The Cost of Perfection

Do you see issues in black and white or shades of gray? The way you handle conflict at work colors not only your feelings about your job, but also your health.

People who think in rigid, evaluative "absolutist" (AB) terms -- like perfectionists and control freaks -- are more susceptible to emotional and physical problems than those who are open-minded and flexible, or "non-absolutist," says Alistair Ostell, lecturer in psychology at the University of Bradford Management Center in England.

AB thinkers get upset if things don't go their way, which impedes their problem-solving and coping skills, he explains. This may translate into health complications such as insomnia, heart palpitations, chronic fatigue and high blood pressure. Also, says Ostell, "when people are angry, they increase secretion of the [stress] hormone cortisol, which tends to suppress the immune system, making them vulnerable to infection."

In Ostell's study, published in the British Journal of Medical Psychology, British "headteachers," or school principals, deemed non-absolutist were in better health, were less stressed and enjoyed their jobs more than absolutist principals. Though the study took place in the classroom, Ostell warns that AB thinking occurs across jobs and personality types.

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People with an AB attitude may find it hard to change their mind-set, says Ostell. But he suggests they consider the link between their attitude and its ill effects -- and then try to go with the flow when ever possible.

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