Perfectionism: Help, I’m Surrounded

Published September 3, 2019

I am a raging perfectionist. I love the sight of all those cleanly dotted i’s and crossed t’s. And while the subtle font difference between Arial and Arial Narrow can mean the world to me—I do understand that an obsession with detail can gobble up my own WhiteSpace and that of my colleagues.

Perhaps you are surrounded by those, who like me, dabble in the controlling arts. And if you are, it’s likely you’ve been foiled in your attempts to talk them out of their perfectionistic trance. It’s hard to do with behavior that is hard wired. But if you want to protect your own WhiteSpace and that of your team you must shore up your reserves and continue to try. The fallout from unbridled perfectionism around you is not a small weight to bear.

Perhaps begin with some empathy. The folks around you who draw plans before they make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich have reason, albeit somewhat skewed, for their behavior and their choices. Typically, perfectionists are driven by four main motives; need for control, the fun and joy of perfecting, habit and showing off. They are doing their best to become comfortable and successful- but they can’t see where they waste time. If only they could.

Research shows that perfectionists experience 25% more stress at work and are 40% less engaged than their mellower counter parts, and that increased stress and lower engagement has serious effects on profitability, customer service, all in the name of one perfectly formatted spreadsheet.

Following are some ways you can gently guide them towards moderation. Be cautious in a peer-to-peer relationship that you are not overstepping. If you have a kind of intimacy that opens the door to direct feedback, walk on thorough. If not, keep your comments general to all and hope that the right person hears the message.

Research shows that perfectionists experience 25% more stress at work and are 40% less engaged.


When is “Good Enough” good enough?

Let’s try something for a second: every month you receive a paycheck of $2400.00 (bear with me here). Of that $2400, $400 goes into savings, $800 for housing, $300 for transportation, $500 for food, and $200 for medical costs, leaving you with $200 to use on entertainment or anything else you so choose. We understand budgeting our money, but let’s take that mindset and apply it to our stores of excellence. Chat with your team and colleagues about excellence as a finite, budget-able resource and decide which projects deserve it and which can be “good enough.”

Streamlining meeting notes? Good enough—unless, that is, you’re sending those notes straight to your CEO. Building a sales pitch for a prospective client? Sure, go ahead and spend some of those extra resources. Spouse or partner mismatch your black socks with your slightly blacker socks? Probably not worth the effort.

While determining when “Good Enough” is good enough, it’s important to understand that task’s values vary for everyone involved; what’s low-value to you may be high-value to someone else. Be sure to clearly communicate your expectations to those around you, and that you appropriately understand theirs.


Spotlight Conversations

Perfectionists commonly have a sort of excellence color blindness. They can’t see the difference between tasks where it’s worth going the extra mile, and small to-do’s that could easily go in the “Good Enough” category. Help them see better by having spotlight conversations – explicit conversations that highlight projects worth perfecting.

Working in groups of three is always an easy way for the brain to organize. Show your team or colleague the three top items on this week’s or this month’s to-do list where you want them to knock it out of the park. If they begin to deliver other items with a parallel level of perfection, gently shine that spotlight back on your top three. Like any new habit you may need to reinforce this framework several times.

While determining when “Good Enough” is good enough, it’s important to understand that task’s values vary for everyone involved.


Cross Cultural Communication

If you’re one of the lucky “Type B” individuals who naturally gravitate towards “Good Enough,” share your perspective with your coworkers. Talk through your meeting points instead of building a complicated deck. Show a “Good Enough” agenda that’s clear, but not over-burdened. In our ever-grinding culture many convince themselves that everything needs to be pristine and seamless.

A voice of cool reason can go a long way toward breaking that trend.


This article originally appeared on LinkedIn here.



About the Author
Juliet Funt

Juliet Funt


Juliet Funt Group

Juliet Funt is the CEO and founder of Juliet Funt Group, a training and consulting firm helping organizations, their leaders and employees reclaim their creativity, productivity and engagement. With thought-provoking insights and actionable tools, she has become a globally-recognized expert in helping leaders cope with the “age of overload” in which we all live and work. A warrior against reactive busyness and a force for change in organizations around the world, Funt teaches a streamlined method for personal process improvement that reduces complexity in the workplace. Teams that incorporate a WhiteSpace mindset and skill set increase creativity and engagement, reclaim lost capacity and execute at their finest. Her clients include a number of Fortune 100 companies and span a wide array of industries, from financial services to technology, manufacturing to the military. Funt’s new book, A Minute to Think, released at the 2021 Summit.

Years at GLS 2017, 2018, 2021