Dealing with perfectionism at work

Our recommendations for managing your own and others perfectionism threshold at work.

In every company, you can identify one or more people who are perfectionists. Their sense of getting things as “right as possible” is often beneficial for achieving better results. But there are situations when perfectionism may delay important projects and get you further from the company’s initial objectives.

In fact, a group of researchers was curious if perfectionists are more or less effective in their professional lives than other workers. After studying data from more than 25.000 professionals from various research studies, they concluded that perfectionism and performance are not linked to each other. In other words, perfectionists are not better or worse performers than non-perfectionists. They discovered that, very often, the positive outcomes associated with perfectionism get cancelled out by the negative outcomes which also arise from this trait.

… we should assume neither that perfectionists will add more value, nor that they will be unproductive and ineffective. Their performance will depend on what they and their managers can make out of this trait.

For the workplace, this may suggest that we should assume neither that perfectionists will add more value, nor that they will be unproductive and ineffective. Their performance will depend on what they and their managers can make out of this trait. During our training and consulting sessions, we have met many professionals, who struggle in certain situations to manage their perfectionism threshold, and managers who find it sometimes difficult to manage perfectionist people in their team.  Here are some suggestions for both sides.

Some things that you may consider if you are a perfectionist

  • Think more about the impact and less about the process.

Will these changes significantly affect the impact of your work or are they details that are just bothering yourself?

  • Put things into perspective and set your priorities.

Concentrating on making a single task as perfect as you can sometimes means taking from yours and others time to focus on other important tasks.

  • Know and manage your perfectionism threshold.

Monitor yourself and observe when you start to ruminate things and try to shorten the rumination period. You may get some feedback from the people you work with, to make sure you can identify as quickly as possible when your perfectionism is starting to be harmful rather than helpful.

  • Have a laugh when perfectionism starts to control you.

Laughing is a universal drug. If you’re able to laugh once you find yourself ruminating on a certain task, you will be more aware of your perfectionism threshold and you may make feel other people more at ease with it.

  • Everyone has different standards in terms of doing things perfectly.

You will meet people who will only care about getting things done in the easiest and fastest way possible. In this case, it is important to set up situational standards: will this project really require a very thorough analysis, or is it just a task that needs to be done as quickly as possible?

DISC work behaviours and perfectionism

The concept of perfectionism can be linked back to certain behavioural profiles using the DISC model. According to DISC, there are two behavioural profiles that can manifest into a high degree of perfectionism. D, which stands for Dominance and C which stands for Compliance. If you have high levels of D and/or C in your profile then you may be prone to perfectionism. It is true that some people with High levels of D do not have the attention to detail to act out their perfectionism but they still feel it when they judge the work of others. If you have high degrees of both D and C then your perfectionism may be very hard for others to work with and you may face high staff turnover as a result.  In our Business Consulting engagements and during our various Training or Executive Coaching sessions, we offer suggestions on how to manage and work better with perfectionist personalities, whether we speak about executives, line managers, or team members. 

How you can work better with a perfectionist

  • Focus on details and data.

Perfectionists usually love details, and they will appreciate someone who will put a little bit more effort into explaining some of the projects or tasks you will be involving them in.

  • Ask for their feedback and suggestions on improving things early

If you are not sure if you covered a subject in a presentation or just need a feedback on a report, a perfectionist will always be willing to point at the things you can improve. You can lead the discussion by asking specific questions or areas to get a targeted feedback. The earlier you ask for their input the more chance you have of meeting their expectations at the end.

  • Explain to them why sometimes it is not important to linger on details and give clear instructions and deadlines.

If there is an urgent project that needs to be submitted, make sure you emphasize the urgency to a perfectionist.

  • Involve them as much as possible in projects that require a hawk-eye and real attention to details.

If you have a perfectionist in your team, the best work you can find for him/her is one that requires attention to details.

  • When giving feedback, turn mistakes into lessons to be learned.

Some of the perfectionist tendencies are linked to fear of failure, which is the greatest fear of High D personalities, and insecurity or fear of criticism, which is the greatest fear of a High C personality. Overly focusing on mistakes made by a perfectionist will not help him/her to improve. It may enhance their fears and insecurities and make them ruminate even more.  

If actively managed, perfectionism can be turned into an asset. A manager plays an important role in bringing the best out of perfectionists. They do this by identifying the behaviours associated with this trait and then by “Actively Managing” the person so that they can learn how to manage these behaviours in a way that will allow them to contribute to the overall performance of the team.

A manager plays an important role in bringing the best out of perfectionists. They do this by identifying the behaviours associated with this trait and then by “Actively Managing” the person so that they can learn how to manage these behaviours in a way that will allow them to contribute to the overall performance of the team.

Check out our GoActive Management, Behavioural Profiling training courses and our Executive coaching sessions. These programmes help managers to better engage and communicate with their team members based on their work behaviours.

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