Imposter syndrome – is there power to feeling a fraud?

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A few weeks ago I was leading a portfolio management session with colleagues, running them through the ins and outs of using the GE Matrix and related business analysis tools.  I did just fine. We all did.  None of my colleagues folded their arms, and peered at me closely as they demanded: “why are we using the GE matrix and not the BCG matrix for this particular exercise?”

But even so, there was little doubt in my mind that I was busking it.

In moments like these – when I feel I don’t know fully what I’m doing, and that I’m to get ‘found out’ by the people I’m working with – does that mean I have Imposter Syndrome? Maybe.

Or maybe this is just a particular moment I really was an imposter, faking it as best I can.

True imposters rarely feel like fakes..

It is an ironic truth, as Oliver Burkeman writes, that “true imposters rarely feel like fakes.” In fact, lack of concern over fakery might even be the killer trait indicating that someone is, in actual fact, completely incompetent.

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt” said Bertrand Russell.

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Pay attention. Notes to self on what it means to actually listen.

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As one of life’s more ‘verbose’ characters (let’s call it ‘extroverted thinking’) developing as a coach has meant tackling a tendency I have that sometimes gets in my way – and that’s not fully and actively listening.  Which matters not just if you’re a coach, but if you happen to be a human being looking for meaningful relationships.

Last week I was working with a group of trainee coaches alongside Lois Burton, who asked me to run the group through the premises of Nancy Kline’s ‘Time to Think. Listening to Ignite the Human Mind.’   This meant going back to some core principles for coaching, and also taking another long hard look at how I actually listen.

“We think we listen, but we don’t. We finish each other’s sentences, we interrupt each other, we moan together, we fill in the pauses with our own stories, we look at our watches, we sigh, frown, tap our finger, read the newspapers, or walk away. We give advice, give advice, give advice. Even professional listeners listen poorly much of the time. They come in too soon with their own ideas” (37).


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Psychic vampires. Things to consider as you deal with those people that drain you of life

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Psychic vampires – those  in our lives who can to eerily drain us of energy, merely by their presence.   For me it’s that person who seems to appear out of nowhere beside my desk (or in my in-box) and proceeds to unload, uninvited and largely unfiltered:


“I needed to let you know this was going on…”

“Something needs to be done…”

In these situations, I find myself looking up from my (clearly more important) work. I half listen, and I get  irritated.  As they talk  I realise that this is not a major deal. But I’m impatient and before I know it, out it comes:

“Leave it with me.”

I don’t want them to leave me with their problems. I simply want them to leave. And so I take the easy route to making that happen. But I’m left feeling resentful about the intrusion, and then,  if I leave it long enough, guilty that I didn’t handle it better or show more empathy or understanding.

In my coaching, I’ve realised this pattern is a really typical one. Most of us have that one person whose burdens we would actually chose to take on over actually dealing with that individual personally for more than a minute or two.  The feelings of negativity escalate, and the avoidance behaviour on our parts gets worse. Just the very thought of this person brings us down.

I met with a client today who was experiencing exactly this kind of situation. As she spoke I wondered what else might be going on when we succumb to a pattern we know, rationally, is not good for either of us.

Because yes, taking on the other person’s issues allow us to deflect the real issues and get someone we find unpleasant and draining out of our space. It’s a quick (but short-term, and ultimately damaging) fix for your immediate concerns.   But what are the latent payoffs for those of  us who are perhaps too quick to take on someone else’s problems?

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