“Impostor Phenomenon” was originally described in a 1978 paper studying women with high-achieving careers. Since then, the impostor syndrome theory has been widely studied and developed in many ways. Symptoms include feeling like a fake and not as capable as others think, unworthiness, and low self-esteem. We all feel a little insecure sometimes, and this is normal, although the impostor mentality is much more severe and is commonly described as a debilitating problem.
MIT researcher Basima Tewfik has recently discovered this is not entirely true. She found that individuals harboring impostor syndrome in a workplace setting showed to be more productive, good team players, and harbor strong social skills.
“People who have workplace impostor thoughts become more other-oriented as a result of having these thoughts,” explains Tewfik. “As they become more other-oriented, they’re going to be evaluated as being more interpersonally effective.”
The new study firstly looked at investment management employees through evaluation forms and individual interviews. A positive correlation between employer satisfaction and interpersonal effectiveness was found when the employee harbored impostor thoughts.
The same process was repeated with physicians. “What I found is again this positive relationship, those physicians [with impostor concerns] were rated by their patients as more interpersonally effective, they were more empathetic, they listened better, and they elicited information well,” Tewfik notes.
Further surveys also came to the same other-oriented conclusion, leading to more interpersonal effectiveness. The research also found impostor syndrome is not a permanent way of thinking, with some people being able to eventually shed this mentality.
Tewik does stress that this is a serious condition and should not be dismissed or encouraged in any way. This is especially true for people working in a nongroup environment as they have no way to compensate for them which could make the condition worse. “We found a positive net outcome, but there might be scenarios where you don’t find that. If you’re working somewhere where you don’t have interpersonal interaction, it might be pretty bad if you have impostor thoughts,” Tewfik says.
Her research is just intended to break “the myth that this is always going to be bad for your performance” so we can more accurately define the condition and its effects. Tewik is currently expanding her work on workplace impostor syndrome, looking into its impact on creativity to increase our understanding further.
Source study: Academy of Management Journal – The Impostor Phenomenon Revisited: Examining the Relationship between Workplace Impostor Thoughts and Interpersonal Effectiveness at Work