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Why perfectionism works against you

by on
in Career Management,Workplace Communication

When job interviewers ask you, "What's your biggest weakness?", your favorite answer is, "I'm a perfectionist. I can't accept doing flawed work."

You think that's a great response. It makes you sound like a hard-driving taskmaster who will not settle for mediocrity.

In truth, admitting that you're a perfectionist does not burnish your reputation. Others may assume that you're an inflexible and possibly difficult team member. Experienced managers know that perfectionists' work habits are, to put it charitably, extremely inefficient.

According to Randy Frost, a psychology professor at Smith College, perfectionists share certain attitudes. As reported in Psychology Today magazine, perfectionists often take these statements to heart:

If someone does a task better than me, then I feel like I've failed the whole task.

I tend to get behind in my work because I repeat things over and over.

Neatness is very important to me.

Each of these statements reveals a destructive aspect of perfectionism, Frost says. Perfectionists equate their mistakes with failure and believe that they will lose others' respect if they err. They also question their ability to do something well, leading them to redo tasks excessively to overcome their self-doubt. In addition, they prize neatness and order to an extreme degree.

Perfectionism is not something to boast about. It stymies your behavior and limits your focus to a narrow outcome at the expense of embracing a more holistic, interrelated process. You may dwell on one tree, even a speck on one branch of that tree, rather than the forest.

Research shows that parents instill perfectionism in their kids, especially in pressuring youngsters to succeed and criticizing even minor mistakes. That leads children to go to extraordinary lengths to please their demanding parents.

Overcoming perfectionism isn?t easy. Take these steps to cut yourself some slack:

Expose your mistakes. Instead of hiding errors, discuss them openly. Seek feedback and take corrective action. Perfectionists rarely learn from their mistakes because they're so intent on masking those mistakes from others.

Replace negative self-talk. If you received the highest ratings in a performance review except for one "average" evaluation for adaptability, don't cast yourself as a failure. Feed yourself affirmative messages about the 95 percent of your performance that impressed your boss.

Define success broadly. Perfectionists assume that they are only as good as their latest accomplishment. But if you can define success based on a range of criteria rather than a self-imposed standard of unattainable achievement, you can take pride in, say, your ability to contribute to a team or respond to change nimbly.

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