Working with a Perfectionist

By Carol Campbell
Published on: January 15, 2021

What’s that old saying about engineers? It takes them two percent of their time to do 98 percent of a project, and 98 percent of their time to finish the remaining two percent. That’s often true because engineers are natural born perfectionists. Their mind functions without any gray areas, it’s all black and white – it’s either done, or it’s not done. It’s either the perfect product, or it’s not.

Now, I wasn’t really meaning to throw any shade on engineers. They’re often very cuddly and like to keep to themselves. But what about having to collaborate on a marketing or sales project with a perfectionist? I mean, I know they really, really care about the quality of their work, but they can be frightfully draining. Here are a few ideas I’ve gleaned over the years when you run up against a perfectionist:

Realize what you’re dealing with. Perfectionists often have trouble prioritizing, which leads to poor time management. If you can build some trust into your relationship, you stand a good chance at suggesting what elements of your task need prioritizing and what constitutes “done”.

Another feature I’ve found when collaborating with perfectionists is that they often go way overboard when it comes to putting together a time-line and to-do list. They’ll opt for a new Excel spreadsheet detailing 20 different variables and want to update it every day, when the top five key elements can easily be tracked on a weekly basis. Again, you’ll have to use your diplomatic skills to keep them in tow and on track.

Focus on the big picture. Always turn the conversation back to the big picture. Keep it brutally simple. “Is there a simpler way to achieve our goal?” “How can we save time as we approach our deadlines?” I’ve found that when I continually keep the focus on the end game, the big picture, perfectionists start to see things my way. Yes, they will want to rant about all the different variants they can see, but once you have them convinced that the big picture is the most important element, you’ll start to win them over.

Make sure they feel secure. Part of recognizing and managing a perfectionist is to also make sure that you are not making them feel unwanted or unappreciated or not as valuable a team player as everyone else. We all can suffer bruised egos. So make a mental note to reward and praise accomplishment, while maintaining discipline and focus.



Carol Campbell

Carol Campbell

Carol Campbell is the Managing Director of the Technology Insider Group, Publisher of Technology Designer Magazine, and Executive Director of the Women in Consumer Technology association. She is a publishing, marketing and women’s thought leadership executive with a history of offering outstanding presentation, communication and cross-cultural team management skills.

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