IA Summit 2015 Main Conference Talk
Topic(s): professional development and psychology
Have you ever felt like you’re not as capable as people think you are? Or felt like a fraud about to be uncovered? You may be experiencing Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome is the sense that you are less accomplished or qualified than your peers. It’s common in many professions where ambition is high, and it’s definitely prevalent in UX, where we have limited visibility into each other’s work. We end up thinking that everyone else knows something we don’t, that everyone is doing better work than we are.
As professionals and as people who have experienced Impostor Syndrome, we have explored its causes and potential solutions in depth. When we’ve presented on the subject, we’ve received feedback about how our presentations have encouraged people to “come out” with their own Impostor Syndrome, and we know that the syndrome is pervasive but seldom discussed openly.
In our interactive workshop, we will share techniques for recognizing and combating Impostor Syndrome. We’ll help participants figure out what they need to do to assist in dealing with it and ultimately work towards the goal of lessening the impact Impostor Syndrome has on their lives and work. Participants will create a personal “toolbox” that they can use whenever Impostor Syndrome rears its ugly head.
- An understanding of the causes of Impostor Syndrome and its effects
- The ability to recognize Impostor Syndrome in themselves and others
- A toolbox of artifacts and techniques for coping with and combating Impostor Syndrome in order to feel more successful and fulfilled at work and in life
- An improved sense of their own value as they discover that nearly everyone else feels like an impostor too
- An opportunity for ongoing conversation and support through a post-workshop forum
About the speaker(s)
Lori Widelitz-Cavallucci is User Experience Design Lead at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Amy Silvers is a seasoned designer and researcher with expertise in information architecture, user research, product design, and UX design. (She’s not, however, a UI designer!) She has most recently worked with Capital One and Nasdaq.
Amy is a longtime IA Summit attendee who has also volunteered on the social media team.
Lori Widelitz-Cavallucci: The next time I spoke, I was in a much different place. I had had a lot of successes with my job.
Things were going well, and my impostor was sort of pushed beneath the surface. But that part of my was waiting to come out at the next moment and scream, “You’re an impostor!” and that I didn’t deserve the successes that I had worked hard to achieve.
From my long history dealing with impostor syndrome, my entire life, and becoming even more of an expert through the research I’ve done, for the presentations that Amy and I have given. I’ve come to the fact that impostor syndrome never completely fades.
It can go into remission, it can go down to the surface, but it’s just waiting to come out again. I think that’s a pattern that we all experience, and it’s like a wave, it comes in and then it goes out again.
There’s a constant flow, so you’re either in one state or another. There’s always one thing that makes me look at myself and say, “Wow, how’d I get anywhere in life?”
Amy: I’ll tell my most recent impostor story. I get to feel like an impostor every single day at work. I work with actual unicorns, my co-workers are people that, aside from being younger, cooler, hipper, smarter and better looking than me, can code.
They can design, they can do strategy, and they can think all equally well, which is very intimidating. Even worse, I work with Yeoni, if any of you know Yeoni, he’s sort of a hero in the UX community. He’s also a supercorn, he can do everything, and better than almost anybody else.
I start to wonder why I even think I should be allowed to be in the same room with them. I regularly have to remind myself, and I’ve gotten a little better about this, I may be slow at code, but I’m OK at the other stuff. I’ve been doing it for a while, about 10 years.
There are ideas, and patterns, and approaches to information architecture, and to user experience design, that are second nature to me now, and still very new to them. Sometimes I’m able to talk myself down from the impostor stuff.
Lori: In 1978, Clance and Imes conducted a study. They looked at high-achieving women and how impostor syndrome affected them. I won’t go into the details but I’ll highlight the symptoms to review.
The first is feeling inadequate. Like a fraud, despite strong evidence to the contrary, the second is a tendency to attribute success to external factors, such as luck. The third is the fear of being found out and have your true abilities discovered.
In our survey we had used several questions from the CIPS, or the Clance Impostor Phenomenon’s Scale, and the three ratings aligned with the symptoms. First, being fake.
The second rating is discount. The third rating is luck. Like Clance and Imes, we found that a great number of our respondents experienced generalized anxiety, depression, and a lack of self-confidence.
Additionally, performance anxieties are highly correlated with impostor syndrome. While both men and women experience impostor syndrome, there are gender differences as to how we react to it.
Women will work really hard and show they can outperform others. Men, they tend to avoid, and avoid any contest where they feel vulnerable. As with anything that affects us psychologically, our families play into the lies.
Those of us who experience impostor syndrome have a sibling typically designated as the intelligent one. We could never live up to this. Those of us who have impostor syndrome tend to take on the role of being the sensitive one in the family.
