How to work with a per­fec­tion­ist, with­out it driv­ing you crazy.

Good - - CONTENTS - with Dr Alice Boyes

How to work with a per­fec­tion­ist

Per­fec­tion­ists have many strengths but can also be an­noy­ing and wear­ing. Check out these tips for bet­ter un­der­stand­ing and cop­ing with the per­fec­tion­ist in your life. 1. Un­der­stand what drives a per­fec­tion­ist. When you recog­nise what a per­fec­tion­ist’s in­ter­nal strug­gle is, it can help you to not per­son­alise their be­hav­iour. There are sev­eral dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of per­fec­tion­ists. A nar­cis­sism driven per­fec­tion­ist re­quires ul­tra high stan­dards from col­leagues and em­ploy­ees be­cause oth­ers’ work re­flects on them. The per­for­mance of the peo­ple around them needs to re­flect their in­flated self-per­cep­tion. For ex­am­ple, they think “the prod­uct we cre­ate to­gether has to be flaw­less, be­cause I need to be per­ceived as flaw­less.”

On the other hand, anx­i­ety-driven per­fec­tion­ists come in two main types. One is the over­com­pen­sator they’re ex­tra fussy to coun­ter­act their sense of im­poster syn­drome or be­cause they’re try­ing to pro­tect against what could go wrong. This type of per­fec­tion­ist sees only two out­comes - per­fec­tion and dis­as­ter. Their rigid­ity is aimed at pre­vent­ing dis­as­ter. The other type of anx­ious per­fec­tion­ist is the avoider, who gets so hung up on meet­ing their own stan­dards that they re­sist get­ting started on tasks and then take ex­ces­sively long to com­plete them.

2. Iden­tify and tweak your in­ter­nal re­ac­tions.

Con­sider this sce­nario: Your col­league or spouse is tak­ing a ridicu­lously long time to fin­ish a sin­gle task, even though there are 10 other things you need their help with. If you are per­son­al­is­ing their be­hav­iour you might think “Why aren’t they con­tribut­ing more? They’re fuss­ing around with that one task and leav­ing me to do ev­ery­thing else.” Or, you’re on a team with an over­com­pen­sat­ing per­fec­tion­ist. You feel ex­hausted by their in­sis­tence that all the de­tails of the pro­ject are ex­actly the way they want them, caus­ing ex­tra work for you.

When you un­der­stand your loved one or col­league is blinded by their per­fec­tion­ism, you can more eas­ily see their be­hav­iour as their gen­eral pat­tern rather than it be­ing about not car­ing about your work­load or re­spect­ing your time and ex­per­tise. View­ing their be­hav­iour this way won’t com­pletely dis­solve your frus­tra­tion, but it will help you take it less per­son­ally.

3. Help the per­fec­tion­ist stay fo­cused on over­all aim.

The irony of per­fec­tion­ism is that over-fo­cus­ing on small de­tails can some­times get in the way of do­ing well over­all. For ex­am­ple, your pro­ject goes over-bud­get or over-time be­cause a per­fec­tion­ist is nit­pick­ing. Or, the avoidant per­fec­tion­ist holds back from mak­ing de­ci­sions e.g. when a per­fec­tion­ist spouse can’t find a house to buy so you’re stuck rent­ing.

To help a per­fec­tion­ist main­tain clar­ity, you may need to help them break down all the steps of a pro­ject, so it’s eas­ier for them to see they can’t be ex­ces­sively nit­picky about ev­ery sin­gle step. You’ll of­ten need to set some bound­aries when deal­ing with per­fec­tion­ists, in­clud­ing the nar­cis­sism-driven type. For ex­am­ple, set some lim­its on how many re­vi­sions you do, and how much time you spend on as­pects of projects.

Anx­i­ety-driven per­fec­tion­ists in par­tic­u­lar of­ten end up ap­pre­ci­at­ing when other peo­ple help them con­tain their per­fec­tion­ism with some bound­aries. How­ever, their ini­tial re­ac­tion may be de­fen­sive­ness, be­fore they later ap­pre­ci­ate your help more. Lastly, when one as­pect of some­one an­noys you, it’s im­por­tant to recog­nise what they are good at. When peo­ple feel like their strengths are ap­pre­ci­ated, it’s eas­ier for them to ac­cept some lim­its, guid­ance and feed­back.

Dr Alice Boyes is au­thor of the books The Healthy Mind Tool­kit (2018) and The Anx­i­ety Tool­kit (2015).


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