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While weeding at the allotment the other evening I spotted a lovely black and red moth… it turns out to be a Cinnabar Moth. Its main food is ragwort and to my knowledge there isn’t any ragwort at the allotment, so what is the moth doing there?

Sometimes we too are out of place. It is at those moments that imposter feelings can strike. Feeling inadequate, wondering whether we will be found out to be a fraud, or whether we are good enough to be in the position we find ourselves in. Reactions to those feelings vary; some people (often men) tell me that they think everyone feels like that, so they just “get on with it”. Others worry about their situation, and for some this worry can turn into extreme forms of anxiety. If this is you, the charity Anxiety UK can be of great help, see: www.anxietyuk.org.uk.  While for others it can result in perfectionist tendencies, and/or periods of procrastination.

But when do we learn the imposter patterns of behaviour and thinking?

For some it can be as a child, having an over-critical parent (whose best intentions is to encourage their child, but the feeling of nothing being quite good enough can be the result). Or it might be a parent who tells the child they are perfect, just as they are, and that no matter what, they cannot fail. Which when the real adult world hits, can be detrimental as the child in question may not have built up any resilience to experiencing failure, so when it happens it is put down to an internal failing, rather than external circumstances.

Other times, it can be from the school system. I was recently invited to be a speaker on the imposter syndrome at the Cambridgeshire Festival of Education. During one of my workshops we had a good discussion about giving feedback. The structure of “what went well; even better if” seems to be a great structure, something positive to use while always giving some encouragement to improve. But therein lies the problem. If this structure is used ALL of the time, when is good enough, going to be good enough? When will the child’s best effort be ok?  If this structure if isn’t sometimes balanced with “good job, well done” or “great work on the way you presented XYZ” it can have the same effect as the hypercritical parent. Nothing is ever quite good enough, ergo the child isn’t quite good enough either. (I know it is illogical thinking, but imposter  feelings are not about logic!).

So if you are giving feedback, whether to an adult or a child, let them know when good enough is good enough. Perfection is unattainable, but being good enough is — and that’s no bad thing. We can still strive for more, but if we don’t achieve it, please give us some encouragement, or reassurance that we are ok as we are, and don’t have to be perfect!

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.

yerkes dodson stress and performance

Yerkes Dodson Law: How stress can affect performance positively

Today, 4th November 2015 is the 17th national stress awareness day. Much of what is available on the internet about stress is about how to avoid it. The assumption is that stress = bad. But is that really the case?

For some people of course an overload of stress is unhelpful. But the focus on stress always being bad is in itself bad. There is such a thing as good stress, called eustress. Have you ever heard that being talked about? The term eustress was first coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye and can be helpful in differentiating between different types of stress.

A certain amount of stress, eustress, is good for you. Eustress can be a great motivator, provide challenge and purpose, both at work and in our home lives. The difficult thing is defining how much is good for you. It is different for different people. The level of stress I may be able to endure could be significantly different from the level you can cope with. It is also situational; we have different coping abilities and mechanisms in different situations. For instance a shouty work colleague may upset someone far more on one day than on another depending on what is going on elsewhere in their lives. Or the computer failing to pick up emails may be a blessing on one day allowing you to get on with other tasks, but a high stressor on another day when you are expecting an important contract to come through electronically.

The strategies for coping with stress, whether eustress or distress, are also varied. Mindfulness, meditation, playing squash (or other sport), walking or talking are all useful strategies. And there are many more. But remember, some stress is good for you and can help you achieve your goals. As can be seen in the Yerkes–Dodson curve when dealing with a difficult task, there is an optimum performance level. How will you achieve yours?

What is great customer service?

Sometimes it is a matter of simply proving the customer with what they want.  Simply?  Well, yet it should be simple, but reality doesn’t always work out that way.  It isn’t always easy to know what the customer wants, and if you take the unusual step of, dare I suggest, asking the customer, you may find that they don’t know either!

Providing what you say you will is a start.  But these days the customer often expects a more personal touch and that can make you stand out from the competition.  And let’s face it, we all like to do that now and again.

Identify what makes you / your product unique

Establish what the customer is looking for – and is there a match?

Do what you say you will / what is expected

Then add an extra, personal touch, which will be particular to you, or the customer

Here’s an example from a restaurant my husband and I visited recently:

customer service

Teaching Chinese

We went to Charlie Chan’s Chinese restaurant in Cambridge where the customer service was excellent… far beyond the normal Chinese restaurant.  Yes, someone took us to our table, took our drinks order and we were left to peruse the menu in peace and quiet until ready to order.  The food met our expectations and the bill came… then the added extra happened.

The waiter asked whether I could read Chinese as I had asked for the copy of the bill to take home.  When I said I couldn’t he proceeded to discuss Chinese characters, the keyboard and how a Chinese computer works out what character you need and then gave us a lesson in drawing Chinese characters.  Something I have not experienced before, I won’t forget it, and we will be back for more food (not quite sure I will pass any lessons in writing Chinese though).

Confidence is often about having the courage of your convictions, saying what needs to be said, in a timely and appropriate manner whilst considering the other person’s point of view.

So what happens when you are challenged, say in a meeting?  Do you stand up for yourself or back down?

During a recent workshop on Courageous Conversations I discussed this with the participants.  Many felt it wasn’t easy to stand up for themselves if the person challenging them was of higher authority.  Here are a few suggestions should you need to stand up for yourself: Read more…