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  • Natasha Harvey

How to Spot a Perfectionist – and What to Do If You Are One

I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist.


At moments in my life, I have struggled to let go of something until it’s perfect. Whether at work in writing the perfect piece of content or creating the perfect event, or at home in making the perfect dinner or in wanting to win every family game ever!


I have been p$ssed off with myself when I’ve not done things as well as I would have liked, and there have been times when I’ve been frustrated with those around me – at work and at home – when things weren’t perfect.


It took someone with similar perfectionist leanings, my boss at the time, whose own favourite motto was “the devil is in the detail”, to pull my head out of the weeds (and my own arse) and tell me that sometimes “good enough is good enough”.


Striving for excellence is often seen as a commendable trait, but there's a fine line between pursuing excellence and driving for perfection – something which is arguably unattainable. For many of us, the desire to excel can sometimes tip into the latter. In this blog post, I’ll explore the pros and cons of this mindset and suggest strategies for managing perfectionism in the workplace. As a recovering Perfectionist myself, I’ve done a lot of work on this over the years and continue to work on recognising what success looks like to me, what I need to feel satisfied, and when good enough is good enough.


Identifying Perfectionism

Perfectionists are often characterised by their high standards, meticulous attention to detail, and relentless pursuit of flawlessness. They (we) tend to be plagued with thoughts and self-talk such as “right is right and wrong is wrong.” They hate mistakes and believe that if you can’t do something perfectly, it’s better not to do it at all. They may often feel a sense of disappointment, even suppressed anger, with themselves and others for not living up to their ideal standards.


You may notice behaviours such as:

  1. Setting impossibly high standards for themselves and others, often leading to frustration and disappointment when these standards aren’t met.

  2. Overanalysing: they may obsess over minor imperfections or mistakes, spending excessive time analysing and critiquing their work, and will be highly sensitive to criticism.

  3. Fearing failure: with an intense fear of failure, perfectionists tend to avoid taking risks or trying new things for fear of not “getting it right” or not meeting their own expectations. This manifests itself tenfold in moments of pressure where they may exercise extreme (over) caution.

  4. Being overly critical: they’re likely to be highly critical of themselves and others and may work overtime to make up for the perceived sloppiness and laziness of others.


The Pros and Cons of Perfectionism

While perfectionism can drive individuals to achieve remarkable results, it also comes with its share of drawbacks.

While the Positives include:

  • High-quality output: work of exceptional quality with close attention paid to every detail.

  • Drive for improvement: continually striving to improve and excel in their endeavours, pushing themselves to reach higher standards.

  • Reliable & attentive to detail: meticulous in their work, ensuring nothing slips through the cracks.


The Negatives can be damaging for themselves and others:

  • Increased stress: The relentless pursuit of perfection is a source of ongoing stress, frustration, anxiety, and burnout.

  • Lack of adaptability: desire for perfection can bring rigidity and reduce flexibility in dealing with change and different working styles.

  • Procrastination: Perfectionists may put off doing things from fear of not meeting their own exacting standards.

  • Impact on others: perfectionist leaders can cause resentment and self-doubt in others, who feel continually criticised and resign themselves to the fact that no matter how hard they work they will never meet the required standards.


Managing Perfectionism in the Workplace

If you identify as a perfectionist or work closely with one, here are some strategies for managing perfectionism effectively:

1. Set Realistic Goals: Start by thinking through what’s required for you to feel satisfied, then

begin setting achievable goals that challenge you without feeling overwhelming.

2. Seek Feedback: Ask trusted others how they perceive your working style and what it’s like to work with you. Seek to understand the impact of your behaviours on your team members and their work environment. It can be very difficult to work with someone who points out a few flaws to show that something isn’t perfect rather than acknowledging the excellent work and effort that’s gone into a project. Take this as a valuable lesson in learning and growth, rather than personal criticism!

3. Accept mistakes: to calm the over-analysing side of perfectionism, give yourself an allotted window of time after an event (meeting, project, whatever it may be) to think through and jot down what went well and what you would do differently next time around. Then put it to bed! This is about accepting that every occasion is an opportunity for growth rather than wasting time wishing what could have been if you had done it perfectly.

4. Prioritise Tasks: Learn to prioritise tasks based on importance and urgency, allowing yourself to let go of minor details when necessary.

5. Trust and delegate: Recognise that you do not have all the knowledge, skills and expertise! Take time to better understand the strengths and qualities of your team members. Delegate tasks to others, and most importantly, learn to step back and trust in their ability to complete tasks their own way.


By recognising when ‘good enough is good enough’ and what it is we need to be satisfied, we can harness the benefits of perfectionist tendencies, and continue to strive for excellence while maintaining a healthy balance for ourselves and others.

 “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” Dr Harriet Breiker


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