Are You Sensitive? Here’s Why It’s a Superpower and How to Work It
If you read the title of this post while vigorously nodding your head, then you may already have dealt with what it means to be a sensitive person in the world, and more specifically at work.
You may have been labeled as “too nice,” “introverted,” or even as a “pushover.” You may have had to deal with your emotions running haywire when faced with challenging situations such as confrontational relationships, less-than-stellar performance reviews, or toxic office environments.
While your generosity, dedication, and attention to detail may have earned you the sympathy of some of your colleagues, you may have been at the end of some serious pet peeves from others.
Dr. Elaine Aron, a clinical and research psychologist and expert on high-sensitivity since 1990, has authored five books on the topic, including one of my favorites, The Highly Sensitive Person. She defines high sensitivity’s characteristics as a more elaborate depth of processing, easy overstimulation, emotional responsiveness, acute awareness of stimulations, and empathy.
Her research associates these characteristics with the personality trait known as Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS). Individuals born with the SPS trait have been proven to be more likely to be bullied at work and suffer from psychological injury. Often, these injuries are inflicted by managers and colleagues with low Emotional Quotient (EQ), and poor self-esteem and interpersonal skills.
In a world, and a workplace at large, that tends to favor those who speak the loudest and the most, often mistaking free speech with assertiveness or smarts, sensitivity can easily be mistaken for weakness.
As a sensitive person, I’ve experienced this multiple times, and have had to learn to reframe my own sensitivity from an undesirable attribute to what it really is: a strong, unique, competitive advantage. Here’s why and how your high sensitivity can actually work to your benefit at work.
With the rise in technology, leaders like you - with empathy, intuition, and creativity - are needed more than ever!
In one of my fields of expertise, which is accounting, tasks of all sorts are being taken over by bots and computers. Similarly, the traditional role of many professions is rapidly evolving towards almost complete automation.
The good news is that the more professional tasks are automated, the more need there is for those qualities and attributes that machines do not possess, such as intuition, creativity, and empathy. These qualities are the trademarks of sensitive people, which makes them incredibly gifted and attuned leaders.
As a sensitive person, you are already equipped for exceptional leadership, which is now in high need and even higher demand in our modern career landscape. Have confidence in your leadership abilities and do not be afraid to display the qualities that make you YOU!
You have incredible communication skills: Use them!
One of the biggest misconceptions around sensitive individuals is that they are poor communicators. Nothing could be further from the truth.
One of the hallmarks of high sensitivity is the ability to “read people.” It’s not just about perceiving others’ actions and reactions, but rather catching on to their intrinsic feelings, emotions, and motivations. This in turn allows sensitive individuals to tailor their communication style, content, and delivery to their specific audience.
This means you can actually understand and address the needs of your team members, superiors, and management. If you’re an entrepreneur, you are in a perfect position to identify and attune to your ideal audience and market. Now how is that for a superpower?
Harness your unique attention to detail!
As a sensitive person, getting easily over-stimulated also lets me pick up on the tiniest of details.
While this can create perfectionist tendencies, which can be harmful, the upside is that I can also pick up on what may have been overlooked. I also notice this trait in most of the sensitive people I know.
In fast-paced professional environments where change is the new normal, this attention to detail is an invaluable asset! Don’t hesitate to use it and let your voice be heard about it, as well!
You are so creative you can solve pretty much any problem!
Repeat after me: I’m an idea magnet! Great ideas just come to you, because you’re so in-tune with your inner world and experience amazing clarity breakthroughs. As a sensitive person, your intuition is the gateway to the most innovative solutions and experiments that exist.
Don’t be afraid to share your incredible creativity with the world and be noticed for it! You also may want to consider downloading a note-taking app like Evernote, or carrying a notebook around just in case the next million-dollar idea hits you.
Now you see how what you may have been told from an early age on was more of a weakness and a disability, can actually propel your career and life forward. When I finally realized what a superpower sensitivity really is, when harnessed and used in a productive way, I began truly and authentically thriving in my work and life.
However, since sensitive people get easily stimulated, even by subtleties in their environments, the key is to learn to manage your emotions and be as prepared as possible. For me, understanding what triggers me and training myself to either confront it or avoid it, as needed, makes a world of difference. Similarly, preparing for new circumstances, learning to be more flexible, and anticipating changes helps me give my best without the stress of overstimulation.
Are you a sensitive person? How can you start using these tips to reframe your sensitivity as a superpower instead of a burden?
[Related: What Do You Do Brilliantly?]
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Professor, Writer and Founder of The Corporate Sister
I'm a working mom, professor, writer, author and consultant, as well as founder of The Corporate Sister platform. I'm currently working on gender diversity research as well as on my second book. Outside of work, I love hanging out with my little ones, family and friends, and am an avid reader and writer. Continue Reading
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