Impostor syndrome doesn't have to be a bad thing. Source: Shutterstock.

Harvard Business Review

Why impostor syndrome has its advantages

Harvard Business Review
5 minute Read

Basima A. Tewfik, an assistant professor at MIT Sloan, ran two field studies and two experiments examining employees who have “impostor syndrome” — commonly thought of as the feeling of being inadequate and a fraud despite a reputation for success at work. She discovered that these individuals adopted a more other-focused orientation in their social interactions. As a result they were rated as more interpersonally effective. The conclusion: impostor syndrome has its advantages.

Professor Tewfik, defend your research

Tewfik: People familiar with impostor syndrome tend to think that it’s uniformly harmful. To be sure, the belief that you’re not as competent as others think you are could certainly make you anxious and lower your self-esteem. But there’s an upside too. My research shows that experiencing this phenomenon can make you more adept at relationships, which is a key ingredient in career success.

In one study doctors in training who had more-frequent impostor thoughts were significantly better at handling sensitive interactions with patients, which led those patients to give them higher interpersonal-skill ratings. In another study job candidates primed to have more impostor thoughts asked more questions during informal preinterview chats and as a result were viewed by hiring managers as having better people skills.

Essentially, impostor thoughts make you more “other oriented” — more attuned to other people’s perceptions and feelings—which makes you more likable. In addition, impostor thoughts didn’t seem to hurt performance — at least not in my samples. Doctors who had more of them were just as likely as other doctors to give correct diagnoses, and job candidates who had more of them were just as likely to be invited for an interview after their chats with hiring managers.

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