I’ve shared insights on recent blogs, webinars and radio shows about how to navigate life as a highly sensitive, empathic person. I’ve mostly focused on recognizing and understanding your own sensitivity, protecting your energy, and managing your personal relationships.
There’s another important area where the HSP can either thrive or struggle – and that’s the workplace! Most of us spend a good portion of our lives either at the office or working from home – so it’s important that the work experience is positive and nurturing. There are patterns and tendencies that you as a sensitive person need to be aware of since managing them effectively can be the difference between a satisfying, rewarding career and a frustrating, dead-end job.
When I reflect back on my own life and recall the experiences of my sensitive friends and students, a few patterns show themselves clearly. One story comes immediately to mind, and I’d like to share it with you. As you read, see if you recognize a little of this highly sensitive, people pleasing behavior in yourself.
Paula is a bubbly woman in her mid-seventies who works in one of my favorite design shops in San Diego. It’s a large open warehouse space that contains furniture, art books, and a vast array of unique decorative items for the home. Brian and I go there often, and we always look for Paula. She’s worked at the shop for over 15 years and her intuitive, empathic nature, combined with her experience, provides her with the almost magical ability to discern exactly what her customers are looking for (even if they don’t know themselves). Her sales skills are a perfect example of how sensitivity can be a “superpower” in the workplace. But it can also be a curse – as Paula is so focused on pleasing others that she sometimes ignores her own physical limitations and safety. A month ago, as we were in the shop, browsing for throw pillows, I observed Paula limping badly. When I asked her about it, she said she had been helping a customer lug a heavy piece of furniture to his car and had hurt her knee in the process. It never occurred to her that this feat of strength was beyond her abilities – she was 100% focused on pleasing her customer! And, typical of an HSP when dealing with a “non-sensitive” (which is 80% of the world) it didn’t occur to either of them that what she was doing didn’t make sense.
My observation of Paula illustrates several key truths about HSPs at work.
Sensitive people are a tremendous asset in the workplace. In fact, because of their dedication and strong people -skills, managers consistently rate people with higher sensitivity as the best performers in their organizations.
The abilities of the HSP are more important than ever! As society becomes more automated, the value of intuition, creativity, and empathy becomes even greater. The special gifts of sensitive people can never be reproduced by technology, as they use them to excel at job interviews, customer service, intuitive decision making, and getting the most from their teams.
It’s important to KNOW what you want and make your needs known. Highly sensitive people typically don’t make their own needs a priority. They are so busy waiting for the “perfect time” to ask for what they want, that they risk getting climbed over by their co-workers who are comfortable putting their own needs first.
Strive for a fair balance. It’s the nature of the HSP to bend over backward to serve their company, please their coworkers, and just naturally put themselves last. This habit is hard to break, but keep in mind, you don’t have to make the leap from selfless people-pleaser to entitled egomaniac! There’s a middle ground. Make it your goal to strike a balance between serving your company, your co-workers, and yourself.
Expect a backlash – at first. It’s up to you to re-set expectations, so brace yourself (and don’t take it personally). People have gotten used to your sensitive, accommodating ways. They’ll be shocked when you change your tune – even a little bit. You have to let it roll off your back and remind yourself of the value that you bring to the company.
With a little focus and some healthy boundary setting, highly sensitive, empathic people can thrive in every area of their lives – relationships, career, health, spirituality, and self-development. To learn how being someone who “feels a lot” can be a blessing, check out my latest course, Life Tools for the Highly Sensitive Person!