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Impostor syndrome

Who is the fraud?

Who am I to write a guest blog for the Oxford English Dictionary on the Impostor Syndrome?

I have now given several talks on the subject of the Impostor Syndrome – more correctly termed Impostor Phenomenon – chaired a panel discussion for the General Assembly on the subject, been interviewed by the Telegraph and Cambridge TV on it, as well as receiving a distinction for my research into it when doing my Masters Degree a couple of years ago.  So why did I still think, “what me?  Really? can I do this?” when contacted by the Oxford English Dictionary to be a guest blogger on their new entry “Impostor Syndrome“.

The answer, as you may have guessed, is that I am one of the 70% who experience ‘imposter’ feelings.

Of course I said yes, and then set about controlling my internal chatter to be able to write a comprehensive piece.  The resulting OED Blog post is here

Then I spot a completely incorrect use of the term in the Times today.  A fraudster does NOT experience the impostor syndrome or phenomenon.  Those who set out to deliberately deceive others are actual impostors, as defined by the OED.

Please, it’s hard enough to experience the feelings without being confused with with real fraudsters.  So, a plea to all journalists, please don’t muddle the use of impostor syndrome with real impostors.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was recently quoted on Inc. as saying that successful people learn to take feedback well. What it seems she was actually referring to was “constructive feedback” or what is sometimes thinly disguised criticism. While it is true we all need to learn from our mistakes, whether pointed out to us in the form of “feedback” or ones we spot ourselves, why, oh why, when we refer to “feedback” do we automatically mean the negative?

From my studies in positive psychology, of course I know the answer… Human beings are predisposed to look for the negative first; that has been our natural survival instinct. But being wired to see the negative is very different from actively encouraging it at work.

Of course managers need to address poor performance, point out mistakes and help correct behaviour. But they also need to let people know what they are doing right. And people do things right far more often than the frequency of positive feedback would lead us to believe.

 

Employ the 5:1 ratio

There is a growing body of research on couples, begun by John Gottman, which indicates that the ratio of positive and negative feedback needs to be more than balanced for healthy relationships. In fact, Gottmann found that the ideal ratio is 5:1 – yes that is five pieces of genuine positive feedback, or positive interaction, for every one piece of constructive/developmental/negative/howeveryouwanttophraseit feedback. This is now being studied in the workplace too.

Other research indicates that the positive feedback will only be effective if the feedback giver is held in esteem by the receiver. For instance relentless praise quickly becomes meaningless, it is the 5:1 balance of positive and negative that works.

 

In the Workplace

Is it little wonder that engagement at work in the UK is low, when we don’t train managers on how to give positive feedback?

So what can be done? One way tip to give a boost to the morale of your staff is simply to identify something they have done well and let them know. Too many things are saved for the annual review, and too little is said during the course of every day. Meetings focus on problems to be addressed, but why not start them by celebrating one thing that has gone well? That will, as positive psychologist Barbara Fredrikson discovered, encourage greater problem solving skills and generate more innovative ideas. Fredrikson coined the term “broaden & build” for this effect.

Looking back to when I was the manager of an international banking team, I now realise I could have done this better myself; but back then nobody had trained me in the importance of positive feedback.  So if you do manage a team, please start your meetings on a positive note, catch people doing things right and let them know… and remember the 5:1 ratio.

 

What is the accepted rate of speech for a presentation?

I was recently interviewed by Cambridge TV, and while I have completed some media training and been live on radio before, this was my first foray into a TV studio.  The interview was recorded “as if live”, so there would be no chance of editing out any mistakes, umms, errrs, or hiccoughs.  This set my mind into overdrive to “be perfect” a trait that is so prevalent in those of us who have experienced the imposter phenomenon.  So I could feel my nerves increasing as it came ever closer to the start of the interview.

Afterwards, I felt as if I had rambled through the interview, spoken too quickly and couldn’t remember what I had said or whether it made any sense at all!  The interviewer assured me it was “excellent”, but did I believe her?  Of course not, she says that to all of her interviewees!  Maybe she does… but having watched the recording, and received some lovely tweets and emails about the interview (thank you to those who have got in touch!) it is ok, well more than ok, I’m pleased with the way I come across.

