syndrome gap.
The gap between who you see yourself as being and who you think you need to be to do or achieve something.
And some of the advice out there is downright dangerous. And it conflates imposter syndrome and self-doubt, which are two very different beasts and need different, skills to be able to clear them.
The pep talk and the tea and sympathy can actually really help with self-doubt, and a little bit of a confidence boost, but a lot of what is suggested to help people with that self-doubt in that moment at that mindset level can actually make imposter syndrome worse.
And there's one more layer to this, to this desire to help others through the tea and sympathy when that's the only toolkit we've got.
You can't take a client to a place that your unconscious mind believes is impossible.

[14:14] So if you have imposter syndrome raging inside, it's really hard for your unconscious mind to let you share strategies and advice that would empower somebody else to truly set themselves free from it.
This is why on my certification programs, all of my students start by dealing with their own imposter syndrome first, clearing that out, and then learning how to support others to do the same.
Because then they have had proven experience for themselves of how deeply this stuff works and they can be congruent in sharing it with others.
If you don't do that self inner work first, then it feels to you at an unconscious level like you're selling snake oil.
Clearing Imposter Syndrome as a Pre-Requisite for Helping Others

[15:03] It's hey, you can have this wonderful result. I haven't had it, but you can have it.
The other thing is when you clear out your own imposter syndrome first before you try to then help others with it, you are going to do this with all of your heart and soul. You won't be holding back. You won't be self-sabotaging.

[15:18] You won't be sitting there in the middle of a coaching session thinking, what if I'm not good enough to help them with imposter syndrome?
You won't be getting in the way of your client's success.
And at an unconscious level, that client will sense that you've been on the journey that you want to take them on, albeit you might have followed different routes, and you're gonna give them the biggest gift that they need right at the start of any journey to clear out imposter syndrome, which is believing that it's possible.
So it's absolutely essential before you really commit to helping other people with imposter syndrome that you've had the training, you've got the skills, and you've done the work on yourself first.
What to Look for in an Imposter Syndrome Course

[16:02] What to look for in a course that's going to help you to help other people with imposter syndrome?
Well, the first thing is make sure it gets you clearing it out for yourself first.
If there's no work on you, then how on earth are you going to help someone else to go to a place that you personally haven't been to yet?

[16:19] Then really look at how does this help me to help others? Are these strategies proven? Are they science-backed? Can they be measurable?
Is it something that has been shown to help other people to get results for clients that the person teaching it will never meet.
Another really important factor is is this about genuine freedom from imposter syndrome or is it just really complicated coping strategies?
Make sure that any strategy, any process you're being taught is proven, ideally with a very wide range of people, rather than scribble together on the back of a beer mat because somebody told the person and teaching the course, that they ought to have a trademark strategy.

[17:01] Make sure it's actually certified so that you can get insurance for this work.
So this is particularly if you're an external coach or consultant.
You need to be able to add this to your insurance. So you need more than just a CPD.
So continuous professional development certificate of attendance.
And make sure the course actually supports you in implementing this with real-life, clients, not just a little bit of peer group practice, and certainly not signing you off just based on attendance because otherwise the likelihood of you having developed the skills is zero.
Assessments, Credibility, and Practical Implementation

[17:37] There is a world of difference between information and implementation, between knowledge and practical skills.
So make sure that course supports you through the hardest bit of any course which is going out there and using this stuff.
So it doesn't just add a few more dollops to your knowledge bucket, it actually shifts the way that you can help people on a practical level.

[18:02] And also it's really important to do the bit that as human beings, you know, hard work, horrible, don't want to do it, that we resist, is make sure it's a course that's actually assessed rather than an auto pass just for attending.
Why is that? Firstly, credibility for your clients or your colleagues.
You've actually had to show that you've learned. You've had to show that you've implemented.
Ideally, you want a wide range of case studies as part of the assessment.
Now, I know we all resist this because it's like, oh, that's far too much like hard work.
But seriously, would you want to work on something that's an identity level issue?
With someone who effectively just showed up on a course but hasn't proven to anyone that they know what they're doing, that they've applied the stuff to themselves, and that they're actually gonna be able to get proven results with you.
And if you're in a leadership role in an organization, it's really important to be aware that right here, right now, every single day in your organization, these conversations will be happening.
Imposter Syndrome Support in the Workplace

[19:06] They're pretty much always off the record. With 1 in 10 people thinking of quitting today due to imposter syndrome and burnout, and 1 in 4 every single week, there will be a large number of your employees who are asking their line managers, HR professionals, mental health first aiders, mentors, trusted friends for help with this.

[19:28] Those friends may be trying to go beyond what is safe for them to do.
With psychological safety at work legislation in the UK there's actually a duty of care to make sure that line managers and those others who could be seen to be in support roles have had the training they need to be able to safely and effectively support people in the moment.
That tea and sympathy conversation is actually a vital first step.
But you need to have proven resources and properly trained people to whom these people can be referred on for the more specialist support.
If that's something of interest to you, let me know.
One of my big missions is to help you to create scalable solutions so that you're self-sufficient in preventing imposter syndrome and burnout.
And if you're a line manager listening to this and you're thinking, yeah, I really do want to move beyond the tier in sympathy. Well, I've got two options for you.
The first one is my Impostor Syndrome 101 course, which is everything line managers need to know to be able to have that immediate initial conversation and offer what I would call soft support to somebody.
Join Certification Programs for Impostor Syndrome Support

[20:37] And you can find that link in the show notes. And the other one is actually go and get certified, okay?
Join one of my certification programs. They run at two levels.
You've got the foundation level, the Natural Resilience Method Practitioner, affectionately known as Impostor Syndrome First Aiders, and if you're already an experienced coach therapist, then you can join us and apply at Impostor Syndrome Master Coach level to get access to those much deeper acting techniques.
Again, link in the show notes.
And you don't have to be a full-time external coach or therapist to join us on these.
We actually have a lot of people in corporations who get trained in this work, so that you can build an in-house support network to go beyond tea and sympathy.
If you found that useful, please do let me know.
Come and find me over on LinkedIn or Instagram and please leave a lovely review on iTunes.
It helps other people to discover this podcast too.
Tea and Sympathy: The First Step towards Freedom from Impostor Syndrome

[21:35] And if you're doing the tea and sympathy, hats off to you. Thank you.
You could be changing someone's life.
All I ask is you make sure that that tea and sympathy is the first step on their journey and that you know how to signpost them to take those next steps to set themselves free from imposter syndrome once and for all and while you're at it remember you deserve to get to have that experience for yourself too.

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