As a leader, when you come up against the limiting voices of self-doubt in your team members or mentees, is there a right way to help? If you see them talking themselves out of sharing their ideas and insights, shying away from leading projects or team, or not going ahead for big opportunities, one of the best ways to unlock their potential is to help them acknowledge their inner critic rather than arguing with it.

Arguments with the inner critic are usually a waste of everyone’s time, for two reasons. First, the inner critic’s view is not based on data but instinctual, over-reactive fears of vulnerability and failure. Hearing another individual say something along the lines of “No, you’re great at that!” often does not speak to those underlying fears. It can add to the stressful feelings of being an imposter, as in, “No one around me realizes that I don’t know what I’m doing, and they are all counting on me, thinking I can pull this off —but I can’t!”

Some of the ways to navigate the inner critic:

Help people identify their critic: a voice that critiques harshly, is irrational or untrue, sounds like a broken record, is not solution-oriented, and makes arguments about what’s in your best interest.

Help them develop the skill of managing their inner critics. Help them understand that fears and self-doubts naturally come up as people grow into new roles or take up greater responsibility. The goal you want them to work towards is not unfailing confidence but more skillful management of their limiting beliefs and self-doubts.

In doing this, you are introducing a powerful new idea: that readiness for advancement and leadership does not just depend on an innate quality of confidence but also on building the skill of managing one’s self-doubts.

Once someone understands the fear-based roots of the critic’s voice and is conscious of when it’s speaking up, they can choose to not take direction from it and to take direction from more resourceful and rational parts of themselves.

Acknowledging inner critic can help them to change it into an inner mentor.

(Source credit: HBR)