There are many possible causes for how we end up with impostor syndrome. Parents tend to self-select aspects of the child to value, such as attractiveness or sociability, while undervaluing other aspects, like intelligence.
It’s a never-ending cycle, and while it drives us forward and encourages us to work harder and create success for us, it also leads to us feeling even more like a fraud, and keeps going on. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Additionally, there are some really negative consequences that come from impostor syndrome, as I know from my own experience, and I’m sure many of you do too.
The negative aspects of impostor syndrome create behaviors where we may sabotage ourselves, creating self-handicapping actions. This instills fear and paralyzes us from reaching out for things we actually want professionally or academically.
Impostor syndrome tends to rear its ugly head when you’re encountering some new such as a new job, different responsibilities or a promotion.
We can do better dealing with our impostor syndrome and how we can move pass the behaviors as a result. I’m going to give you some suggestions. Again, we’re going to be delving in this.
We’re going to be figuring it out on our own. These are just some things that are pretty common ends to how to overcome it. We’ll be delving into this more.
First, give yourself room to think up any new beginning. It’s OK not to know. Expose this and ask for help. I read this summer and I really wanted to share it with you because I thought it was really a great analogy for impostor syndrome.
When you were a baby, you tried to walk. Every time, you fell down. Did this make you a walking impostor? Who are you to talk? You can’t even do it. It’s absurd.
Don’t forget, you compare yourselves to people but they’re doing the same thing. They’re comparing themselves as well. Please, focus your inner critique on things that you can control more. You can’t control your behaviors. Attributes, you have a little more control over.
Don’t use words that minimize your abilities. I really noticed a lot of us tend to say, “I’m sorry.” In fact, the flight attendant on the plane said, “Sorry, not sorry.” From my own experience, I was able to move pass my own self-sabotaging behaviors by getting a mentor.
Have someone to bounce feedback off of. Have them help you do this. Once you’ve gotten better with this yourself, then be a mentor. Share your knowledge that it’ll get passed on and we can all help each other.
Remind yourself of you accomplishments. Write down your wits. Keep a journal of both good and bad. Write down your feelings associated with each and look at the patterns of that. The next impostor syndrome arises, you can try to figure out where it’s coming from and ward it off.
Display your words and achievement to serve as a constant reminder or keep a folder of them. Keep trying. Ask for constructive feedback because remember the feedback you ask on your work is of your work. It’s not on your personality or you.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading up in psychology and performance, specifically in athletic contests due to my own competitions and my son who is a junior Olympian. Lucid dreaming is something that has come up. I really think it’s applicable to what we have here.
If we envision that we are successful, maybe we’ll lessen the impact of impostor syndrome on our lives. There really is. There’s been proven fact that there’s muscle memory associated with that. What you envision actually happens.
The more present and engaged you are with what you were doing, you have less room to indulge in the self-sabotaging thoughts. We put a great deal into these energies. Refocus your attention on the positive instead. Remember, we are not alone with these feelings.
We’re going to be delving into the workshop part in a little bit. Just a couple of more minutes. I’m going to talk a little bit more about behavior loops. These can be positive or negative.
Impostor syndrome lives in the negative. If you constantly take action and you focus on that, impostor syndrome can’t do damage. You may feel it every so often, but by doing this you won’t let it stop you.
It’s just recognizing it. There’s always a trigger, then we have an actions and then there’s a reward. The reward can be a negative reward or positive.
We’re going to be moving to the tables. We’re going to be out there with you actually and talking about the first exercise. Many of you may recognize this. It’s Donna Latrell’s story arc from her story mapping.
We’re going to map out our current state and I’ll show you an example of this in a minute and then we’re going to work on our future state. We can actually see where we are and what our lives would be like without the impostor syndrome affecting us.
Essentially, what we have with us for impostor syndrome is always going to be a cliffhanger because this is where you get caught in the behavior loop of trigger, behavior and action.
In the future state, we’re going to be creating that. It’s going to be the same, but then we’re going to look at the climax and the conclusion as to what it would be, how we would deal with that episode.
This is about searching for a job, getting some rejections, and what do you do? Where do you go? It’s really fucking hard, it is. It’s not in my slide, because it’s a slide. But we all know when we get to that point, how do we come out of that? The future state will be the rest of how we deal with that.
What we’re going to be doing, I’m going to be taking notes. There’s stickies on the table. We’re going to be writing down some of these. Then we’re going to be moving to the pads in the middle.
As a group, we’re going to be coming up with a story arc of the impostor syndrome, and then coming out of it, current state and future state. We’ll come out there and help.
