Working with a perfectionist

In the workplace you can meet bright and talented individuals with an excellent attention to details and with incredibly high standards. However, as much as those can be desirable characteristics for an employee to have, they can turn into detrimental personality traits.

Setting high standards and expectations, focusing excessively on avoiding mistakes, reworking endlessly on small details, and thinking that everything needs to be perfect are main manifestations of perfectionism.

Perfectionists often produce excellent work, but their excessive attention to details and frequent reworking of projects can cause a lot of problems within a team. Perfectionists spend too much of their time focusing on details that are not relevant to a project’s goal, they can rewrite their work repeatedly, investing a lot of time in reassessing, reviewing, rethinking, and reshaping anything they want to produce. Perfectionists also struggle to delegate even minor tasks, and if they do, it is very luckily that they’ll micromanage and negatively impact their co-workers.

If you have been working with a perfectionist, this story might sound familiar.

A moderate amount of perfectionism can be a good thing, and this is what it is referred as adaptive perfectionism. Adaptive perfectionists have high standards but they work with positivity and pleasure, and consistently take opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills. The key aspect of this type of perfectionism is that adaptive perfectionists know when to stop working on a task and deliver the completed item.

On the other hand, the negative form of perfectionism is the maladaptive one. Maladaptive perfectionists are never completely satisfied with their work. They’re often unhappy or concerned, and they’re obsessed with producing perfect work, even when it takes too long to deliver.

It’s usually easy to identify team members who are maladaptive perfectionists. If someone’s obsession with seeking perfection starts to affect negatively their performance or the performance of their team’s, then their perfectionism is likely maladaptive.

Maladaptive perfectionism can negatively affect the effectiveness of a team as the high standards perfectionists set for themselves are also expected from co-workers. This can turn in endless and frustrating review processes of someone else work.

Maladaptive perfectionists often find it difficult to meet deadlines, to delegate work, and to accept constructive criticism. They are considered micromanagers, and they can be less productive than others, because they spend so much time checking and rechecking their work and the work of others. Perfectionist demands among team members threaten a positive team climate. However, maladaptive perfectionists often don’t realize how their behavior affects others.

How to deal with a perfectionist on the workplace?

  1. Do not take it personally – No matter how rigid, abusive or frustrating working with a perfectionist is, never take it personal. Just take it as another part of the job you have to deal with.
  2. Keep a record – Requests coming from a perfectionists can be unfair. This is why you should keep and update a personal record were you note about meetings, recommendations, reviews you have received. If there are disagreements, then you simply provide this record.
  3. Request realism – When you are demanded for unrealistic expectations that are pretty much impossible to accomplish, negotiate realistic trade-offs.
  4. Maintain a right frame of mind – After intense and frustrating micromanagement, you may feel like quitting and looking for another job as working with a perfectionist is difficult. Remind yourself that it’s just who they are and it’s not personal.