Familiar with imposter syndrome? It’s the sense that you’re a fraud and that your inadequacies will be discovered any minute. Next thing you know, you’ll be shunned in public, lose your job and never recover from the shame of being found a sham. There’s plenty of great advice out there on fighting imposter syndrome and today we’re going to look at how your words can help you fight that dreadful feeling. Use one or more of the tactics below to send imposter syndrome on its way.

Right-size Your Language

It’s a scientifically proven fact that the words we speak actually impact the way we feel. Positive language releases “good” hormones like oxytocin and serotonin while negative language send “bad” hormones like cortisol into our systems. These chemical reactions impact how you feel about your abilities, your right to be at the table and so very much more. Fight back by deleting the minimizing words from your vocabulary. Stop using “just” or “only” when talking about yourself or what you want. Instead of “I’m just checking in,” or “I’m only an account coordinator,” say “I’m checking in,” or “I’m an account coordinator.”  Next, get rid of the passive voice. Rather than saying “The report was handed in,” say “I handed in the report.” These are small modifications that can have a big impact on the way you feel about what you’re doing.

Reprogram the Voices in Your Head

The most important voice you’ll ever hear is the one in your own head. Too often, we don’t guide that voice and it goes wild with claims of our shortcomings, the fear we feel, or the way someone else could do so much better than we can. The reality is that you can control what stories you tell yourself and you can make sure they work for you. I’m not inviting you to make up grandiose fairy tales about slaying dragons or winning the lottery. Rather, I’m suggesting you remind yourself of your successes when you’re in a challenging situation. Tell yourself about a time you solved a difficult dilemma and how you can do it again. How to get started? Spend a little time with a notebook thinking through your history and where you felt good about your performance. Then go back to those stories when imposter syndrome starts stalking you.

Listen Literally

Your great Aunt Hilda may dismissively say, “Well, isn’t that nice?” when she clearly disdains your new dress but chances are good that the co-worker who admires your ability to think on your feet or the manager who mentions your emerging leadership skills are being sincere. Listen literally to the words they say and accept them. Someone appreciates your quick thinking. That’s all you need to hear. Don’t let the little voice in your head start telling you that you only think quick on your feet because you’re terrified of getting caught without the right answer. Don’t do anything more than hear the words as they are spoken to you. By allowing others to own their words, you’re respecting them. By hearing only what they say, you’re respecting yourself.

Whatever you do, don’t let imposter syndrome go unchallenged. You can do good work, there’s a reason why you’re where you are in your career and it’s your responsibility to choose the path that supports your professional development.

Talk to you next week,

Amber D. Nelson


Cover of Amber Nelson's book, "Talk to Me"

Subscribe to The Lingo-ist

Subscribe to The Lingo-ist, Amber's monthly blog with free resources including insights and inspiration on language and leadership. A digital copy of Talk To Me: 11 Ways to Make Your Conversations Richer Deeper and More Meaningful is yours when you sign up.  

Please check your email to confirm your subscription to The Lingo-ist.