Amy: We’ve got stickies and writing paper on the tables. If you feel like sharing your story arc, we’ve got some sheets up on the wall. You can post it up and we might ask you to talk through it.
Remember that you can’t control everything that happens along the arc of your story, but you can control where the narrative goes after it reaches that peak point, that climax. You have sudden control over that. Have at it.
I’m hearing that there is a little bit of confusion about what we’re actually doing here. Lori’s example of job interview process might help. Starting with the interviewing and stuff, and feeling really positive, feeling on top of the world, getting interviews, getting good responses.
Then you got a few interviews and they never call you back, or you get some rejections. You start feeling like, “Maybe I’m not really qualified to do this work. I must be a little bit of a fraud applying for a job.”
Then you’re just fighting to feel better about yourself. You’re telling yourself on the one hand, “I can’t do this job. Why do I even think I’m qualified to apply for these jobs?” You’re fighting with those feelings. You get to the top of the arc.
What are you going to do from there? In your current state, maybe you’re going to start applying for lower level jobs, or you’re just going to give up. You’re going to stick at your current job, even though you hate it. If you’re fighting with impostor syndrome, if you’re impostor syndrome is taking over.
In your future state, which is where you want to get to, you’re going to figure out ways to manage those feelings and keep pressing forward, and find the right fit for you.
The future state is a somewhat idealized state. But when you picture that state, you can start to think about how you’re going to get there. What actions are you going to take? What do you need to have fall into place to get you there?
Start with some current state stuff, and then plot out your future state. If your current state is great, think about where you want to be in the future. Start mapping that out. Think about what’s the next obstacle that you’re going to face. What’s that falling arc going to look like. I hope that helps. Yeah?
Audience Member: Are we supposed to do this for ourselves individually, or do a sample as a table?
Amy: Whichever way you guys want to work. If you want to collaborate on a shared vision, that’s cool. If you’d rather plot something out individually, and then share it with each other, or share it with the groups, that works too.
Lori: That was good.
Amy: So let’s start to wind down. One thing we didn’t do before we got started, is ask for a show of hands on people who have actually dealt with “impostor syndrome” at any time in their life?
Audience Member: We had one of our group members tell a story. He’s from a New York background, and he has no college education. He definitely wanted this tech job in IT or UX, so he figures the best way to start is to go on an interview.
He goes on this practice interview hoping that he gets the job, but he doesn’t get the job, which is a huge deflate to his ego.
He tries for days, he tries connecting skills to boost his ego and to have that prerequisite. He learns [inaudible 16:19] US industry, but his current job is signaling emotions of inadequacy.
It’s just that he’s not quite getting ready once again. He gets to an interview for this industrial outpatient job, they’re doing experience applications for graphic arts.
He gets to the interviewer, and the interviewer immediately sees that he went to UCLA, and the interviewer also went to UCLA, once they get [inaudible 16:51] , but my friend Eric didn’t actually go to UCLA, he took a couple of classes at a UCLA Extension Center, but never actually got that college degree.
Through the course of his interview, he finds out that he has quite a bit in common with this interviewer. Talking to all the people of the company, the effort for him, they all work well together.
The team had never had a US title, so he gets the job. In the meantime, he’s reading, learning all he can, going on this new…Boost his skills, getting himself [inaudible 17:30] to try to get in. The moral is that “You can fake it until you make it, you’ll always [inaudible 17:37] .”
Amy: Faking it until you make it is a fantastic way to deal with impostor syndrome.
Over time, unless you suffer from the reverse of impostor syndrome, which is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, where you greatly over-estimate your abilities, the odds are you will successfully fake it until you make it.
Lori: This is a really great example.
Amy: Good example of taking action to control the arc of your narrative. Sorry, I’ll let you finish your sentences.
Lori: That’s it. Basically you took the story, and how you spun it off. Those are all things that will help you to get out of that negative cycle and into a positive one.
Amy: Anyone else want to share? Awesome, man up.
Audience Member: For the current state, our hypothetical person is going into their first designer deal with their new coworkers, and they’re feeling really good about their design, and they know that it meets the customer’s needs.
But, uh oh, they don’t like something. The coworkers don’t like something about the design, in the current state.
Lori: That never happens, right?
Audience Member: In the current state the designer engages in what I call back pedal mode. “Oh, this is just a draft. Oh, that was just one idea. I’m not tied to it. I’m not married to it. Yeah, I didn’t love that either.”
Basically agrees with the criticism, even though they don’t really agree, but they’re afraid to put their stake in the ground and say, “No, I think we’ve got the right ideas.”
Then, they redo everything based on their feedback, even though they’re not really sure that they’re making it better, and then when they go to present to the client, they’re very nervous.
