MIT News: Study Finds an Unexpected Upside to Workplace Impostor Thoughts

15 Apr 2022
Employees harboring such thoughts often excel at teamwork, cooperation, and socializing.

Originally found at MIT News, by Peter Dizikes

Even many successful people harbor what is commonly called impostor syndrome, a sense of being secretly unworthy and not as capable as others think. First posited by pyschologists in 1978, it is often assumed to be a debilitating problem.

But research by an MIT scholar suggests this is not universally true. In workplace settings, at least, those harboring impostor thoughts tend to compensate for their perceived shortcomings by being good team players with strong social skills, and are often recognized as such by their employers.

“People who have workplace impostor thoughts become more other-oriented as a result of having these thoughts,” says Basima Tewfik, an assistant professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of a new paper detailing her findings. “As they become more other-oriented, they get evaluated as being higher in interpersonal effectiveness.” Importantly, across her studies, she does not find that this interpersonal upside comes at the expense of performance.

Tewfik’s research as a whole suggests we should rethink some of our assumptions about impostor thoughts and their dynamics. For example, “the idea that having these thoughts at work is always going to be bad for you may not be entirely true,” she observes. At the same time, she emphasizes, the prevalence of these types of thoughts among workers should not be ignored, dismissed, or even encouraged, given that she also finds that impostor thoughts lower self-esteem.

Continue reading the original article at MIT News.

Read the original research in Academy of Management Journal.

Read the Academy of Management Insights summary.

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