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Perfectionism: Help or Harm?

I have a confession.

I am a self-confessed perfectionist when it comes to certain aspects of business and commerce.

I even had this article over-seen by a copywriter before you got to see it!

I’ve witnessed the impact that perfectionism can have on mental health and, if perfection is pushed too far, it can develop into full-blown ‘obsession’.

As someone who sometimes struggles with their mental health, I can say first-hand that it’s so important to put the limit of reasonableness on perfectionism and consider instead what standard is actually required to get the job done.

Done. Better than perfect.

Defining Perfectionist Behaviour From a career perspective, people may seek perfection in a number of ways: · Finding the perfect job (does that even exist?) · Finding the perfect candidate (when recruiting) · Holding back from applying for a job because of distorted perceptions that perfection is essential, thus creating self-limiting beliefs. From a work perspective, people may have perfectionist traits such as: · Taking too long to complete a task due to extremely high standards (set by oneself) that perfectionism creates · Not considering own limitations and asking for help (that is, taking it all on yourself). · Over-supplying (unnecessary information), being overly anal about, for example, report writing - language, grammar, contents, the finer points and excessive detail. The Impact of Excessive Perfectionism I obsess about spelling, grammar and punctuation, I really do. But, do I over obsess? Does my obsession with good grammar make me unnecessarily anxious? Does that anxiety cause me actual harm?

Basically, is all the anxiety-inducing obsession over grammar worth it?

Spelling and Grammar Perfectionism I recently conducted a poll on LinkedIn entitled ‘spelling mistakes that get my absolute goat’ here which has had more than 16,000 views and over a hundred comments from LinkedInners highlighting commonly misspelt words or phrases that they see all the time.

So, it’s fair to say, that spelling and grammar is (or should that be "are"?) important to many of us.

Beware the Consequence of Error With everything else in life, balance is important; a few minor errors on an internal email may cause mild irritation but is likely no ‘biggie’.

Errors are generally a consequence of quickness and often, timeliness is more important than grammatical perfectionism. After all, isn't "done" better than perfect?

However, errors in a new client proposal or in a document presented to your senior management team look shabby and lack professionalism. It could also cost you dearly in terms of credibility and reputation but you'll never know it because most people avoid those kinds of difficult conversations.

Also, if you've overlooked spelling errors, what else might have been overlooked? This Happened Recently

A Sales Marvel coaching client told me a story about a large piece of consulting work his firm was about to award.

The initial pitch from one particular agency looked very promising - some great sales messages and they obviously had lots of experience delivering in this area.

However, when they followed up with a written proposal, it was littered with spelling and grammatical errors - even the client’s name was spelt wrongly! Understandably, the client was concerned. When he called me to discuss it, he said they were minded to immediately withdraw and place the business with a competitor.

I suggested that, if that agency's ideas were that good, they should call them to have a frank discussion about how such a shoddy piece of work was ever issued to a prospective new client and what steps they would take in the future to ensure it wouldn't happen again.

After a very uncomfortable conversation, the agency’s account manager apologised profusely, explaining that, ordinarily, the proposal would have been peer-reviewed, but there was not enough time to do so as their account manager was leaving to go on holiday. Sound familiar?

Insufficient care and attention led to a whole lot of frustration and heartburn for both the client and the vendor.

Fortunately, the client was kind enough to give the supplier the benefit of the doubt on this occasion but it could so easily have gone the other way.

That said, the agency’s account manager is likely to be forever on the "back foot" and it's their own silly fault.

I had a fantastic bit of advice from the Maître d' at a swish restaurant one time. He told me this:

We do not seek perfection because it is too difficult to replicate, we merely seek the sublime

I love that sense of balance! Conclusion If you find yourself obsessing about every little detail on every task you carry out, if it is causing you anxiety (numerous drafts, nervous sweats, inability to focus or sleep at night etc) or you receive feedback that your work wasn’t concise enough or contained irrelevant information, then it could be a sign that you're suffering from unhealthy perfectionism.

If you find yourself avoiding certain opportunities because you feel the demands will be too high, or you find yourself too often debating the contents of a relatively unimportant internal email then, again, this could be a sign of unhealthy perfectionism (i.e. too much).

On the other hand, if you find yourself missing out on work due to errors and mistakes (that is, insufficient attention to detail) then you’re lacking in perfectionism and professionalism and that also, can bite you.

You may notice, interestingly so, that the result of unhealthy perfection and lack of care are basically the same – yes failure. So, yes! Perfection can be a serious hindrance to your career.

What To Do? We must ask ourselves "is this project worth the sweat"? If it is, (for example a large contract) then we owe it to ourselves to perform our very best and allow ourselves enough time to complete the task to perfection.

It’s so important to ensure you read and fully understand the brief, and this should include a discussion with the client to find out their exact expectations. This will save you time in the long run and help you cut out unnecessary information or go off-point.

If English is your weakness, there are plenty of experienced proofreaders who can help you produce a sublime piece of grammatically correct work.

Why not put a process in place whereby others in your team ‘sense check’ important work before it goes external?

Even Accenture Partners have their larger client proposals peer-reviewed before submission

When the potential results are high, it’s worth putting in the extra effort and, by having an awareness of potential downfalls, you can employ the expertise you need to bolster your capacity and accelerate your winning potential whilst taking some of the pressure off of you. It’s fair to say that we should consider good spelling and grammar to be a prerequisite – there are several learning resources available and Google knows pretty much everything!

Perfection and High Standards Perfection and "high standards" are very different.

High standards strongly correlate to success in business whereas perfection can seriously harm your potential.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article, if you would like to talk more about being a perfectionist - to a fellow perfectionist - I’m always happy to chat.

PS - I’m not a counsellor, but happy to help guide you on such topics as ‘influence at work’ and preparing a professional sales pitch.

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