They’re not confident because they feel like they’re saying someone else’s words and presenting someone else’s design, so then that meeting doesn’t really go very well either. That’s where I stopped, because that’s depressing enough.
Instead, if we have the same rising action going into design review and, “Oh, well they don’t like something,” instead of engaging in back pedal mode in the future state, maybe stop the people who are having criticisms, and start digging in and asking questions to understand what their concerns really are.
Instead of saying, “Oh, it’s just a draft,” or, “That was just a thought,” or, “I don’t really care,” explain why you designed it the way you did and why you think it meets the customer’s needs, but without feeling defensive, which is hard.
Because you start feeling like, “I’m over-explaining,” or, “It shouldn’t be this much work to explain, maybe it’s not a good idea after all.” Then, making small tweaks that address their specific concerns, but still move the idea in the overall direction that you think it should go.
Then, when you present it to the customer, you have confidence that what you’ve done will meet their needs, and that it’s been reviewed, and improved on, instead of restarted two days before the presentation.
Lori: These are two fabulous examples so far. I’m going to ask you if you mind if I take pictures and post these on the wiki, because it would be good for all of us to look back and remember?
Audience Member: Apparently I missed my own analysis session. Oh my god.
Lori: Thank you for revealing, but again, I love these. These are fabulous examples.
Audience Member: Really awesome.
Amy: This one is something we deal with as designers pretty much on a regular basis.
Lori: …every day.
Amy: Probably once per project, [inaudible 21:57] .
Lori: Thank you.
Amy: [inaudible 21:59] . You made those design decisions for reasons, based on your knowledge, your expertise, and your understanding. Don’t apologize for that.
Be open to criticism, of course, but don’t back pedal. Don’t say, “Oh yeah, I know it sucks, but [inaudible 22:19] .” Don’t do it, explain. Explain why you did these things.
You know, and if you can tap into that knowledge, into that inner confidence that you have, because you have [inaudible 22:29] , you have experience, even if it’s three weeks’ experience. You’re not doing this off the top of your head.
Lori: To add to this, sometimes know your audience. Do they need research-based evidence? Do they need to see UX patterns? What is it? Understand what their needs are and reach them there, because you’ll have a better opportunity of them not taking you back down.
Amy: We have time for one more [inaudible 22:59] , one more [inaudible 23:01] to share, one more individual. [inaudible 23:04].
Audience Member: This is a marketing [inaudible 23:08] , an individual one I was working on.
Lori: That’s fine.
Audience Member: It’s not [inaudible 23:27] . In the job, doing a job, work is stuck at the same level, not totally fulfilling. “There should be more, I should be utilizing it better.” [inaudible 23:41], you can’t get ahead.
Rising action, a chance comes up to the [inaudible 23:44] in the company, where get a chance to really stretch. Coming up towards more rising action, right?
Get an assignment from the boss to envision and to create a new group, and a bigger website. “Well, at least it’s not a customer experience.” What would that be? Who would be in that group? How many people? What would they do? What would their roles be?
Then, the crisis, the climax here so far, the stuck place is like, “I don’t know how to do that. Now I’m being exposed for what I actually don’t know, even though I’m supposed to be [inaudible 24:25] do this. I come up with some notes, but is this even right?”
Stalling without actually finishing the assignment. Looking [inaudible 24:36] , “Seems like I should do [inaudible 24:38] research, I could talk to other people, but I’m too overwhelmed, and I don’t have energy to even do that,” so being stuck here [inaudible 24:45].
Amy: [off mic] [inaudible 24:47] …it can become very difficult to ask for help, [inaudible 24:58] faces that you don’t know. My tendency is always to [inaudible 25:05] “I can do this.” [inaudible 25:10] “I’m going to figure it out [inaudible 25:11] . If I don’t [inaudible 25:11].”
Ask around, work with other people admitting that they’re [inaudible 25:24] . It takes everybody to get that [inaudible 25:29].
Lori: It takes a lot of confidence to admit that you don’t know. It’s a hard state to get in because you feel like they’re looking to you as the expert, but we can’t know everything. As long as we know how to get that information, whether it’s our own research or asking others, it’s really OK. These are great.
Lori: Yeah. Basically, there’s a cool concept. That’s called externalizing the problem. It’s where instead of personalizing the problem, you call it out in the open and you name it.
This frees up shame and blame, and it really allows a discussion to happen more freely. In terms of impostor syndrome, let’s ask, “What happens when impostor syndrome takes over for us?” This is the exercise. You can partner or you can write it down on your own.
