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THE IMPOSTOR PHENOMENON REVISITED: PRESENTING A SELF-AFFIRMATION THEORY OF WORKPLACE IMPOSTOR THOUGHTS
A phenomenon popularly known as impostor syndrome remains understudied by organizational scholars, even though it is prevalent at work. To draw much-needed attention to the phenomenon, I revisit seminal theorizing in clinical psychology to advance the construct of workplace impostor thoughts, which I define as the belief that others overestimate one’s competence at work. Integrating self-affirmation theory with research on person perception, I outline how and why having workplace impostor thoughts may lead to greater interpersonal effectiveness. I test my model in three studies that together incorporate survey, video, and preregistered experimental data from employees at an investment advisory firm, physicians-in-training, and a cross-industry sample of employees. I find that having workplace impostor thoughts is positively associated with interpersonal effectiveness at work because those high in workplace impostor thoughts adopt a more other-focused orientation. In documenting this interpersonal upside, I challenge prevailing wisdom that the impostor phenomenon is uniformly detrimental.