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20, January 2019

The Perfectionist Trap

Perfect. It’s a word whose meaning and intent are laudable. After all, who doesn’t want things to be perfect? But it’s also a word that has put a wedge between millions of well-intentioned workers. As an executive coach, I deal with the fallout from perfectionists on a daily basis, both here in Cincinnati and all over America.

Perfection is subjective

Let’s start what sounds like an easy question: what is the perfect cheeseburger? Hmmm…let’s see…what kind of cheese, how is the burger cooked, what kind of bun, which toppings? The more we think about it, the more we realize that the answer is very subjective.

And therein lies a key problem for perfectionists. They don’t just want things to be perfect. They want things to be their interpretation of perfection.

Perfection is unattainable

While things being perfect is a noble desire, at work, perfectionism is unattainable and unrealistic. And it keeps the person focused on the details. Great leaders need to be able to shift from concentrating on the small stuff to seeing the big picture on a moment’s notice.

I recall the story of a perfectionist mother of the bride. She wanted her daughter to wear a very specific and very stunning wedding dress. It would take eight months for the custom-tailored gown to arrive. The problem was, a key family member only had a few months to live. Should they buy a different dress and celebrate the wedding with the entire family, or wait for the perfect dress?

Perfection causes workplace problems

Striving for perfection creates stress, for you and for those around you. That’s because perfection is based on expectations that people can occasionally live up to, but which cannot be sustained over time.

Also, people who set very high standards for themselves usually set very high standards for others. And in that environment, it can be impossible to relax. No one wants to throw out a bright idea that hasn’t already been fully vetted. That’s because the perfectionist leader will find all the ways it could end in disaster. It makes others reluctant to take risks, and that stifles innovation.

Always sweating the small stuff eventually results in a negative work environment. That’s because you have to be open to the possibility of failure or you’ll quit taking smart chances.

Striving to be perfect creates a negative mind-set where you can be bothered by every little thing that goes wrong. To a perfectionist, even a tiny mistake can “ruin” the whole.

Contact Krissi Barr for help

So, is workplace conflict involving a perfectionist always their fault? No. It takes two to tango…or tangle. It’s only when their perfectionistic tendencies run unabated that workplace harmony can suffer. In my executive coaching experience, I’ve worked with many perfectionists. And I’ve helped them to become aware of the issue, soften their edges and find ways to work more productively with others. If I can help you or your team, in Cincinnati or anywhere in America, give me a call.

Executive Coach Krissi Barr

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