The Secret to Working with Perfectionists

Perfectionists can be some of the best employees and colleagues in the workplace. They are often highly motivated, detail-oriented, and committed to excellence. However, perfectionism can also have its drawbacks. Perfectionists may be reluctant to take risks, may be slow to make decisions, and may have a hard time letting go of tasks.

If you work with a perfectionist, it’s important to understand their unique needs and challenges to build a strong relationship and support their success. Here are some tips for working with perfectionists in different roles:

Working with a Perfectionist Coworker
  1. Be understanding. Perfectionists can be hard on themselves and others, so it’s important to be understanding and supportive. Remember that they are striving for excellence, so try to see things from their perspective. For example, perfectionists may need more time to complete tasks than others, so be respectful of their time and avoid giving them unrealistic deadlines.
  2. Communicate regularly. Perfectionists may need more frequent communication than other coworkers, as they may be more likely to worry about details and to second-guess themselves. Be sure to keep your perfectionist coworker updated on the progress of the project, and to check in with them regularly to see if they have any questions or concerns.
  3. Be willing to collaborate. While they may be reluctant to ask for help, perfectionists often appreciate and benefit from collaboration. When collaborating with perfectionist coworkers, it’s important to be respectful of their boundaries and to give them time to warm up to the idea. Be patient and don’t try to take over the project. Instead, let them know that you are offering to collaborate because you want to help them to succeed and to produce the best possible work.
  4. Build a relationship of mutual learning and respect. While you can help perfectionists be more flexible, open-minded, and accepting of mistakes, they can help you with attention to detail, high standards, and a commitment to excellence. By building a reciprocal learning relationship with perfectionists, you can establish a foundation of trust and respect, which can foster productivity and collaboration. For example, they may be more willing to accept feedback, more likely to ask for help, and more open to new ideas.
  5. Celebrate your successes. When you and your perfectionist coworker achieve something together, be sure to celebrate your success. This will help to reinforce the benefits of collaboration and build a positive working relationship.
Working for a Perfectionist Boss
  1. Set boundaries. Perfectionist bosses often set unrealistic expectations, such as long hours, tight deadlines, and perfect work. To protect your time, energy, and well-being, set boundaries early on. For example, communicate to your boss that you are not available before 8am or after 6pm. Be sure to communicate your boundaries clearly and concisely and be firm but respectful when enforcing them.
  2. Demonstrate your dedication. Though it may be impossible to meet the unrealistic standards of perfectionist bosses, demonstrating your reliability, consistency, and commitment to high-quality work can build trust and lead to a more open and collaborative relationship.
  3. Be intentional with your communication. To ensure alignment with your boss’s goals, check in with them regularly. During your meetings, share your planned approach and be prepared to discuss options. If they have suggestions, ask for concrete examples so that you have a clear understanding of what is expected. Finally, document any decisions or action steps in writing so that you have a clear record of your boss’s expectations and can avoid future misunderstandings.
  4. Give yourself positive feedback. Perfectionist bosses often have high standards and expectations, and they may be critical of their employees’ work, even when it is high quality. This can make it difficult to feel appreciated. Regularly remind yourself of your accomplishments and progress. For example, try a weekly ritual of reflecting on your successes and giving yourself positive affirmations.
  5. Lean on your support system. If you are struggling to work with a perfectionist boss, don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted colleague or mentor for support and guidance. They can offer valuable insights and advice on how to manage your boss’s expectations, set boundaries, and protect your mental well-being.
Managing a Perfectionist
  1. Create a supportive environment. Perfectionists often need more time to learn new things and adjust to change. As their manager, it’s important to be patient, supportive, and offer guidance when needed. Foster a supportive environment where they feel comfortable taking risks and learning from their mistakes.
  2. Set realistic goals: Perfectionists often set impossibly high standards for themselves and others. It’s important to be clear about your expectations, and to make sure that they are realistic and achievable. To do this, provide clear instructions and set realistic deadlines to help them understand when “good enough” is good enough.
  3. Help them manage their time. Perfectionists often struggle to manage their time, which can lead to high stress. As a manager, you can help them by developing their time management skills. For example, you can encourage them to break down large tasks into smaller ones, identify coworkers to delegate to, and prioritize tasks effectively.
  4. Be intentional with your feedback: Perfectionists may be more sensitive to criticism of their work than others, so it’s important to be mindful of how you give feedback. Start by asking them how they would like to receive feedback. This will help to build trust and reduce defensiveness. When giving negative feedback, be direct and specific, but also supportive and helpful. When giving positive feedback, avoid focusing only on results, as this can reinforce perfectionistic thinking. Instead, applaud their effort and positive behaviors and try to find ways to help them challenge their perfectionistic thoughts.
  5. Assign appropriate work. Perfectionists can be valuable assets to any team, but it is important to assign them tasks that align with their strengths. They may struggle in roles that require them to work under tight deadlines, make quick decisions, or deal with a lot of ambiguity or uncertainty. Instead, focus on giving perfectionists tasks that allow them to leverage their fastidiousness and attention to detail.

Working with perfectionists can be challenging, but it’s also rewarding. By understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and by following the tips above, you can build productive and positive relationships with perfectionists in all roles.


  • Erica Medrano

    Erica is a graduate student in industrial-organizational psychology and Associate Consultant at CMA. She received her Bachelor of Science in psychology with from University of Georgia in 2018, then went on to receive her Master of Science from the Florida Institute of Technology in 2020, where she is currently pursuing her doctorate degree in industrial-organizational psychology. She is passionate about using research to make a positive impact on the workplace, with an emphasis on leadership, teams, and well-being.