It depends what you’re comfortable with. I feel it works better with at least one other person or small group. But, again, it’s your own personal thing. Take some time. Write down what happens when your impostor syndrome takes over.
Again, if you feel comfortable, discuss it. Because, again, when we call it out and we name it, it helps to realize we’re not alone and to get over it. It gives you something tangible that you then can work with. We’ll be walking around again, if there are any questions.
Amy: This exercise is a little shorter, but you can build off what you’ve done with the story arc to, again, focus on what the outcome is or has been when you’ve experienced this in the past, and how you would like it to be better.
How you could have affected the outcome, changed your own behaviors to affect the outcome, to make it better. We’re going to give about, I think, 15 minutes for this one…
Lori: That’s it.
Amy: Calling time here.
Amy: I love it. Nobody’s paying any attention to me.
Lori: How’s everyone doing because we’re going to start moving away from this exercise?
Amy: We’ve got a couple more exercises at least that we want to go through. This should go without saying, but, of course, there are no right or wrong answers to any of these exercises and no right or wrong ways to approach them.
Our goal is to get you thinking about this stuff and starting to identify the patterns, right? We’re UX professionals. We look for patterns and things. I know I’m a librarian by nature and by training so I look for the categories and the…Do that.
As you start to identify those patterns, it’s going to help you stop impostor syndrome in its tracks, or at least fight it off a little bit.
With that exercise, did you start to see some of how impostor syndrome affects you negatively and how you can see better outcomes if you take away the impostor syndrome? I think unless anyone really, really wants to share their story from that exercise, we’ll use that as input for the next one.
Lori: The next exercise, again, we’re all working towards figuring things out so we can then help the next time it happens. We all react to things in our life that serve as triggers. They extend from the interactions we’ve had in the past.
When a situation arises that causes our feelings of impostor syndrome to arise, it usually is related to something that happened in our past because we have that history. Figuring these things out, it’s an important first step.
I want you to take some time to think about and then write these things down. You may need more time than what we have here. It’s OK.
It may not come to you and it may have to come with time, but you’ll have the tools to take away. Then you can always reach out and ask us. Identify a situation that triggers your impostor syndrome.
Some examples are when someone gives you a disapproving look. Someone is unavailable to you. They discount or ignore you. They blame or shame you. They may try to control you, being judgmental or critical.
Those are examples. When these triggers that are specific to you happen, how do you react? Because, again, we have the triggers. We have the reactions. Write these down. Some examples are you comply or become a people pleaser. You shut down and withdraw.
You may get angry. You may avoid. If it helps, I’ll give you an example from my own life. One of my triggers comes from being the youngest of four children. You get where my impostor syndrome stems from already. I was often discounted and, honestly, they still do this to me. [laughs]
We’re all grown-ups. When I feel my work is being discounted, I have a combination of reactions. Initially, I shut down, I withdraw, and I get angry. Something I used to do, but that I’m more aware of now, I used to avoid it like the plague because it’s hard. Again, fucking hard.
But I have become better with this, as I’ve dealt, over time, with my feelings of impostor syndrome. I don’t avoid anymore, and I’m much better at feeling other feelings. Again, it’s not something I want, but I know where it comes from, so I can start to focus on that a little more.
It’s using your muscle memory to identify your triggers and then your reactions. Again, it doesn’t have to be completed today. It’s something that, over time…and something may happen. You may have your list. You can just add to the list and think about it, but at least you know what to do.
Amy: Let’s start to wind down. Give you another minute or so.
Amy: Time. One of my triggers for impostor syndrome is being ignored.
Amy: I hope you all were able to identify some triggers, things that set you off. Does anyone want to share what they came up with? Lise?
Audience Member: One of my triggers is that if somebody tells me that they need to talk to me about something, but they won’t tell me what it is right away, I automatically go into “oh-oh, I did something wrong” mode. I think I’m in trouble.
I tracked that back to the muscle memory part of that and where that comes from. I was kind of a mischievous kid and I was always doing silly, stupid little things to get in trouble. That comes from my mother always saying, “I need to talk to you about this,” and then I was in trouble.
Audience Member: Today, if it’s at work or something, rarely I’m in any trouble. I need to learn, “OK, so he just needs to talk about something. It has nothing to do with me doing something wrong.”
That’s a big one for me, so I kind of tense up a little bit. I thought, “Well, I better go hide from him, so then deal with it.”
Lori: That mother stuff is very powerful.
Audience Member: It is.
Lori: It stays with us.
Audience Member: A lot of muscle memory [laughs] comes from that, actually. As I was writing down my other triggers, I realized a lot of that came from that, parenting and childhood issues…
Amy: I think we internalize those voices, too, our parents’ voices, so that even when they stop being…to use a very personal example, when I got divorced, I had trouble telling my parents that my marriage was breaking up.
