Advice from a Professional Perfectionist on Managing Perfectionists

Advice from a Professional Perfectionist on Managing Perfectionists

When I was developing my writing skills way back in elementary school, I felt compelled to erase and rewrite every letter that I didn’t believe was perfect. This was causing me to spend an enormous amount of time on my assignments, as you can imagine. My perfectionism, at that point in my life, was debilitating enough that my teacher actually contacted my parents and had them facilitate my homework to ensure I didn’t erase myself into an anxiety disorder. With my parents breathing down my neck – and I remember this very clearly – I did learn to accept that not every letter had to be perfect. This was a valuable lesson for me and is more valuable today than ever.

Even though I have outgrown erasing and rewriting every letter – because who has time for that – I still am a perfectionist. Now my perfectionism has manifested itself in my blogs, academia, and my career. My perfectionism has proven to be useful in many ways: I always tend to be a high performer in academia (not such a bad thing), I see that there is room for improvement in my writing, and being in a career that I engage in editing and writing, being a perfectionist isn’t always a bad thing. But, I’m not saying it is always a good thing, either. I have a name for this person who possesses both the “dark” and the “light” of perfectionism: This person is the “professional perfectionist.”

Types of Perfectionism

Research states that there are three types of perfectionism: self-oriented, other-oriented, and self-prescribed. Below is a table that explains each type of perfectionism and lists characteristics, as well as positive and negative outcomes.

Types of PerfectionismCharacteristicsPositive OutcomesNegative Outcomes
  • Have unrealistic standards for themselves
  • Are overly self-critical
  • Focus on their own flaws
  • High organizational standards
  • Have high self-esteem and self-efficacy
  • Good at making career decisions
  • Good at self-appraisal
  • Good at goal selection
  • Good at making plans for the future
  • Good at problem solving
  • Resourceful
  • Strong academic performance
  • When stressed become caught up in details and lose productivity
  • Have unrealistic standards of the people around them
  • Overly evaluative of others’ performance
  • Push others to achieve success because they believe they are capable
  • Assertive, which can damage office relationships
  • Believe others have perfectionist expectations of the individual
  • Motivated by fear of disappointing others
  • Believe they have to produce perfect work on each task
  • Good at understanding what is expected of them
  • Can inhibit their ability to work

There aren’t many negative outcomes that are specific to one type of perfectionism in particular, but I have listed some of the negative outcomes to perfectionists in general:

  • Have trouble delegating tasks
  • Have trouble prioritizing tasks
  • Can be seen as micromanagers by co-workers
  • Can be seen as “nit-picky” by co-workers

However, the important take away is, if you have a professional perfectionist in your organization, and if you manage him or her correctly, he or she can be a powerful asset. I have put together some tips to help manage the professional perfectionist…and if you’re like me (a perfectionist), you can also use these tips to remind yourself that it’s okay not to be perfect! 

Tips for Managing Perfectionists

  1. “Good enough” is sometimes just that: good enough. Communicate with your perfectionist that it’s okay to submit work that is “good enough.” Remind them that they do not need to dedicate their full attention to each task; some tasks are not as important as others. Side note: I can’t even tell you how many times my dad told me this as a child!
  2. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize! Help prioritize their tasks. It’s nearly impossible to get everything done, so tell them what task would be the most valuable to the company. You will most likely get pretty awesome work, so you (the manager) will benefit and take some of the pressure off them in the end.
  3. Delegating is a good thing. Remind them that delegating to a co-worker helps lighten the load and also introduces a different perspective. We all think and work differently, so fresh eyes and ideas can be nice. What’s the saying…“Variety is the spice of life?”

I hope this blog proves to be useful for managers and professional perfectionists. I know it helps me to take a step back and remind myself not everything has to be perfect.

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