How to Deal With a Perfectionist at Work

At first glance, having a perfectionist on your team might seem like a dream, meaning you’ll have someone there to see to all the details. Sometimes though, perfectionists spend so much time on little details that they miss the larger picture. That, in turn, can result in missed deadlines or very annoyed co-workers.

Whether you’re the co-worker or the manager, here are some ways to handle it.

Recognize it as a weakness

When you realize that the pursuit of perfection is actually a flaw, it can be an easier thing to deal with. You probably have other co-workers with quirks and flaws -- and chances are you’ve learned to put up with those. Do the same for your perfectionist co-worker and you might be able to deal with the daily onslaught and cut him some slack.

Practice patience

If you have techniques you already use to diffuse volatile situations, employ them here. For some people that’s counting to 10. For others it’s going for a walk or practicing deep breathing techniques. When things get tough, resort to your chosen relaxation technique.

Provide honest and careful feedback

If the situation is affecting your company’s productivity or your own ability to do your work, it’s probably also time to talk to the perfectionist to share your side of things. Perfectionists don’t always realize how they’re affecting others, so this can help them develop that awareness.

Because your co-worker could be quite sensitive -- and thus resorts to perfectionism to avoid criticism -- tread carefully here. Tell your co-worker how their pursuit of getting every detail right is affecting the bottom line, or share how you feel when you have to stall a project to wait for her to finish every last detail before moving on. Take a collaborative approach and ask how you both can work together to ensure you’re getting the productivity you want, while at the same time satisfying the perfectionist’s need to dot every “i” and cross every “t.”

For managers: Delegate tasks that are good for perfectionists

While checking and double-checking every detail can be a tedious waste of time in some situations, it can be a big help to your organization in others. Perfectionists will thrive better in detail-oriented roles, while they’ll tend to flounder in complex or managerial roles, suggests The Harvard Business Review. In some cases, having a perfectionist in your team can require some re-structuring of people’s duties, so as to allow the perfectionist to do what he does best. Assign him the task of checking inventory, managing the budget or putting the finishing touches on a painting project with intricate details, for example.

Get creative about deadlines

Perfectionists are often so worried about getting every detail right that they’ll miss deadlines in an effort to make everything perfect. If this is continually happening, consider a tiered deadline system. For example, you might assign a specific date for the “first review” of a project, knowing full well that the client expects the work two weeks later. That way, you’ll ideally get the work on time, or perhaps slightly late, and yet still have time to review it and make any suggestions before the actual deadline.

Ask how they want feedback

With a perfectionist’s sensitivity, it could be counterproductive to give too much feedback -- or the wrong type of feedback -- as that could simply cause the perfectionist to focus even more attention on something instead of getting it done and moving on. Take a collaborative approach and ask the person what type of feedback they work best with. For example, some might like a list of things to improve upon, while others might appreciate on-the-spot commentary or a periodic one-on-one meeting to review their progress.

By taking some steps to understand and work around your co-worker or employee’s limitations, you’ll all have the chance to enjoy a more peaceful, productive work environment.


Image courtesy Public Domain Pictures, Pixabay




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