Perfectionism and Strategies for Coping with Our Inner Stickler

Michael Glazer is a Tokyo-based Senior Consultant whose client work spans 15 countries across four continents. Learn more about Michael here.

I recently talked with a leader in the business analyst community who told me how many in her profession tend to be very analytical people who have strong business acumen and can relate well to others. On the positive side, this can look like understanding the true problem that needs to be solved, getting everyone on the same page, and really exploring needs and requirements at a detailed level, which enables projects to be more successful overall.

This tendency to be highly detail-oriented can help teams bring order from ambiguity and chaos. It can also be an asset for clearly communicating about things as they are without bias.

At the same time, overplaying this strength can have a downside. When we fall into "stickler mode," we can become overly focused on details and strict adherence to standards, which can lead to conflicts with others who may not share our approach. This can cause frustration and resentment, both with ourselves and from others who might feel continually criticized for not meeting the exceptionally high standards of the stickler within us. And, when we place too much emphasis on perfection, it can lead to feelings of burnout and a range of negative mental health consequences.

So, how can we manage these tendencies to maintain our mental and emotional wellbeing?

First, it's important to identify and label our thought patterns when we notice them. For example, rather than telling ourselves "my team member is lazy and I can't trust him," we can reframe the thought as "I'm having a thought that my team member is lazy and I can't trust him." This simple shift allows us to take a step back and make a more conscious, deliberate, and fact-based choice in our response. This might lead us to realize that “the team member is in fact meeting all of the client’s requirements, although he’s not doing it as quickly as I would like.”

Next, it's important to do an honest check on the standards we hold ourselves and others to. Are these standards truly coming from our stakeholders, or are they based on our own high expectations? When we're able to have an open and honest conversation with ourselves (which can be challenging at times), we can more easily determine the root cause of our frustrations and find ways to better manage them.

Finally, it's important to communicate our tendencies to others. Being vulnerable and sharing our struggles, in this case it’s with perfectionism, can help build trust and create a supportive environment in which others feel comfortable to speak up and help us overcome our self-judgments.

For most detail-oriented business professionals, it's important to recognize and manage when we have tendencies towards pursuing or expecting perfection. By being mindful of our thought patterns and holding ourselves accountable to reasonable standards, we can maintain our mental and emotional wellbeing, and ultimately achieve greater success in our projects and careers.

Interested in learning more? Our High Performance Wellbeing Program helps you manage your mindset to achieve sustainable high work performance - with less stress, higher motivation and better relationships - in just 8 weeks.