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Fighting the False Fears of Imposter Syndrome in Medical Sales Reps

You know that one person — the sales rep who is driven, meets their goals, and always goes beyond expectations to ensure their customer is taken care of. But they suffer from a never-ending lack of confidence. They continuously question their ability despite your most valiant efforts to reassure them.

These are the sure-fire symptoms of imposter syndrome, a phenomenon defined by Psychology Today as the inability to internalize accomplishments. The Journal of Behavioral Science found that nearly 70 percent of people will experience imposter syndrome in their lifetime. 

Even some of the most acclaimed and celebrated intellectuals suffer from feelings of inadequacy. Maya Angelou was once quoted as saying, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find [me] out now.”

It seems that no one is immune to negative effects of perfection-seeking. With doubts of abilities and achievements comes anxiety and self-deprecation. The fear of being found out as a fraud takes over and, especially in medical sales, every mistake or rejection is magnified as proof of their perceived inability, further contributing to the fall in self-confidence and, ultimately, affecting their ability to perform.

It’s a heavy topic for managers to handle but awareness and preparedness to address imposter syndrome will help you keep your reps from spiraling toward a total burnout.

First and foremost, know the signs.

For some reps, it will be easy to identify — constantly questioning their position and actions, conveying their feelings of nervousness, or noticeable self-doubt. For others, the signs will be less obvious.

Dr. Katherine Hawley explained in a recent Psychology Today post that those who suffer from imposter syndrome may hold high office or have numerous academic degrees. They may not seem nervous or self-conscious, so the small glimpses of their self-doubt often go unnoticed.

Be aware of a reps inability to take compliments, or the constant mention of luck when discussing accomplishments. Additionally, if you find a rep struggles to complete tasks because they can’t reach perfection, it’s a sure sign that they’re dealing with imposter syndrome.

Encourage employees to acknowledge and accept their accomplishments.

If a member of your team struggles with imposter syndrome, one of the best ways to get them back into the right mindset is to encourage them to appropriately attribute their accomplishments. Highlight the ways in which their specific skill set worked in favor of a win, and align their qualifications with their successes.

Often, those with imposter syndrome see others as more qualified or better at their roles. Use phrases such as, “You closed this sale thanks to your (specific skill),” or, “You are reaching your goals faster than anticipated,” so that your rep can begin to align their actions with the positive results they have brought to the organization.

If you’re met with responses such as, “I got lucky,” or “the timing was right,” be sure to reiterate the pride you have for the work your rep put in. Again, be specific in the ways in which you saw their actions impact the win.

Implement a strong mentor program.

The purpose of mentorship is to grow nurturing and honest relationships that attribute to both professional and personal growth.

When your reps are paired with a trusted mentor, they will be given the opportunity to have a third party reflect on their actions and success. Hearing from an individual outside of their direct chain of command will help build their confidence, especially when the purpose of their interaction is specifically designed for growth.

Mentor/mentee relationships come along with another big benefit — they add to the level of satisfaction each person has in their role. The mentor is given the opportunity to impart wisdom on a less-experienced colleague, giving advice and helping their mentee through potential pain points, which helps them feel valuable and impactful. And the mentee is given one-on-one time and attention with a specific focus on their success. It’s truly a win-win situation.

Offer frequent feedback.

Finally, it’s important to note that Imposter syndrome is largely caused by the assumption that your reps aren’t performing at a high enough standard. Your attention to feedback — both positive and negative — can help nip imposter syndrome in the bud.

It’s not about always being a cheerleader. Effective management will require you to provide constructive criticism, which may seem counterintuitive when you’re dealing with lacking confidence.

The important thing to remember is that consistent and well-managed feedback provides your reps with correct information from which to move forward. They will be well aware of both the areas in which they excel, while also being able to focus effort on truly-needed improvements. It’s not a quest for perfection. It’s the healthy awareness that growth is continual. Consistency with feedback is key in keeping the balance.