This got me thinking… in presentations I often need to get people to slow down, which is appropriate for face to face presentations. The accepted rate of speech is somewhere between 140-160 words per minute.

But the rate of speech needs to be faster for TV, and this includes Vlogs, Webinars and YouTube videos.

We have a short attention span and need to keep the energy high to maintain audience engagement.  The same happened during a webinar for The Cheeky Scientist where I was the guest interviewee.  We were focusing on management skills and how post docs could transition into industry.  The interviewer, Dr Isaiah Hankel has written a great testimonial and not once did he say I spoke too quickly!

Kate is a incredible presenter and one of the best communicators I have ever interviewed. We brought Kate on for a live interview on management skills and she over delivered throughout the entire event. What impressed me most was her ability to break down complex topics into easy to understand and impactful takeaways, delivered in a fun, engaging, and professional way.

For those of you interested in watching my TV interview you can find it on this link:

Kate Atkin discusses the imposter syndrome

Business Focus Ep61 – Kate Atkin

 

 

Last week I ran a seminar on effective networking for the Federation of Small Businesses and yesterday I ran an in-house session for a client on the same topic.  It was 17 years ago when I ran my first session on this topic and what has surprised me most was how much people still loathe networking.

Is there an innate fear of approaching strangers, I wonder…? Maybe we fear rejection more than we like to admit? Or are we worried about being tongue-tied when giving our elevator pitch?

Whatever the reason, it is apparent that, while networking is an essential part of doing business and getting on at work, it is often a disliked part.  Approach it with an attitude of not wanting to be there and it won’t be surprising that people don’t come to talk to you… your apathy or resentment will show on your face however hard you try to hide it.

Discussing the topic of networking with a friend recently she told me she had organised a business evening event and was the only women in attendance.  Not unusual for her in the sector she works in, but what saddened her was that the three other women on the attendance list all cried off at the last minute.  Do women loathe networking more than men?  Was it to do with it being a male-dominated field? Or were there genuine reasons for cancellation?  We won’t know the answer, but I do know that sometimes we all need to build up our internal courage to put ourselves “out there” in the networking arena.

So what are the tips to get the most out of your networking and to feel comfortable while doing so?  Well, apart from arranging for me to run an in-house workshop to impart my 20+ years of experience, here are a few of the common errors, and a few common-sense tips.

 

Common error #1

Thinking you will achieve a sale

Networking is about buying relationships, not about sales.  While ultimately everyone there is probably looking for business connections to be made with a view of creating a sale, going into an event with the mindset of “who can I sell to?”or even “who will buy from me today?” Is self-destructive.  If you have this mindset it will be apparent to those you are talking to that your focus is on your sales pipeline, and not on their business.

Networking is about making connections, which may lead to sales.  But it is not about sales.

 

Common error #2

Not being able to explain what you do

The elevator pitch, so called because it is the explanation you should be able to give about your business in the time it takes an elevator (lift) to reach the top floor, is commonly misused.

A long explanation will switch people off.  As will a clever or convoluted explanation.  Far better to understand what you do in your head and say something more accessible and appropriate aloud, than try to be clever.  To craft what to say, think about the person asking you.  How much do they know about your industry?  Chances are if you are at a specific industry event it could be a lot, but if you are at a general networking event, maybe not much.  Then think about the benefits of what you do; what does those who buy your products or services gain?  What problem does your product/service solve?  Then go ahead and craft your answer.  But only use a short, few seconds of your reply – give people the chance to have a conversation!  Too many people see the question as an opportunity to open the floodgates and spew out all of the information straight away.

 

Common Error #3

Making Assumptions

Having said above that networking isn’t directly about sales, there is still room for asking for a contact, sussing out interest, and arranging a follow-up conversation.  Too many opportunities are lost, because we fail to recognise that someone may be able to help us.  Not directly, but through their own network.  Asking a question which starts “do you know anyone who…” could be the leverage you need to take your business to the next level.

