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Providing Feedback to Creative Perfectionists

Perfectionists are driven and work tirelessly to improve their results. The results of their work is often amazing and detailed, yet managing a perfectionist can be challenging simply because of the manner in which they receive feedback and constructive criticism.

Perfectionism: Hard Work vs. Actual Results

Perfectionists work very hard and are usually considered intelligent individuals who are good at what they do. The problem can often be that their work ethic becomes a hindrance to their productivity.  Often times, practical thinking is bypassed by the need to surpass themselves, going far beyond quality results.

So how do you provide feedback to someone who is an perfectionist? Perfectionists are typically not the best candidates for receiving feedback without feeling slighted or dejected, so here are a few tips to keep things positive and productive.

4th Earl of Chesterfield Philip Dormer Stanhope (1694-1773) wrote in a letter:

“Aim at perfection in everything, though in most things it is unattainable. However, they who aim at it, and persevere, will come much nearer to it than those whose laziness and despondency make them give it up as unattainable.”

Set Boundaries, Goals and Expectations

Perfectionists will often create their own expectations, which can be lofty, developing obstacles along the way. For this reason, it is important to clearly express what you expect from them in the beginning of a project. This will keep that individual from trying to recreate the wheel, when all you needed was a drawing of a circle. Define the variables of each project, noting how important certain aspects are and be specific when in your delivery of expectations. This will help keep the perfectionist focused on priorities.

Check the Progress

In most cases, perfectionists focus on the quality of a piece to the extent that they are unwilling to share their progress until the end. Their fear of showing an unfinished report or even an incomplete room they are decorating is common and is considered only half of their capability — and thereby unacceptable to share.

Counter this thought process by setting a few extra minor milestones early, and by asking for status updates. This will help you to determine — sooner than later — that he or she is going in the proper direction, leaving no surprises in the end.

There are No Minor Mistakes to a Perfectionist

Keep in mind that when you are providing feedback to a perfectionist that there is no minor mistakes. This means they may find it difficult to differentiate between small errors — like spelling errors in reports you have reviewed — and large ones, like spelling a client’s name wrong in a presentation. Both cause anxiety and leads to the perfectionist beating themselves up in demoralization.

To counter this self-criticism, highlight what you like about their work, dedication and commitment to success. Express clear satisfaction in their sharing their work in progress, while reiterating how they have reached some of the goals you outlined in the beginning.

Finally, conduct a guided brainstorming, I recommend Edward DeBono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’ approach to discuss the missing elements collaboratively. Don’t focus on what is wrong, but on how you are working together to enhance the existing production.

How to do give effective feedback to perfectionist


  • Don’t assume that the recipient don’t understand that problems or flaws exist.
  • Don’t attempt to get the feedback done with as fast as possible.
  • Don’t be the only one that talks. Good feedback is also about listening.
  • Don’t serve the feedback shit Sandwich. Wrapping critique in compliments will diminish the value of the compliments while diluting the critique.


  • Prepare yourself. Think it through. Make a list. De-couple emotional responses.
  • Prepare the situation. Make sure there is time and a proper undisturbed place.
  • Prepare the recipient. Declare your intentions to give feedback before you do so. Give the perfectionist a moment to gather his or hers thoughts beforehand.


  • Be blunt, simple and direct.
  • Listen for questions. Take in comments and objections.
  • Make it about the problem not the person. Be firm and kind.

Follow through

  • Make sure you are understood. Ask for a play back of the main points.
  • Open discussion up for different solutions. Clarify and prioritize what needs to be addressed.
  • Schedule a follow-up.





Relevant Articles on This Site About Feedback and Perfectionism:



The Perfectionism Trap

Professional creatives are often perfectionists, and either have a sense perfection through the fear of having creative work rejected, or from the pressures of social standing.

Read more…



In Praise of Praise

A compliment is simple It costs you nothing, yet can reap fantastic benefits. If you want your compliments to mean something, use them correctly.

Read More…







Scientific & Business Sources Used in This Article



On the utility of positive and negative feedback in a paired-associate learning task.

By: Arbel Y, Murphy A, Donchin E

This study offers a neurophysiological examination of the relationship between feedback processing and learning. Results indicated differences in the processing of initial informative and proceeding feedback stimuli. The results suggest that the process giving rise to the feedback-related negativity is sensitive to the utility of the feedback and that the processing of the first informative positive feedback is associated with learning outcomes.

Read more at PubMed



The Rightful Demise of the Sh*t Sandwich: Providing Effective Feedback.

By: James IA

Results: Evidence informs us that the use of good feedback has a significant effect on learners’ outcomes. One common problematic method is the notorious “Sh*t Sandwich”, which attempts to hide criticism within a cushion of two positive statements. Generally, feedback should be given about the task rather than the person, but when it is personalized it should relate to effort rather than ability.

Read more at Cambridge Journals





How to Give Feedback to a Perfectionist

By: Jeff Szymanski

Perfectionists have a harder time rolling with the punches when they have an off day, didn’t spend enough time on a project to get the best result, or make a mistake. Perfectionists generally have a strong work ethic. They are driven to succeed and so will persist at tasks until they reach the desired outcome. The downside is that they sometimes get caught up in strategies with poor payoffs.

Read more at Harvard Business Review

Consequences of individual feedback on behavior in organizations.

By: Ilgen, Daniel R.; Fisher, Cynthia D.; Taylor, M. Susan

Feedback is necessary for effective role performance, though little attention is given to the psychological processes affected by it. This review focuses on the multidimensional nature of feedback as a stimulus and addresses the process by which feedback influences behaviour.

Read more at APA PsycNET




An Inductive Study of Feedback Interactions over the Course of Creative Projects

By: Spencer H. HarrisonElizabeth D. Rouse

An inductive study of feedback meetings in creative two projects; modern dance and product design—to understand how feedback might influence the development of creative prototypes. We integrate these findings into a process model that describes how feedback influences creative projects over time.

Read more at Academy of Management Journal