You have huge ambition, high standards and a dedication to excellence on the job. So why aren’t you scoring the kudos and promotions you know you deserve? Pin the blame on your perfectionist personality. Surprisingly, career coaches say the hard-charging, detail-oriented traits typically considered assets in today’s workplace may actually be working against you, damaging your rep and making it harder to get ahead.
“It’s one thing to have drive and discipline; these qualities help you succeed and get noticed by higher-ups,” explains Jeff Szymanski, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Boston and author of The Perfectionist’s Handbook. “But a perfectionist is so obsessed with being the best she sets unattainable goals for herself — and when she can’t achieve them, she feels stress and disappointment that can undermine her performance.”
This Type A tendency reveals itself in some telling ways. For all their diligence, perfectionists tend to procrastinate and miss deadlines; they’d rather put off turning in a report until it’s 100 percent on the mark, even if that means burning the midnight oil to finally get it right, says Szymanski. They also prefer not to delegate or collaborate with other team members, feeling that a project is their responsibility alone — not realizing that this work style bottlenecks schedules and can be a huge time suck. When a perfectionist receives negative feedback from a boss, it’s a catastrophic blow, damaging her self-esteem and making her feel like a failure, says Szymanski. And if a perfectionist is the boss, she can be a hard-to-please micromanager who obsesses over small details, leaving staffers frustrated.
See yourself in any of these scenarios? Learn how to dial back your perfectionism so you can succeed with these five easy strategies.
1. Figure out what’s fueling your obsession with perfection.
“Perfectionists are driven by fear,” says Kathy Caprino, a Connecticut-based success coach, leadership trainer and author of Breakdown, Breakthrough: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power and Purpose. They may be afraid of being seen as incompetent or worry that they’ll lose a job that’s central to their identity. Once you identify your root fear address it, by, say, signing up for more training or asking HR about the possibilities of advancement. Deal with your concerns head-on, and you’ll feel empowered and more confident.
2. Prioritize your most important tasks.
Since you can’t bring your A game to everything you do on the job, write down five things you feel you must do flawlessly and focus on these so you can loosen your grip a little on the others. “It’s impossible to do everything in life well, so put your perfectionist impulses into what’s most crucial to you, and go for a B, not an A+, for the rest,” says Caprino.
3. Set realistic goals.
“Good enough” is a term that strikes fear in the heart of perfectionists. But it’s a level of success you should aim for more often. Why? You’re more likely to finish a project if you give yourself an attainable deadline and getting it done will pump your ego. What’s more, striving for an 8 or 9 rather than a perfect 10 helps you escape the all-or-nothing thinking that makes perfectionists feel their efforts are wasted unless they perform flawlessly.
4. Ask colleagues for feedback.
“Perfectionists fear showing anything but the end product to others because they’re terrified they’ll be judged by it,” says Szymanski. “But running things by others keeps you from getting mired in unimportant details and fosters a culture of openness and collaboration.”
5. Reframe criticism.
Perfectionists are so used to getting a gold star on their work that receiving negative feedback can be crippling. But instead of viewing criticism as a sign of failure, think of it as an opportunity to learn how to do things better the next time, says Szymanski. In other words, embrace your mistakes, so you adapt and grow from them.
Changing your mindset may take time, so don’t worry if you can’t make these changes perfectly. Better yet, embrace it — and consider this your first step in letting go of perfectionism!