Strengths and the Imposter Syndrome: The generative power of world cafe

Last year I ran an evening event I called a Learning Network Event. The purpose of the evening was to provide a space for those interested in positive psychology to share and learn from each other in a gently facilitated way. We used a world café process to stimulate conversation and to ensure cross-pollination amongst those present.


During the event I had a really powerful experience of the cross-pollination potential of the world café process when I had a 'shiver down the spine' moment as I suddenly saw a link between two conversations in which I was involved. 


In the first one we were discussing 'imposter syndrome': one of our group was currently doing a Ph.D. investigation into this common yet disturbing workplace phenomena. It’s a very interesting topic which resonated with those present. 


A short while later I was part of a conversation talking about how knowing our strengths allows us to understand better how we can be a success at our jobs - especially when we don't fit the 'template' for the role. We realised that knowing our strengths allows us to construct an authentic story about how we are succeeding, that may stand in contrast to the dominant story of what is required to succeed in the role. 


During this conversation a story was shared of by one person who was involved in sales. She talked about how understanding her strengths helped her recognise it was her relational strengths that enabled her to be good at sales even though she didn't see herself as a 'typical salesperson'.


Around this point of the evening I had my brain tingling moment as I put two thoughts together. I swear I could almost feel the neurons firing as I realised that we can pull these two thoughts together and put forward an argument about how imposter syndrome might arise. 


Could it be that part of the reason we experience imposter syndrome is because we don't 'see ourselves' as being like the kind of person who usually succeeds in this role; that we have no understanding of how we might succeed and so see ourselves as 'imposters' - getting by on luck and chance? 


If so, then understanding our strengths and how they relate to our abilities in our role can help us construct a story about how it is possible for us to be 'good at this' or 'a success at this' that makes sense to us and feels authentic. Might knowing our strengths and understanding how they help us to succeed be an antidote to the debilitating, anxiety-inducing, vulnerability-creating experience of feeling like an imposter liable to be exposed for the fraud we are at any moment?


For me the event demonstrated the power of world café to produce genuinely generative conversation: I had a new thought and for me that is one of the best feelings in the world!