Over the years, I've witnessed many toxic traits in the workplace. But I have to tell you, there's one that stands out and consistently holds people back: Perfectionism.

Have you seen it? Hopefully not. Perfectionism will silently poison a team and stifle collaboration. It shows up in self-defeating thought patterns and actions that typically derail productivity and morale.

Here are 5 toxic traits of people -- perhaps your boss or co-worker -- with perfectionist tendencies.

1. They set unrealistic goals.

A perfectionist sets goals or standards so high, they are often unrealistic. When they can't achieve their very best (according to their unreachable standards), they may give up on an important task. If a colleague does something better than them, they feel that they've failed and have a difficult time bouncing back. They may also conceal their mistakes from others, since there's shame attached to their sense of failure.

2. They are risk-averse.

A perfectionist fears taking risks when performing a task or solving a problem because if they do, there is no guarantee they can do it to perfection. The risk-freer approach, to the detriment of the team, is to stick with safer tasks they are sure they can get done. Studies have found perfectionists to be risk-averse, which can inhibit innovation and creativity.

3. They are classic procrastinators.

Since perfectionists worry incessantly about doing something imperfectly, they freeze up, get "analysis paralysis," and fail to do anything at all. It gets worse if the form of perfectionism is motivated by social approval (i.e., the anticipation of disapproval from others). Studies indicate this type of perfectionism is linked with the tendency to put off tasks.

4. They are only obsessed with the end result.

Take special notice of colleagues who don't enjoy the process of working or achieving a goal, learning or trying out new things, or considering other people's ideas. Their only daily, even hourly, concern is what it takes to achieve the end goal. Anything in the way of that obsession with results, results, results, will cause them to feel annoyed or devastated. 

5. They are highly critical of others.

If you feel judged and rejected, remember: it's not about you. You're probably working with a perfectionist. They are highly discriminating and tend to reject in others what they can't accept in themselves. They also don't handle criticism and feedback well. This comes from having an unhealthy attachment to others' opinions. They feel that if their flaws are exposed, others will reject them.

The cure for perfectionism.

If you think you're a perfectionist (and are willing to admit it), I recommend a few things you can do to make some positive mental changes.

  • Set realistic goals -- short and long-term -- and break them down into smaller goals: weekly, daily or even hourly goals.
  • Ask yourself, "Did I set the bar too high? Your emotions may be telling you that you're trying to hit an unrealistic target, which may lead to self-sabotage.
  • Don't fear failure. Look at your mistakes as a part of the learning journey -- your professional development evolution.
  • Be careful of using black-and-white thinking or verbalizing these thoughts; it will often lead to unrealistic expectations. Ask yourself, "Am I thinking in terms of extremes?"

Bringing it home.

Perfectionism in its most unhealthy state can rob you of your productivity and creativity. It can even lead to various health problems. But it doesn't have to be this way.  Once you cut yourself some slack, realize that you're human like everyone else and not broken for making mistakes, you'll be in a much better place. 

Published on: May 8, 2018
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