The trap of perfectionism

One of my roles with clients could be described as “reassurance”, defined as the action of removing someone’s doubts or fears. I doubt that I ever completely remove anyone’s doubts but I hope I help to reduce, if not eliminate, their fears. Dentists increasingly work within silos, although peer review is encouraged I don’t believe it truthfully takes place in many lives, it certainly didn’t in mine when I was a clinician. The closest I endured was from someone, now deceased, who shall remain nameless, with whom I shared emergency cover during our holiday periods. His favourite way of giving feedback was to draw an “x” on a radiograph and to tell the patient that he had marked what I had missed.

In our contemporary climate of doling out the blame on others before they get a chance to dump it on you, it is hard to stay satisfied and relaxed with our day-to-day lives. With a referral to the General Dental Council now being a common way of escalating personal disputes there is no surprise that paranoia stalks dental surgeries.

An article in 1843 (The Economist long reads) poses the general question, “why have we become so dissatisfied with being ordinary?”. In the piece is reported the case of an undergraduate who couldn’t hand in his work for evaluation because he “knew” it wasn’t good enough.

Back to clients, a common conversation goes along the lines of dentist thinking their work isn’t good enough, often because they have seen some “Wizz-kid’s” composite on a Zoom call. I usually ask them how long did they think it took to produce this “work of art” and if they took as long could they improve? I remind them of patient and case selection (a not unknown bias in our Key Opinion Leaders) and then remind them that they had been complaining of how busy they were and we were working on managing their time.

The fear that someone else will be perfect leads us to believing that as we are less than perfect we are not good enough at all. I am not trying to diminish a passion for excellence but it has to be finite (perfectionists will of course disagree). The move from no magnification to flip down magnifiers, and on to loupes with illumination made me feel that I had been inadequate before, but I resolved not to lose sleep as I had done the best that I could. When a client told me that he had started doing examinations with his microscope I wasn’t sure what to say.

The article is worth a read because I do think that there are some dentists who display perfectionism with elements of OCD and for whom reassurance is needed, lest neurosis follows. I should also remind you of being aware of the patients who seek “perfection”….

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Published by Alun Rees

Dental Business Coach. Analyst. Troubleshooter. Consultant. Writer. Presenter. Broadcaster.

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