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Shelley Karliner, LICSW, and Tricia Bassing, LICSW, Licensed Psychotherapists image


Shelley Karliner, LICSW

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Work is hard; and what is even harder is working well with others.

Our culture puts a high priority on knowing the answer and getting things right. Early childhood is a time when children are encouraged to do things they don’t know how to do, to learn by trying again and again, to use mistakes to discover what they need to learn. When we go to school, however, we are taught that making mistakes is no longer a good thing. In school, we learn that if you don’t know the answer to the question a teacher asks, it’s a problem. We are taught in all kinds of humiliating ways that “knowing” and “getting it right” is essential.

This cultural expectation is often most evident in the workplace where there is great pressure to get the job done right. I suggest that focusing on this activity of “getting things right” is exactly what gets in the way of working effectively with others.

You may be thinking, of course we have to get things right at work. Yes, and we believe the most effective way of doing this is to see the workplace, and to help others see the workplace, as a playground for imperfection.

After all, perfectionism is an illusion; it is simply not how the world functions. Work, like life, is filled with imperfections. Computers break down. Packages arrive late. Deadlines are missed. Bosses freak out. If we focus on things needing to be right all the time, when things don’t go right we become ashamed of ourselves or mad at others for not succeeding in this “gotta get it right” culture.

Trying to “do perfection” in this way not only stresses us out, it shuts down creative learning. When we approach a situation with the imperative that we should know how to get the job done, it keeps us from freeing ourselves up to learn something new.

Needing to know and needing to get it right also keeps us from creating something new with the people around us—seeking out the counsel of peers, superiors and subordinates to get their input into how to get the job done.

I believe that exposing what we don’t know, exposing our incompetence, is growthful and developmental.

This requires embracing our and others’ imperfections and creating an environment that transforms the negative connotation of incompetence. I believe approaching situations from a position of incompetence, allows us to face what it is we don’t know how to do and puts us in a better position to learn how to do it.

You don’t have to be a “director” to direct. You don’t have to be in charge of a team or an agency to direct other people’s performances. As a line worker or a member of a team, your performance can create an environment that frees others up to change their relationship to perfection, including your boss.

You can ask for help, conveying that you value what others have to say, and approach others for help embracing the activity of getting the job done. All of these actions create an environment where “knowing” doesn’t have to be the operative activity.



 Anger: What’s So Powerful About It Anyway?
 Creating the Relationships We Want
 Creating Conversation: Philosophizing at Work,
 Home and on the Playground
 On the Job and In the Director’s Chair
 Living With Loss: Letting Go and Moving On
Shelley Karliner is a psychotherapist who has helped thousands of people from all walks of life develop new emotional capacities and create healthy intimate relationships. She was trained at the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy by Fred Newman, the founder of the social therapeutic approach to emotional development. She gives talks and workshops on topics related to the emotionality of everyday life.

Grow. There’s Nothing Stopping You. Feel better.

Shelley Karliner and Tricia Bassing, Licensed Psychotherapists
4115 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Suite 203, Washington, DC 20016—202-244-0442

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