I really thought, “God, they’re going to disapprove. This is going to be really hard.” They were fine with it. My mother basically said, “Well, you know, I told you so when you got married.”
Amy: I was in my late 30s when I got divorced, and their attitude was, “Well, OK. That’s too bad, but you’re an adult. You can handle it.” It wasn’t, “You’re a seven-year-old girl, and we disapprove of your behavior,” but that was what I had internalized thoroughly.
That getting in trouble thing, every so often my boss, who is a very, very, very busy human being, will walk by my desk and say, “Hey, I got something I need to talk to you about later,” and I go through the exact, same thing. “This is it, getting fired.”
Lori: Every single time, if I don’t know, I’m like, “I’m getting fired.”
Lori: It’s like I did something wrong.
Audience Member: …my manager. We have a great relationship. I’m never in trouble, but it’s always if someone, an authority figure, is saying they need to talk to me, there must be something wrong.
Lori: Exactly. I have a Jewish mother. That says it all.
Amy: Anyone else? Maureen?
[background sounds only]
Audience Member: We had a really great discussion at our table. I put together a little diagram on the bottom, where I talk about the muscle memory that triggers a reaction, and then the reaction.
Some of the muscle memories we came up with were our experiences in high school and not being the cool kid. Everybody’s always listening to the other people, and not to you. The parents.
Even now, being a team of one, where you’re your only person to bounce things off of and [inaudible 36:25] . You’re isolated in that echo chamber of the thoughts, the voice, and the over-thinking, which is our reaction to the trigger, which could be criticism.
We even talked about cognitive dissonance. Everybody’s saying, “Oh, you did such a great job. Oh, we love what you did,” and you know where all the wrinkles are. You know that it was a lousy effort.
That’s what you’re saying to yourself, “They’re going to find out that this part of it isn’t working the way it’s supposed to work.” You get that voice telling, “Oh, you’re not doing well.” You’re thinking about it too much. You’re hiding. You’re not talking to people.
Some of the actions that we were talking about to get over that was put on that smiley face and say, “I did a good job. People like me. I’m getting some…” focusing on the positive criticism that you’re getting.
Criticism can be positive. It isn’t just negative. Then discussing it, trying to force yourself to ask for criticism. [laughs]
Lori: I actually like to call that critique. To me, criticism it’s my Jewish mother coming out at me. I like to differentiate. I know people don’t but for me the word criticism itself has triggers. So I say “critique,” because it is. I ask for critique. I want feedback, positive or negative.
Amy: You made two really great points in there that are worth teasing out a little more, the idea of critique being a positive thing. I love presenting in front of my co-workers.
We have a check-in every week where people present just kind of what they’re working on. We specify whether we want feedback or whether we’re just showing where we are in a process.
When we get feedback, I get the most thoughtful, engaged, helpful feedback. It’s like, “Oh, they’re listening. They’re not dismissing this. They’re not laughing behind their hands that I’m doing this pathetic little sketch. They’re giving me concrete actionable feedback and they’ve thought about it.”
That’s tremendously flattering. Looking at it as a positive is a way to turn the tape off that’s constantly saying, “They’re telling you, you suck,” and listen to it a little differently. Also, the idea of actually seeking critique and seeking that feedback gets you out of your comfort zone.
We have a little thing we posted on the Wiki. It’s a quiz about getting out of your comfort zone. Getting out of your comfort zone doesn’t mean terrifying yourself. If you don’t want to go skydiving, you’re not going to do yourself a lot of favors by making yourself go skydiving.
But pushing yourself in areas where you see that you’re confined to a comfort zone and where you feel comfortable, pushing out of your comfort zone a little bit, too, also strengthens confidence. It gives you a sense that you can accomplish a lot more than you thought you could. Anyone else want to share?
Lori: There was someone over here before.
Amy: Here. We’ve got two next. I think we’ve got time.
Audience Member: I guess with me the trigger is when I meet people. I assume they won’t like me and I don’t open up. That’s because when I was a child I was teased a lot by my family and by everyone else that I met. I just assume that people who I meet are all looking to do that. That’s something that I’ve been working on.
Lori: Very natural reaction because that’s heavy. There was a lot of damage there. It’s hard to overcome that. But awareness is the first step.
Amy: Thank you for sharing that. It’s hard to talk about that stuff.
Lori: Who first?
Audience Member: We were talking sometimes during either critique or I forgot something or I made a mistake or similar. I tend to as muscle memory to say, “I’m sorry.” I’m very aware of it and I know I say, “I’m sorry,” too much. Then I might apologize for saying, “I’m sorry.”
