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<xTITLE>The Problem of Perfection in Conflict Management</xTITLE>

The Problem of Perfection in Conflict Management

by Lorraine Segal
February 2022

Conflict Remedy Blog by Lorraine Segal

Lorraine Segal

How does perfection hurt conflict management at work?

“The challenge is not to be perfect; it is to be whole.”—Jane Fonda

I read this quote by Jane Fonda recently, and I was struck with how applicable the contrast of perfection vs. wholeness are to conflict management challenges as well.

How does trying to be perfect negatively impact conflict?

If you believe you have to be perfect, then you are unwilling to acknowledge your mistakes.

If you need to be perfect, then you need to blame the other person for the problem so you have no responsibility for it.

Needing to be perfect makes it hard to listen calmly with curiosity to what someone else has to say and accept their perspective as different rather than bad.

If you need to be perfect, you will judge yourself and others harshly and condemn them for their mistakes. You will assume that a direct report, a colleague, or a supervisor who gets something wrong is incompetent, which negatively impacts giving and receiving feedback effectively and, can lead to bullying behaviors.

You will easily get emotionally triggered, viewing any questions about your decisions as challenges or attacks .

And, this need to be right always, which is impossible, leads to rigidity. To others, you will appear even less perfect, which fuels a vicious cycle.

How can you shift to wholeness?

First, recognize that being perfect is an impossible goal.

Remind yourself that true competence, true leadership, and connection mean making lots of mistakes and learning from them.

Forgive yourself and others for being human–you’re in good company!

Seek clarity, and understanding in human conversations rather than judgement.

Choose flexibility and resilience, which allows you to set professional boundaries without building walls.

Remember that feeling superior or negatively judging another might provide short term relief, but will damage relationships longer term.

 Simple but not easy

These suggestions are simple, but not necessarily easy to follow when you are trying to break long established habits. In my own experience and in working with clients, I find it easier to start with self- love, positive affirmations and gentle reminders to change my thinking and then work on my behavior toward others. Sometimes, taking a thorough look at past patterns and experiences is helpful. Peaceful resiliency, inner strength, compassion for yourself and others all feel good and are valuable qualities for leaders or anyone!


Lorraine Segal, M.A. is a Conflict Management and Communication Consultant, Coach, and Trainer. Through her own business, Conflict Remedy, Ms. Segal works with corporations and non-profits as well as governmental entities and individuals to promote harmonious and productive workplaces. 

She is a consultant and trainer for County of Sonoma. And, at Sonoma State University, she is the curriculum designer and lead teacher for the new Conflict Management Certificate program. Ms. Segal was recently named one of the top 30 Conflict Resolution experts to follow on LinkedIn. She is also a contributing author to the forthcoming book, Stand Up, Speak Out Against Workplace Bullying.

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