Imagine you’re heading into an important meeting with a potential client. You have the information they need, the sales skill to close the deal, and a product that will help them. Suddenly, your inner monologue turns skeptic:
“Who are you to help this person? You’ve only been doing this for a little while. This is a huge responsibility and you’re not even really trained for it. You’re just pretending to be a good sales person. You’re an imposter.”
Imposter Syndrome isn’t a new concept, but it’s one that can have hugely negative effects on your ability to close sales and deal with customers. This pervasive disorder may lead you to undervalue your skills and abilities, making it almost impossible to build the confidence of your potential buyers or sales staff. In short, imposter syndrome can make you feel like a failure, which can make others believe that it’s true.
What exactly is Imposter Syndrome?
The term was first coined by a group of researchers in 1979, who published their findings in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice. The study found that very successful women tended to perceive themselves as “imposters” – attributing their success to fate, accident, or external overestimation of their skills.
Over the past 35 years, however, research has expanded to show that Imposter Syndrome is not just a female ailment. In a recent study published in Personality and Individual Differences, researchers found that women and men both suffer from this problem, although they deal with it in different ways. While women who deal with Imposter Syndrome often work harder to “prove themselves worthy” of their elevated positions, men tend to avoided situations where their perceived weaknesses can be noticed.
Imposter Syndrome Can Affect Your Customer Relationships
The problem with Imposter Syndrome is that is makes capable people feel that they are unable to meet the demands placed on them. And, when people believe that they are not capable of making sales, giving presentations, or having positive customer relationships, they often can’t.
Consider these potential situations:
John feels uncomfortable about cold-calling. He feels like a fake every time he tries to build rapport with a potential client over the phone. His nervousness comes off as brusk, hurried, and uninterested to those he talks with. As a result, his sales performance is suffering.
Tiffany is the VP of marketing at a small firm. She has worked very hard to prove herself in her workplace, often commenting that “there must have been a mistake when they were reviewing applicants.” When others question her decisions, she becomes aggressive and immovable – one of the many ways she tries to hide her insecurity about her decision-making process. This has led to several ironclad productivity policies that are driving many customers to her competitors.
Jorge has recently been promoted as a sales manager. Although he has won several awards for his customer service skills, he avoids giving a presentation about customer service improvement for fear that his weaknesses will be “found out.” So far, no one has benefited from his knowledge but himself.
Although these are just examples, you may recognize the behaviors as being very true-to-life. And, in each case, the customer relationships are the ones that will be harmed the most. John’s potential customers will leave feeling that his company is uninterested in their business. Tiffany’s customers are leaving due to the inflexible, productivity-driven policies she’s put in place. Jorge’s customers don’t even know what they’re missing, although his administrators will eventually question the lack of sales gains from his team.
Overcoming the Internal Imposter
Fortunately, there are ways to overcome Imposter Syndrome and regain the footing you may have lost with your customers and sales staff. By thinking positively and actively managing your fears, you can virtually eliminate the Imposter Syndrome from your work area.
Dr. Denise Cummins, a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), shared some tips for overcoming Imposter Syndrome in a recent Psychology Today article. She suggests three main ways to deal with the internal pressure this affliction causes.
- Own Your Successes. There is a real reason that you’ve gotten to where you are. You need to acknowledge those abilities and skills on a regular basis. Consider writing and framing a list of your accomplishments, talents, and positive traits. Then, place it somewhere you will see it regularly.
- Own Your Thoughts. Most people who are debilitated by Imposter Syndrome don’t take responsibility for the power they have over their own mind. Recognize that the way you think about yourself can positively or negatively affect the way others perceive you. As such, it is acceptable (and necessary) to see the best in yourself and eliminate negative self-talk whenever you recognize that you’re doing it.
- Understand the Purpose of Your Fears. Without the development of fear as a part of the human psyche, Neanderthals would never have lived long enough to invent fire. Fear is an important part of your life, and triggers naturally when you are stressed or under pressure. Recognize that all successful people are dealing with the same feelings you are. It’s a natural and normal part of being successful. As long as you don’t give them undue attention and credence, they will pass and you will be a more confident leader.
What Do You Think?
Any business whose leaders, sales staff, or customer service providers suffer from Imposter Syndrome is in danger of long-term negative repercussions. That’s why it’s vital for leaders to encourage team members to see and value their own accomplishments, in addition to providing external rewards for their skills.
Have you seen the effects if Imposter Syndrome in your business place? How did it affect you or your organization’s customer service? Share you stories with us in the comments.