You’ve probably heard about impostor syndrome before—the feeling that, regardless of any evidence to the contrary, we’re unqualified for our jobs or roles. It’s ubiquitous, says Eric Frazer, president of Top Talent Psychology and author of The Psychology of Top Talent: The Practical Scientifically Proven Method to Identify, Hire, and Develop High Performers. Talented, skilled successful people move forward in their careers. Then, he says, they often “hit a wall.”
“This phenomenon of impostor syndrome is really the belief that ‘I can’t keep going.’ Which is not true, right? So, the cognitive distortion is thinking, ‘I can’t hang in there for this long-term goal. I’m not going to make it. I can’t keep up,'” Frazer says. And it happens even in the face of significant evidence to the contrary.
Impostor syndrome expert Clare Josa, author of Ditching Impostor Syndrome, conducted a study being released later this month in which she found that 100% of those people surveyed who were in senior positions and who said they “never” get impostor syndrome showed signs of it in their self-talk and actions. Of those who said they didn’t know what it is, 75% showed clear signs of it, with the percentage spiking to 100% for those in senior roles.
But emotionally intelligent people have a particular set of skills that allow them to manage impostor syndrome better than most, says Halelly Azulay, founder of HR consultancy TalentGrow. “Rather than just going with gut reactions or their first reaction, they recognize that there is an opportunity for them to override, let’s say some kind of a reactive or emotional response with one that’s more rational,” she says.
Because they’re more skilled in identifying and managing their emotions, they can better overcome cognitive distortions. Here are five ways that emotionally intelligent people deal with impostor syndrome:
Pause and reflect
When emotionally intelligent people are feeling insecure or inadequate, they’re often able to take a beat and assess the situation, Azulay says. They recognize that our reactions are based both in the reactive part of our brain, the amygdala, and our more rational thought center, the neocortex.
Someone who is emotionally intelligent can pause when the amygdala is causing an emotionally based response and have an internal dialogue. They “recognize that something that you’re thinking or something that you’re feeling is not necessarily the objective truth. It’s just a version of how your brain is initially reacting to something,” she says. And they’re often able to calm that response and think about the situation more rationally before forming a conclusion.
While in the grip of impostor syndrome, finding confidence can seem like a challenge—especially when you’re the high-achieving person who everyone else goes to for advice and pep talks. It can be difficult to turn the tables and ask for help, says Richard Orbé-Austin, cofounder of Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting, a career consulting and executive coaching firm.
But emotionally intelligent people are able to let themselves be vulnerable to get the help they need. Finding a trusted friend, colleague, or mentor who can help you process what you’re feeling and address it is an important step in leaving these feelings behind, he says. “When you don’t tell anyone about it, that perpetuates the impostor syndrome,” he says.
Build a case
Emotionally intelligent people seek information from the world around them, so they’re able to assess facts that either support or disprove their emotional reactions. So, they look at their own accomplishments, training, and track record to get a sense of whether what they’re feeling is a distortion or not, Orbé-Austin says.
In some cases, the impostor syndrome is spurred by a stretch assignment or a new, more challenging role. Reviewing the actions and skills that resulted in that opportunity can give you a sense of whether what you’re feeling is based in reality or not, he says.
Give themselves a break
Emotionally intelligent people realize that there are “7.7 billion people on the planet, and every single one of us is born with a sense of inadequacy, insecurity, doubt, and fear,” says executive coach Mike Kitko, author of The Imposter in Charge. People who are able to manage their emotions realize that feeling a bit behind everyone else is part of the human condition. The difference is that they can experience the feelings of fear and anxiety and not become unable to act. Instead, they continue to show up and do the things that scare them, Kitko says.
“As you show up on the inside, as you feel about yourself, that’s the way the world treats you,” Kitko says. When you step into your own competence and courage, even if you’re nervous, you’re going to get farther than if you react fearfully or try to fake your way through powerful emotions, he says.
Accept good instead of waiting for perfect
In a knowledge economy, people need to be continuous learners, Frazer says. As technology, trends, and workplace matters change on a dime, it’s easy to feel left behind. Emotionally intelligent people are more likely to have a growth mindset that allows them to accept that they won’t be good at everything. Those who get stuck in the notion that they’re thought leaders and must “know it all” are more susceptible to impostor syndrome because they have trouble admitting what they don’t know, he says.
As an alternative, emotionally intelligent people embrace curiosity to find out what they don’t know. “[If] you’re curious and interested in expanding your knowledge base in a different direction, that may give you a different point of view from a different discipline set.” That’s going to enhance your performance in your current role, Frazer says.
Impostor syndrome is a common malady. Developing your emotional intelligence skills—which are so highly sought after by many organizations—can help you overcome it when it happens.