I have never been diagnosed with a syndrome and when a trusted colleague of mine decided to diagnose me with imposter syndrome, I was instantly on the defensive and asking to see his medical credentials. Incidentally he didn’t have any, however, I later came to understand that his diagnosis was correct.
What is imposter syndrome ? Well the article referenced at the bottom of this post by Jonathan Chan gives an excellent account of what the syndrome is and the effect it can have on people and let’s just say, for me, about 75% of it rings true. The impact can be quite stark; it’s potentially stifling (especially when you focus in on creativity), confidence draining and for me it can create situations where obvious opportunities sail by. In my case, the issue was producing thought leadership content. The blocker wasn't a lack of opinion, I had confidence in my opinions, I did however have a distinct lack of confidence in my intellectual ability and that was the driving factor behind my reluctance to provide my opinion.
So, I’m now producing content and putting my opinion out there, it’s still not a simple process and I do still have reservations about doing it but alas I am writing something. The crucial question here is how was I influenced to do it ? Well, the colleague in question had executed an effective influence campaign which centred around the removal of one of my key fears. At Applied Influence Group we create exceptional value for our clients by providing them with the skills and knowledge to influence at an elite level. So it’s no surprise to me that I was able to be influenced by one of my own colleagues on this issue and this is how he did it.
First of all he understood me. Understanding is a critical component in being able to influence and in this case he had a head start as he’d known me for years. We were in the military together, we even served in Afghanistan together, so it’s fair to say that he knows me and could use that knowledge to build the foundations of his influence plan.
Secondly he knew how to communicate with me. Finding the most efficient and effective way to communicate with your influence target is fundamental. Again having known me for years, he had an advantage in this area. He knew how to talk to me and the best way to present information for me to digest.
Thirdly he influenced me. Here, he didn’t have an advantage. By asking me a few questions about what I was thinking about writing and then being quite direct in asking me why I hadn’t submitted them yet, I started to reveal some of my reservations. A theme emerged. It was clear that I was worried about what people would think of what I had written and in actual fact I was quite concerned about the potential criticism I could face. Once my colleague had located the central fear he then set about applying influence tactics to change my behaviour.
When conducting influence operations with the military, having an insight into an individual’s fears and desires was exceptionally powerful. This was essentially an insight into what was driving an individual to behave in a certain way. As an influencer, this was the mission-critical detail, the detail that could allow you to pursue and often achieve your influence objectives.
There is a huge temptation that we must resist when we get access to the kind of information that reveals an individual’s fears. If you are trying to change somebody’s behaviour the temptation is to use the identified fears as leverage. You could do this. It’s easy and you will get some kind of behaviour change, however it won’t last. What you need to do is what my colleague did for me. Identify the fear (in my case criticism) and remove it.
How you remove it, is going to depend on the individuals involved. For me, it was a simple case of allowing me to talk aloud about my concerns and to come to the realisation that factors I considered to be relatively terrifying, were in fact not that daunting. By allowing me to do this, my colleague removed my fear and went some way to curing my bout of imposter syndrome.
According to the International Journal of Behavioural Science, people who have impostor syndrome have by “intense feelings that their achievements are undeserved and that they’re likely to be exposed as a fraud.”