 

Three tips:

Be Bold

Approach those you wish to speak to, ask if you may follow up for a further discussion, and make the most of your networking opportunities.

 

Know What you do, and Why you do it

As Simon Sinek says in his TED talk, most people know what they do and how they do it, but some are disconnected form the WHY.  If you understand your why, you may have a stronger chance of succeeding in business.  But also, think about why you are networking.  Just going to have a chance to socialise can be a good enough reason if you work alone all day and need to talk to people once in a while!

 

Watch your Body Language

Having a firm (but not too firm) handshake, making eye contact and standing up straight while networking helps to create a positive impression.  Don’t underestimate the judgements we humans are likely to make of each other and give some thought to how you present yourself in public, what impression do you want to give to others and whether it is congruent with you and your business.

 

Finally, watch your internal chatter.  As an expert on the imposter phenomenon, commonly referred to as imposter syndrome, I know that feeling like a fraud can get in the way of promoting yourself successfully.  Having researched into the phenomenon with successful entrepreneurs, be reassured that if you experience extreme self-doubt, and think that at some point you may be “found out”, know you are not alone.  It is a common experience, but not commonly spoken about.  I’ll blog more about how to overcome the imposter feelings another time.  But for now, just watch your internal chatter – you are worth talking to, and your business is worth talking about!

 

Happy networking

Kate

 

Following Kate’s interactive seminar on effective networking I can now structure how I answer “what do you do?” in a way that allows a good conversation to flow. I also feel more in control of my confidence and am comfortable that I have something to say which will make my networking more productive in the future.  Stephen Way, The Work Bees

 

Hear What Alan Todd, Chair of the Cambridge branch of the Federation of Small Businesses has to say on Kate’s Effective Networking seminar

 

 

Motivational Speaker

Kate Atkin, taking time to network with participants

Known as an inspirational and motivational speaker, Kate Atkin gives talks, workshops and seminars across the UK and overseas on networking, confidence and the imposter syndrome.  For more details of these or to discuss individual coaching give Kate Atkin a call on 07779 646976 or drop her an email to kate@kateatkin.com  or see  www.kateatkin.com

Right now the UK is gripped by the result of the referendum.

 

For some there is jubilation, while for others there is much gnashing of teeth & wailing. Whichever way you voted, we are all now in a period of uncertainty.

 

It’s at times like this that we need to reach for the ‘sod all’ box.

 

Allow me to explain…

 

There are some things in life you can control. This is about you. You can control what actions you take, what you say and, with awareness, what you think and how you react to events.

 

There are also some things you can influence. Casting your vote on Thursday 23rd June was a way of influencing the outcome of the referendum. You can also influence others and their behaviour through your own, but, as anyone with children will tell you, you can’t control anyone else, however much you might like to!

 

Sod-all Box

Finally there’s the ‘sod all’ box, which contains all those things you can’t do anything about.

Once you have cast your vote, and the result was announced, the referendum fell into the ‘sod all’ box. In fact, anything in the past, such as what you chose to eat for breakfast or whether you had a cookie or a banana at break time now fall into this box. The weather and the traffic are other, somethings frustrating, factors that generally fall into the ‘sod all’ box.

 

 

 

The concerns we all feel about the changes which lie ahead are very natural. While we can no longer influence the vote, we may be able to influence the brexit negotiations. However, for many of us the best use of our time and energy is to focus on what we can control and what is within our immediate sphere of influence.

Use your time and energy wisely

 

Complaining about something you can no longer do anything about isn’t a wise use of these finite resources.

Focus on the things you can control and influence and try to accept calmly the contents of the ‘sod all’ box to lessen the stress of change.

I’m delighted to be speaking to the Cambridge Judge Business School’s EnterpriseWISE cohort on 24th May on “Why do I feel like a Fraud?”, incorporating the themes of courage, confidence and the imposter phenomenon into a 90 minute workshop.  I really hope this will start to make a difference to women in science and engineering and encourage more women to put their hands up for projects, speaking opportunities and future promotions.

I am also speaking to members of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in Kent on 16th June.   We will be spending the day covering communication skills, something which many bemoan is poor within the engineering/technical sectors.