Perfectionism.

“I tried to please as best as I could, you know? Knowing full well, though, that no matter what I did, it would never, it would never be enough, you know? …I would be anxious about, you know, making sure that all my bases were covered, all my I’s were dotted and all my T’s were crossed, you know, and it made me focus on everything that I was doing at the same time. Well, I was probably trying to do too much. But I felt obligated to take on more …” – Low morale study participant (Male, cataloger)

The low-morale experience is impacted by numerous enabling systems, one of which is Uncertainty and Mistrust. This enabling system is particularly harsh because it appears at the start of the low-morale experience (the trigger event) and continues even if workplace abuse is completely resolved. 

One of the ways participants dealt with uncertainty was trying to anticipate or meet every demand of their abuser/bully. In particular, participants who were targeted or who were on the receiving end of poor communication channels were more likely to create and implement protocols that manifested symptoms of perfectionism. The Centre for Clinical Intervention (n.d.) states that perfectionism has three key parts:

  1. The relentless striving for extremely high standards;
  2. Judging [one’s] self-worth based largely on [an] ability to strive for and achieve such unrelenting standards; and 
  3. Experiencing negative consequences of setting such demanding standards, yet continuing to go for them despite the huge cost [to the self].

Coping strategies include conscious and unconscious positive or negative behaviors (Kendrick 2017), and participants who experienced low-morale and gravitated to perfectionist coping strategies noted that even though they never received validation for their work – and in some cases, were punished for it – they created even higher standards hoping to please their abuser/bully. As a result, they developed negative mental health impacts, including anxiety and depression. 

Shame researcher Brenè Brown (2013) notes that perfectionism can also be contextualized within vulnerability. She notes, “It’s… a way of thinking and feeling that says this: ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.’” Read more on my thoughts about shame and the LIS low-morale experience.

Due to a mix of external and internal factors, perfectionism in the low-morale experience can be especially difficult to overcome; however, many resources share common strategies to reducing effects:

  • changing negative self-talk to positive affirmations
  • recognizing and accepting realistic outcomes of plans and decisions
  • taking time to relax (including true “free-time” and physical health regimens)

Did perfectionism show up in your low-morale experience? How did it manifest? How did you reduce it? 

Works Cited

Brown, B. (2013). Overcoming perfectionism: Brene Brown talks perfection and authenticity with Oprah. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/29/brene-brown-daring-greatly-perfectionism-oprah_n_3468501.html

Centre for Clinical Interventions (n.d.) Module 1: What is Perfectionism? Retrieved from http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/docs/1%20What%20is%20%20Perfectionism.pdf

Kendrick, K.D. (2017). The low morale experience in academic librarians: A phenomenological study. Journal of Library Administration, 57(8): 846 – 878. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01930826.2017.1368325

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Can We Talk?

[This content was originally published on December 4, 2017 at The Ink On The Page.]

As a lurking/functional member of social media society, I have recently come across several threads in closed and open LIS online communities that prompt the following thought:

Librarians need assertive communication training. 

I remember in library school, classroom conversations about applying ethics in practice were brief – mainly covering what we’d do to ensure equitable space usage or signage opportunities for “not-so-popular” groups in our various communities. We also had discussions about dealing with difficult patrons – keeping in mind that “difficult patrons” covered everything from the lady who doesn’t want to pay her overdue fines to the guy who wants total and all-day access to the computer(s). 

Issues and laws some perceive to dilute the ALA Code of Ethics – like the Children’s Internet Protection Act, for instance – also make for intriguing and awkward conversations between librarians and library users; after 9/11, the PATRIOT Act also highlights friction between the balance of intellectual freedom and expectations where the protection of public safety are involved. Add to that myriad state and local laws, and even local community customs/norms – and you quickly recognize the host of relationships librarians in all environments and specialties are concerned with forming, navigating and sustaining in order that everyone have equitable access to information, technology, community, etc.

The formation, navigation, and sustaining of these relationships – with our patrons, with our colleagues, with our stakeholders, and with law enforcement – requires us to be able not only know our purview and how it relates to these groups’ expectations – but to be able to clearly state our boundaries with confidence and an expectation of courtesy and professionalism from those to whom we relate. 

I observe that librarians seem to have particular difficulties responding to areas well within their purview because they either:

  • a) don’t have or wrestle with which words to use in order to relay a clear message; 
  • b) (more often the case), are concerned with how they’re feeling about the upcoming discussion; or 
  • c) are concerned with how the listener may feel (about them personally or the library in general) as a result of the conversation; and 
  • d) also concerned about the status of the person to whom they must talk about some unpleasant issue.

Librarians don’t want to be (perceived as) rude or inflexible. Luckily, being assertive is neither of those things! 

Check it – RMIT University’s Counseling Service offers the following definition of assertive and its associated communication style: 

The term “assertive” is used to describe a communication style that is respectful of others but clear and firm in intent. Assertiveness is sometimes confused with aggressiveness – being rude, hostile, blaming, threatening, demanding, or sarcastic is not being assertive – these are all examples of aggressive communication styles. Assertive communication does mean standing up for yourself but doing so in a way that does not trespass on the rights of others and respects your own rights and feelings and the rights and feelings of others.

Assertive communication is based on mutual respect for the messenger and the receiver. It uses language that stresses civil focus on the matter at hand rather than judging the people involved in the conversation. It strives to validate both parties and offer clarity on defining problems, coming to solutions, and both parties’ roles in those solutions. 

In ethical spheres, being assertive means that a person’s worries about how they are being perceived does not result in unintentional breaches of professional conduct.

I mentioned my concerns about assertiveness training for librarians a few days ago, and a colleague offered some books that helped her develop her assertive communication style (thanks, Katie!).

I took an assertive communications course years before I became a librarian, and it has helped immensely when I talk or write to colleagues, administrators, employees, and library users – in positive and negative situations.

Have you attended professional development on communication? How have you developed your communication style as a LIS professional? Do you have reading or continuing education resources to share? Leave your comments.

Works Cited

RMIT University (n.d.) Assertive communication. Retrieved from http://mams.rmit.edu.au/owx2c90pize9.pdf

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