Audience Member: Instead, I’m trying to figure out what you say as a substitute because your muscle memory kind of wants to [inaudible 41:07] . I’m working on substituting “I’m sorry” with “Thank you.” I’d rather be known as someone who says, “Thank you,” too much.
Audience Member: It takes a lot of work when you get to it and say, “Oh, I forgot that. I’m sorry,” say, “Oh, I forgot that. Thank you.” Then just really coming up with an alternative because you probably can’t go cold turkey.
Audience Member: Maybe working on something like, “Oh, thank you for letting me know,” or “Thanks. That was great.” Changing the tone of your attitude to “I can do better” versus “I’m sorry I didn’t do.” That’s something I’m working on and I’m keenly aware of but thought it was something [inaudible 41:49] .
Lori: That’s excellent.
Amy: That’s a really good tactic.
Audience Member: For me, one of my triggers is silence. If you’re, let’s say, giving critique to a co-worker and there’s just silence in the room. You’re like, “Did I just say something really, really stupid?” or, “Am I being a bitch and no one wants to respond?”
Also like a group chat setting or even on Facebook, you post something and there’s just silence. That really crushes my ego and brings back all kinds of self-doubt and being the uncool kid or whatever that may be.
One of the things that I’m working with that is in an in-person setting, sum up the critique following up with like, “Did that make sense?” Something to illicit some kind of feedback gently.
I still haven’t figured out how to fix that problem on my group chat on Facebook, so if anyone has any tips for me…
Amy: I have a tip on that, because I am exactly the same way. I was the youngest child and the only girl, and I was the youngest by quite a bit, so I was doted on a lot as a child. The universe doesn’t really dote on you once you leave your family. I hate being ignored. I hate anyone being unavailable to me.
Two tips. One is I tend to also say, “I hope that wasn’t too lame,” or, “Did that make any sense?” Don’t do that. That’s inherently negative, and it’s a form of apologizing. Say, just straightforwardly, “So, do you have any thoughts about that? Did anyone have any feedback about that?”
I’ve been in situations in my current workplace where nobody really had much to say. It’s like, “Yeah, this looks good,” but they don’t necessarily come out and say it. If you ask them, they’ll say, “No, you know, it looks like it’s in a good place. I’m looking forward to seeing the next round,” so just ask.
The other tip is silence, people ignoring you, or not being available to you, is not generally about you. I’m going to talk about that a little bit more at the end. I send emails to my boss sometimes.
It’s an interesting situation, because he and I have been friends for a very long time and were friends before he was my boss.
I expect responses from him. If I hit him on chat or whatever and he doesn’t respond right away, I tend to think, “God, he’s…this was a stupid idea. I should never have asked him about it. God, what did I do? I put my foot in my mouth with him. I really shouldn’t do that.”
Then I remind myself that he’s the associate vice president of the company, or an associate vice president. He’s got a lot on his plate, and he thinks about stuff in the order that it needs to be thought about.
He’s not really worrying about what I Skyped him about. He’s worrying about whatever’s on his plate at that moment, whatever fire needs to be put out.
It’s been difficult for me to recognize that people not paying attention to me, people not favoriting things or liking things on Facebook, maybe they didn’t see it or maybe they’re dealing with getting their kid from daycare that day, or whatever.
Lori: We also know there’s algorithms with Facebook. Someone may not see that particular post for whatever reason it is. What I want to say about when you give your work and someone says, “Yeah, that’s great. It’s fine,” do you ever think, “Oh, they’re just being nice?” That’s my immediate reaction.
“They wanted to critique it, they wanted to criticize it, but they’re just being nice to me.” That’s another thing we have to watch out for, because it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good, just because we’re thinking that.
Audience Member: I don’t know if I need a mic. One thing I that’s kind of adjacent to this, [inaudible 45:39] , it’s the whole idea of critique and now to give good critique.
A lot of people that we talk with about our work, it’s a reaction, maybe “I like that,” or, “I don’t like that.” That’s very different than talking about it from a functional level and how it polls and all that stuff.
If we can steer people towards that type of feedback, away from that, “I like.” That’s something I’ve started to try to do and teach others how others do it, just so it’s less about, “I don’t like,” because then I can interpret that as, “Oh, you don’t like my idea. You don’t like me,” et cetera.
Lori: That’s where the “whys” come in. “You liked it? Why? Can you give me the reasons? Can you give me three reasons you didn’t like it? Tell me what you didn’t like about it?”
Sometimes I think really good critiques will say, “I really like this about this.” I always thought, in reviews, great managers will give you the positive before they say, “You need to improve on this.”
