Difficult People Decoded: The Perfectionist
From the woman who steals the pantry milk to the finance guy yelling at the broken Flavia machine, the office is a petri dish like no other. Life is full of people we’d rather not work with, for better or for worse. But there is hope. The best tool that I have found to understand my own frustrations with other people (and myself!) is a framework called the Enneagram.
Founded by Desert Fathers and Mothers, the Enneagram (pronounced any-a-gram) distills all human behavior into nine personality types. What makes it unique is that it taps into the motivation of behavior, not just behavior itself.
I learned about this tool from a Trappist Monk, Fr. William Meninger. I continue to be grateful for his wisdom and ongoing teaching. I am still very much a student and hope these posts encourage you to go deeper as one too.
Each week I will introduce one of the nine types with a corporate lens and offer practical suggestions on how to deal with these personalities in the office. We tend to carry some of all nine personality types in us, but one is usually dominant.
“the behaviors and reactions of our Enneagram type . . . [can serve as] reminders that we’ve forgotten what we love and what’s most important. . . . This is how we turn our ego into a friend rather than an enemy.”
– Ross Hudson
Let’s get started.
#1: The Perfectionist
Ones have high personal standards. They are rational and very sensitive to what they deem as wrong. They tend to be principled, often drawn to morally high ground. Everything is black or white: they know what is perfect to them and are mission-driven to fix things towards that end.
It goes without saying that it is very important for Ones to be right and always improving. But this behavior can easily slide into harsh judgment against themselves or others who they think aren’t trying hard enough.
For example, I know a manager who got increasingly frustrated with a finance manager to the point where he said calmly and directly, “Just because you say it louder doesn’t mean I understand the problem any better.” One’s shadow is anger.
“Ones believe that being strict with themselves (and eventually becoming “perfect”) will justify them in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. But by attempting to create their own brand of perfection, they often create their own personal hell.”
– Don Riso
The opportunity for every personality type is to channel the opposite virtue, ultimately transforming their shadow. In the case of Ones, the challenge is to harness serenity. Once they accept that the world is gray and that’s okay, their anger will subside.
Many Ones I know find serenity by spending time in nature everyday. This physical act opens their eyes to the natural beauty occurring in the world that is perfect because of its imperfections. They connect to a higher power and learn to ease up on their deep convictions.
“It’s natural for a child to want to control. As an adult, however, I have healthier options.”
-Hope for Today
- “Let’s get this done right”
- “Better not leave anything to chance”
- “Are you going to rewrite that?”
- Neatly folded socks and underwear
- Pencils always sharpened
- Dedicated to social causes
Examples: Joan of Arc, Margaret Thatcher, Kate Middleton (Duchess of Cambridge), Hillary Clinton, Anita Roddick (The Body Shop), Martha Stewart, Chef Thomas Keller, Celine Dion, Ralph Nader, William F. Buckley, Jane Fonda, Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, “Mary Poppins”
How To Work With A One:
- Connect with their social causes either by volunteering or simply asking how it’s going
- Know that they are their own harshest critic, so tread carefully when giving feedback
- Honor your commitments
- Be punctual
- Admit your mistakes