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wundayatta's avatar

What do you do with a perfectionist?

Asked by wundayatta (58377 points ) August 20th, 2009

Say you are involved with (or married to) a person who is extremely competent, but also really attached to being perfect. This person makes a mistake at work—really, the first one in twenty years. He or she is beating themselves up about it. It costs the company some 25 thousand dollars. They’ve prided themselves on how much money they’ve saved the company over the years.

However, the company is in a merger, and the division your friend or spouse is in may be eliminated. They might still be able to save their job (or remain employed) if the division is eliminated. They are scared, and their family depends on them.

This person is very talented. However, they are beating themselves up about the mistake. Any company with brains would want to hire them. However, the economy is for shit.

Can you help them? Is there any feasible way to reassure them? If they work even harder, their family will suffer, too. Is it worth worrying about? What would you advise them to do? Would you even advise them to do anything? How would you comfort them? Does it make a difference if they are male or female?

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23 Answers

zephyr826's avatar

My father and brother are both like this person you are describing. In my experience, it does them very little good to reassure them as a family member. Sometimes it helps to have someone who is in the situation (a coworker, perhaps, who is also a friend) remind them that though this mistake may seem like the end of the world, it is in fact, minor in the grand scheme of humanity. It’s not a foolproof guarantee that they’ll feel better, but it might work. Good luck.

JLeslie's avatar

I have a perfectionist in the family and he only beats himself up for a short time, then he “fixes” the problem by getting a new job, or repairing the dent in the car, or whatever the thing is that he has caused and seems to magically get amnesia that he has ever made one mistake ever in his life—hence he is perfect. I have no idea if other perfectionists have this capability, but I guess my advice would be to encourage the perfectionist you are talking about to take action and get past whatever happened.

CMaz's avatar

Accentuate the positives, eliminate the negatives.

Zen's avatar

Striving for excellence is motivating -
Striving for perfection is demoralizing.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

The perfectionists I’ve known also have issues in other areas of their life you don’t see. These are the people to avoid like the plague. They will only bring you down if you associate with them for very long.

Quagmire's avatar

Hey! A mistake which makes a company loose 25K is a BIG mistake. A perfectionist knows that. Whatever money that person brought in to the company, the company expects. Even if that isn’t his job, the company expects him to do the best he can. That’s how it works, unfortunately. You’re expected to go above and beyond and NEVER make big mistakes.

All you can tell the person (as a friend, to console him only) is that the company will look at all the money he brought in and not to worry.

And it’s important to look at WHY he made the mistake. Can we blame the company? Was he overworked? Was communication bad through no fault of his own? Maybe you can get some consolation through that.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Tell her that being a perfectionist means moving on and learning from the mistakes that we all make.

gailcalled's avatar

@Daloon; I’m confused. You are talking about the same person through-out your question, right? You switch from “he/she” to “they.”

“They’ve prided themselves on how much money they’ve saved the company over the years.” If you mean your friend, have him/her itemize all the savings he provided for the Co. Maybe it will balance out the 25K. That is not chump change.

wundayatta's avatar

@gailcalled I’m sorry. I hate writing “he/she” all the time. I prefer “they,” whether it passes the grammarians muster or not.

@Quagmire Good points. This person has saved the company or made sales of 100s of thousands of dollars over the years. “They” made the mistake when a coworker asked them to review some documents, saying, “this has to get out today.” Since “they” are a perfectionist, “they” felt “they” had to respond quickly, and thus short-changed the review, missing a crucial element.

The company can sue to recover the funds, but the cost of suing and recovering the money may be more than the amount of money that is recoverable. I’m guessing the money has already been spent, and the person who had it has no means by which to replace it. Garnering wages or taking property can be costly, and the whole mess takes place over a number of legal jurisdictions, so, in my opinion, fwiw, they should kiss the money good bye, instead of throwing good money after bad. It’s a giant corporation, anyway. Still, a job hangs in the balance.

JLeslie's avatar

@daloon after listening to more of this discussion I am inclined to think that if the company is going to be harsh about this mistake after everything the person has done to help the company, then I say start looking for another job—F$!k them! I do agree with @Quagmire that companies overall expect employees not to make mistakes, but let’s have some perspective. I have a question that maybe is my own oversight: Is the company making a big thing about this mistake or is the perfectionist beating himself up about it?

wundayatta's avatar

@JLeslie Perfectionist beating up self. Nothing from the boss—so far.

JLeslie's avatar

@daloon Do you think if the perfectionist had a discussion with the boss it might help? The boss will either make the perfectionist feel better, or the boss will come down on the guy, but the perfectionist already has all of that crap in his head anyway, so it won’t be any worse probably. I beat myself up horribly about things like this, and I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, but I do pride myself on doing a good job. I would want to not have an elephant sitting in the room with me at work, but sometimes I talk too much and have bad judgement on these things, so I am not giving advice, just putting the idea out there.

wundayatta's avatar

We’ll see (perhaps) what the boss thinks. I think they will be discussing it today.

tinyfaery's avatar

Tell them there is no such thing as perfection and that ultimately they have no idea control over anything. Worrying gets you nowhere.

YARNLADY's avatar

I don’t see any way to actually help this person (who I am married to, BTW), but to be as supportive as possible. In my household, I would have a conversation that starts; “What do you think would be the best way to approach this situation?” and he would take it from there. He’s very resourceful.

trailsillustrated's avatar

live with it. There’s no changing it.

Blondesjon's avatar

Perfectionist=setting yourself up for catastrophic failure when it comes. Set the bar at mediocrity and never be disappointed.

saraaaaaa's avatar

Maybe this person deserves a break for a week or two, If work is too hectic then fair enough just keep them inundated with compliments on their numerous achievements. Being a perfectionist means constant worry and stress and alot of energy put into things that aren’t always beneficial to you yourself. Once this is all done with maybe a slightly frivolous holiday that is about not caring just to refresh the person and remind them of what it is to simply live. Hope this helps :)

mattbrowne's avatar

Asking him or her to achieve the perfect score of 80% perfection for all priority 3 tasks and below. Very often 20% of effort will already give you 80% results. And very often, this is good enough.

JLeslie's avatar

@daloon How did the meeting go? Was the boss understanding? Is the perfectionist feeling any better yet?

mirador's avatar

If this person really is a true perfectionist, it’s a part of his/her personality and genetic make-up, and nothing anyone could say or do will be a quick fix. Perfectionism is a double-edged sword that works both for and against the person at different times in life.

My philosophy is that everything happens for a reason. We go where we’re meant to go and we experience what we were meant to experience. As someone blessed/cursed with perfectionistic traits myself, I found that adopting this philosophy (and believing it), has helped me through times when I felt I’d really messed up.

seazen_'s avatar

I couldn’t be with one.

wundayatta's avatar

@JLeslie I think that example is a hypothetical one. I don’t remember that actually happening in my life or in my wife’s life, although it would probably be loosely based on what she was going through. She’s a perfectionist, but she never made a mistake like that.

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