Again, implementing, if you don’t have critique at work, getting sessions, because it really helps you get over that and start giving good critique and getting good critique.
Amy: My co-worker Aaron would be upset with me if I didn’t mention that Aaron Irizarry and Adam Connor have a book coming out about that very soon called, “Discussing Design.”
They’ve spent a lot of time working on this stuff, thinking about it, and giving workshops on critique. I highly recommend it. I’ll put that in the wiki.
Lori: Can I just say that Adam’s illustrations are going to be to die for. [laughs]
Amy: We’re getting a little short on time, but we’ve got one more exercise, and then a final thought. I think the next exercise is complex enough that, rather than have you guys do it here, you can maybe start it here and think about it on your own, if you’re so inclined.
Knowing your “why,” your purpose for things, is an important first step, an essential first step, in figuring out the “how,” how to achieve the goals that excite you and get past the obstacles that are holding you back.
When you know your “why”, you’ll have the courage to take risks to get ahead, to stay motivated when the chips are down, and to start to move your life onto a more challenging and a more rewarding trajectory. These are the parameters of your why.
Think about it. These may change over time. Your values probably won’t. Your passions may. Your skills and expertise certainly will. Think about these four questions. What makes you come alive? What gets you fired up, gets you out of bed in the morning?
What are your innate strengths? Everybody has them. Where do you have the greatest value? What do you bring to the table? Then how will you measure your life? When you look at your life, how will you measure how you’ve done in supporting your own whys?
Knowing your purpose may stretch you. It may compel you to take on new challenges that are going to stretch you as much as they inspire you. Think about a boat.
A boat under power can handle any size wave as long it’s perpendicular to it. It can do that because it’s steering its course. Think about your course. When you’re powered by a clear purpose, there’s very little that you can’t accomplish.
I’m going to leave that up for a minute, if anyone wants to jot it down. We’ll have the slides up, of course, and we’ll put this stuff in the Wiki. But I want to leave you guys with a final thought, and then we can talk about questions or concerns, anything anybody wants to share.
After we conducted the first round of our survey last year, I started thinking more about the idea that if almost everyone has impostor syndrome as we found and, frankly, I was a little skeptical about the ones who said they didn’t, maybe it’s not really a syndrome.
Maybe it’s an attribute like being left hand or hating cilantro. If almost everyone has it, doesn’t that take away some of its power, some of its ability to damage us?
Does it mean that experiencing self-doubt, which is what impostor syndrome is, it’s an extreme form of self-doubt, doesn’t my experiencing that mean that I’m human and not all that special or unique? I think that’s the case.
Not only that, focusing on our impostor syndrome on how we’re feeling in a group setting all the time is in a way an act of huge self-absorption and egocentrism. That’s why I like this quote from
Tina Fey because she recognizes that, when you have impostor syndrome, you tend to fall into a hole of thinking, “I’m better than them. Why aren’t they recognizing it? Why is nobody paying attention to me? Oh, because I suck. Right.”
You vacillate back and forth between those two things. The truth is where you really are is somewhere in between and probably closer to the good scale than to the “I’m an impostor” scale, but perspective is important.
When we worry so much about ourselves and about how others are perceiving us, we forget to notice others. We forget to notice that they have needs. They have feelings. They’re worried about what people are thinking of them.
They’re worried about how they’re being perceived. We lose track of what they may be feeling and what they need from us or from other people around them, from their audiences, from their friends, their colleagues, whoever.
Here’s what I want you do to do as a final exercise. Recognize that when you’re feeling self-conscious, you’re feeling like a fraud, and you feel like everybody in the room is looking at you, step back and remind yourself that nobody is actually looking at you and pointing and laughing.
They may have when you were seven. Happened to me, for sure. But they’re not doing it now because that’s not really how we operate. One of the best pieces of advice I got before I ever spoke at a conference was, and it was something that had never occurred to me.
It was, “Remember, nobody in the audience wants you to fail. They want you to do well. They don’t want to see you fall on your face. They’re not showing up to see you embarrass yourself. They’re showing up because they want to hear what you have to say and they want you to be successful at saying what you have to say.”
Remember that. I mean there’s some situation where you might have people pointing and laughing at you, but the odds are that they are not even thinking about you. They’re worrying about their own impostor syndrome. They’re worrying about what everyone is thinking of them.
Use empathy, now a classic UX skill and current buzzword, to understand how they’re feeling. That’ll help you get out of your own head a little bit. Think about that and take some of the focus off yourself.
Every time you find yourself in a situation that triggers your impostor syndrome, take a little time to basically get over yourself. That’s it. Thank you all for participating.