Is Perfectionism Bringing Down Your Business?

5 tips on how to deal with a perfectionist co-worker
October 21, 2014

Have you ever struggled to work with people who weren’t team players? Maybe they refused to listen to others, dismissed feedback, behaved arrogantly or even refused to do their share of a project?

Take these frustrating examples:

My boss drives me crazy. He micromanages everything and never lets me work on my own. He treats me like a child.
My colleague takes forever to get me her part of a project. And then she’s always making revisions, messing up what I already spent time doing.
I can’t stand working with him. He thinks his ideas are the only ones that have merit.

These crazy-making people are perfectionists. You may think that a perfectionist is someone who likes things to be neat and orderly, but there’s much more to it than that.

A perfectionist is someone who thinks in all-or-nothing terms: A presentation is either perfect or it’s a failure. There is one way to do something, and all the others are wrong. You either like my work or you hate it. If I can’t do it perfectly, then why bother at all?

This syndrome leads not just to frustration, but to real damage—for the perfectionist and the people working with them. Just one perfectionist in an office can lead to strained relationships, depression, increased stress, reduced productivity, decreased profitability and even failed businesses.

Although it hides behind the mask of “excellence,” perfectionism is more about avoiding failure than it is about striving for success. Because perfectionists personalize outcomes, it’s not just the work that’s at stake—if the project is a failure, then she views herself as a failure, too.

Perfectionists come in many shapes, sizes and flavors, including:

• The micromanager who makes sure you do things his way
• The “I’ll just do it myself” colleague who will redo something you already completed
• The overachiever who goes to work early, stays late and sends email at 3 a.m.
• The underachiever who procrastinates or who avoids challenges and promotions
• The details fanatic who asks multiple questions and won’t start until “everything is in order”
• The “half-bridge” builder who starts projects but never finishes them
• The team member who refuses feedback or who argues against constructive criticism

It’s easy to get annoyed by these people, but take heart: You can transform your interactions with them and make things better for both of you. The key is to change your perception of perfectionism.

Here’s how:

1. Reframe your opinion. Sure, all-or-nothing thinkers can be a challenge—but try imagining how stressful it would be to be one. We can certainly appreciate that they want do a good job, even if the intensity level is higher. Try to relax about it yourself.

2. Don’t personalize. A perfectionist’s behavior is not about you. Even comments about your work or changing what you’ve already done are not attacks on you. They’re simply reflections of the perfectionist’s insecurities—so try to reframe how you respond to them without getting defensive.

3. Communicate. Perfectionists tend to have high standards and rules, whether they’re about how a project should turn out or how a person should behave. The trouble is, those expectations aren’t always shared with others. So ask them.

Try saying this: “Just so we’re on the same page, what is it exactly you’re looking for? What can I do to ensure this turns out as you’d like?” You might be pleased by the response you get.

4.Be consistent and reliable. Perfectionists fear that others will drop the ball—and that fear increases their stress. So if you don’t respond or complete a task when you said you would, that will likely add to the tension. Do your share so you don’t add more stress to the mix.

5. Encourage. Just like everyone else, perfectionists want to feel good about themselves—they just happen to put their sense of self-worth in their work. So let them know how much you appreciate them and the quality they strive for. They’ll likely appreciate your contribution in turn.

But what if you’re the one struggling with perfectionism? Check out a short guide to taming your inner perfectionist.

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