Monday, November 05, 2007

Competence and Impostor Syndrome


I always loved Chiun, the wonderfully unreasonable Master of Sinanju from The Destroyer pulp novels by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy [I suspect because he reminded me of my wonderful friend Cheng, my first Chinese martial arts teacher]. I found one of these little treasures on my favourite second-hand bookstall a while back and came across this gem:
"You have no control over fate, but you do have control over your competence."
You surely do find truth in the most unexpected places.

I seem to spend an inordinate percentage of my time beseeching clients to just take control. People rarely seem to understand the degree of control, or competence, that they have in a given situation. My approach is to find where you have some, any, degree of control - and then exercise that control to the hilt.

Cut / Snip / Non sequitur ...


I had a great conversation with a truly gifted teacher of teachers and we ended up talking about Impostor Syndrome and how it might contribute to the epidemic of bullying and harassment we are seeing in the workplace.

Her view was that the reason why so many victims allow the inappropriate behaviour of the bully to escalate [and yes, I realise that I am grossly oversimplifying the phenomenon of workplace bullying] is that they feel as though they somehow deserve to be bullied - because they are impostors. So, under this model, the internal dialogue of the victim sounds something like this:
"I shouldn't really be in this job, and I feel all at sea a lot of the time; so if this person is behaving meanly and spitefully towards me it must be because he/she has seen through the mask and realises that I have no right to be in this job in the first place."
This certainly sounds like some of the victims I have worked with over the years, but I think Impostor Syndrome also has a large role to play in the mind of the bully:
"I shouldn't really be in this job, and I feel all at sea a lot of the time; so if I behave meanly and spitefully towards this person, it will stop him/her from seeing through the mask and realising that I have no right to be in this job in the first place."
The only difference being that I rarely, rarely, find that the perpetrator of these kinds of attacks can actually articulate their thinking in this way. They simply do not possess the insight to think this way.

All I can say for sure is that I have never met someone who was confident and comfortable in their competence who was either the perpetrator or the victim of this sort of behaviour. Yet another argument for finding your true talents and exploiting them to the max ...

What do you think? Impostors as bullies or impostors as victims? 50/50? More one that the other? Neither?

2 comments:

Andrew said...

I think those suffering from impostor syndrome have a strong tendency to be bullies.

i suffer from it myself, and in my weak moments i have bullied others because of my insecurity and defensiveness.

When i changed my environment to a more supportive one, i lost the feelings of the impostor syndrome and stopped being so defensive.

jen_chan, writer MemberSpeed.com said...

I think it's 50-50. Victims always have a reason to stay as victims. Bullies always have a reason to stay as bullies. And you're right, rarely are there confident people who bully others or vice-versa. If there was a ever an instance like that, it would mean that that person is is currently experiencing a moment of weakness.