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An asset or a pitfall for professionals?

Perfectionism is often considered a skill in the professional world. Indeed, perfectionists tend to be very demanding of themselves and to deliver quality work. They are often highly organized, meticulous and attentive to detail. These qualities can be highly valued in many professions, especially in areas where precision and accuracy are paramount, such as the financial sector.
However, perfectionism can also be a pitfall for professionals. From a psychological standpoint, perfectionism can cause stress and anxiety. Perfectionists often fear failure and may have difficulty accepting their mistakes. They may also have unrealistic expectations of themselves and others, which can lead to conflict and tension within the team.


Risks associated with perfectionism

In addition, perfectionism can sometimes lead to a loss of time and efficiency. Perfectionists can wait a long time for the perfect conditions before taking action and go into « procrastination » mode. They may also focus on details that are not of major importance, to the detriment of more important tasks. They may also have difficulty delegating tasks to others because they are afraid that the work will not be done to their high standards.


High standards that make them believe that they will be much more accepted as a person by others, if the result is there. Unfortunately, this comes at a price; that of their self-esteem, because it is never good enough, good enough, perfect enough. The value that the perfectionist gives himself is therefore directly dependent on the recognition of the Other and his non failure.


How to manage perfectionism at work?

Here are some tips for dealing with perfectionism in the workplace:

  • Encourage employees to accept and learn from their mistakes. It is important to create a work environment where mistakes are seen as learning opportunities rather than failures. Managers can encourage this attitude by giving constructive feedback and acknowledging employees’ efforts, even if they are not always successful. The focus is not only on the result, but also on the process.
  • Set realistic and attainable goals to avoid frustration and discouragement. Perfectionists often have very high expectations of themselves and can become discouraged if they do not achieve their goals. It is therefore important to set real goals; the SMART (Specific-Measurable-Achievable-Realistic-Temporal) method can be an approach to achieve this.
  • Foster communication and listening within the team to avoid conflict. Perfectionists may have unrealistic expectations of others and may be prone to conflict if these expectations are not met. It is therefore important to foster communication and listening within the team to avoid conflict.« Non-violent » communication thus to be favoured in order to maintain a respectful relationship while asserting oneself. Setting limits by saying "no" is another way to respect one’s priorities and needs.
  • Finally, encourage employees to step back and let go to avoid burnout. Perfectionism can be exhausting, both physically and mentally. Opt instead for the so-called « optimistic » approach, which aims for the pursuit of excellence (read : Tal Ben Shahar The pursuit of perfect):
The Perfectionist The Optimalist
Journey as a straight line Journey as an irregular spiral
Fear of failure Failure as a feedback
Focus on destination Focus on journey and destination
All-or-nothing thinking Nuanced, complex thinking
Defensive Open to suggestions
Fault finder Benefit finder
Harsh Forgiving
Rigid, static Adaptable, dynamic

© Tal Ben Shahar - 2009



In conclusion, perfectionism can be an asset to professionals if it is managed appropriately. It is important to consider the psychological aspects of perfectionism to prevent it from becoming a trap for employees and the company. By following these tips, managers, human resources personnel and executives can help their employees leverage their perfectionism while avoiding its pitfalls.