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Conquering Silence – Overcoming Self-Sabotage in the Workplace Using 4 Methods

Doctor struggling with self-sabotage
Aashi Arora 13 Feb 2021

“If you don’t work on stopping your self-sabotage, you will get FIRED.”

Yes, as an executive, I did use that line with a manager. And with saying it, I changed her life.

Now, I didn’t say this lightly, nor did I say it in a public forum. This shocking statement was part of a conversation between this leader and myself as I was heading a committee of healthcare administrative personnel who were attempting to analyze decreased cash flow.

I had assembled 12 individuals, all from different departments and all representing different aspects of the clinical revenue cycle. They were experts in their fields and very valuable to solving the problem at hand.

In our meetings, I observed early on a member who often remained quiet and while seemed engaged in the topics being discussed, was reluctant to offer her opinion. I even tried to call on her, but would notice her discomfort and apprehension. Although I knew why I had chosen her, her behavior and seemed disengagement in the project made me question her position in the committee as well as confidence in her ability to lead.

I knew her work and understood her value and needed her, but her lack of involvement in the project meetings made others perceive her as a less valuable member of the team and wondered why she was there.

After witnessing this pattern in a few meetings, I decided to meet with her separately. What ensued was an identification of imposter syndrome and a coaching relationship to tackle how it was impacting her negatively. 

She broke down and explained that she didn’t feel qualified to be a part of the committee. She often wondered how she was in the managerial role and how she felt others around her were smarter, more competent, and more deserving of their roles.

She had great ideas to bring to the table, but would stay quiet about them out of fear of failure. She often said to me “What if no one likes my ideas? What if they realize I don’t know what I’m talking about? What if I lose my job from saying something stupid?”

But, in fact, her holding back became the beginning of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Losing her job became an eminent reality.

Being in a managerial position, there was an expectation that she should showcase her analytical and strategic skills, but her fears were harming not only her prospects at advancement, but her current standing in the job itself.

She was in a cycle of self-sabotage. And hers was being triggered by Imposter Syndrome.

The Cycle of Self-Sabotage

Self-sabotage is when an individual actively or passively, consciously or unconsciously, creates barriers in attaining their goals.

There are several ways in which self-sabotage manifests: disengagement, procrastination, lack of self control, overindulgence, cynicism, and silence.

Here’s how the cycle goes:

Years of suffering from Imposter Syndrome degrades self-worth and self-confidence. To protect oneself from being deemed as a failure, fake, or phony, an individual enters into a pattern of self-sabotage which then prevents not only job success, but can lead to job failure.

It is a destructive cycle that is brought on by one’s own fears, and by their own negative perception of themselves. Consider these methods to help combat self-sabotage before you, or someone you know, risks getting fired.

Self-Sabotage and Silence

The self-sabotage for this manager was her silence. She was undermining herself by not speaking up.

And that’s the challenge with self-sabotage. It’s not only about holding an individual back from getting ahead, but also can impact the role they are already in.

These are the ways to combat that silence.

1) Learn to love to F.A.I.L.

F.A.I.L. = First Attempt In Learning.

As the old saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” The most successful individuals have failed multiple times.

No matter how many times I have seen all the written, have said it to others, have tried to motivate people around me in the workplace, for someone with Imposter Syndrome it falls on deaf ears.

The fear of failure holds them back. The fear of being discovered as a fake or phony holds them back. Fear, fear, fear creates a loop of not moving forward in a goal, not realizing a dream. And the cycle can produce something worse.

So, learn to love to FAIL. Think of ways you can! Volunteer to work on a new, innovative project. Try speaking up at a meeting you normally do not speak up at. Apply for a job even if you believe you are only partially qualified.

2)  Self-sabotage is a bad habit. Develop good habits instead.

The pattern of self-sabotage doesn’t occur overnight. It often is years in the making – a habit developed to protect us from perceived dangers. The problem is that it can become the danger itself.

We become accustomed to holding back, not leaning into our strengths, and focusing on our weaknesses. We become used to the negative self-talk and believe it. We become comfortable with the way things are instead of creating a vision and goals to achieve our dreams.

Just as breaking a bad habit takes time, developing a good one may take even longer.

Start with small steps. Know your strengths. Document them, ask others around you to tell you about them, or take an assessment to prove them. And review them – every day.

Spend 5 minutes a day reviewing them and thinking about how they show up in the workplace, as well as how you can showcase these strengths to others.

3)  Talk to yourself the way you would speak to your best friend.

Would you tell your best friend that they are a fake and phony even though they showcase several accomplishments and accolades? Would you tell them not to go after their dreams of success? Would you tell them to hold back and choose comfort over progress? 

Then why talk to yourself like this? Try shifting your mindset with a coaching technique we call appreciative inquiry.

Appreciative inquiry is a strengths based, positive approach to exploring a problem by recalling a similar problem in the past and remembering what you have successfully done to solve it using natural strengths.

So, when self-sabotage starts creeping in, talk to yourself the way you would with a best friend. Ask, “when have I countered a similar issue and what has worked well for me?” Draw on the positive experiences you have had to counteract the negative one you are faced with.

4)  Hire an executive coach.

Self-sabotage is a challenging by-product of Imposter Syndrome and can be a tough pattern to break.

An executive coach can be a strong guide to provide and help support effective strategies such as creating a more positive mindset, more positive habits, and more positive self-talk. 

There isn’t any facet of Imposter Syndrome that I haven’t faced, including self-sabotage. I have overcome it, and I can show you how to as well.

Contact me here for more information

Aashi Arora, MHA, ACC


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