Several years ago I wrote about what I learned from Daniel Goleman (who famously relates emotional intelligence with an ability to lead) and Dan Siegel, MD, when I attended Harvard’s Institute of Coaching Professional Association conference. I went on to tell you about some other news for coaches from Harvard’s Medical School, specifically coaching perfectionists, from a session led by Jeff Szymanski. Perfectionism is a behavior often addressed in coaching engagements.
I will restate some of what I wrote before, along with giving you a few updates about coaching perfectionists.
When coaching perfectionists, Mr. Szymanski said it is important to keep in mind both the good news and bad news when working with proclaimed (or actual) perfectionists.
First, the good news: “They are driven to succeed, work hard to avoid mistakes and are always striving to improve. They persist at tasks until they reach the desired outcome.” Now, the bad news: “They sometimes get caught up in strategies with poor payoffs — they are working hard but spinning their wheels. The feedback they hear can be interpreted as catastrophic or ‘lower the bar.’ It can be a challenge to work with someone who needs everything to be perfect.”
The question to ask a perfectionist is “How do you want others to see you?” A common response can be wanting to be seen as intelligent, independent and good at what the person does. Really, this answer is no different from what most of us would say. However, there is a difference which comes through further understanding — the perfectionist ‘has a harder time rolling with the punches when they have an off day, get a bad review, or make a mistake.’
Turning now to the world of Hogan, an assessment I imagine most of you are aware of, they identify three types of perfectionism in their paper “Just Let It Go: Managing Perfectionism in the Workplace”:
So how does one coach a perfectionist? Giving feedback to perfectionists is tricky. Here are some strategies to consider, keeping in mind that not every perfectionist is the same. In your coaching, you want to help them attend to their negative attributes:
Coaching perfectionists is about ‘helping them learn to differentiate between intention, strategy and outcome. It’s not necessarily about changing their intention and desired outcome; it is about learning to help them vary their strategies.’
As a coach, you want to find the ways ‘perfectionists get stuck and help them identify unhealthy perfectionism from healthy perfectionism, which sets high but achievable standards that lead to feelings of satisfaction and increased self-esteem.’