Highly sensitive people tend to invest deeply in their work, care a lot about the outcome of their decisions, and work well in a team environment. On the other hand, well, they’re highly sensitive — a fact that their managers would do well to take into consideration. So how do you empower the sensitive, without impacting the less attuned on your team?
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1. Change the physical environment.
Unless you’re the company owner, you probably don’t have much say over whether your office is open-plan or a cubicle farm. But if you have sensitive team members, you need to take into account their need for privacy. Many open-plan offices have small conference rooms in order to allow people to work on their own or in smaller groups. Encourage the HSPs on your team to take advantage.
2. Give lots of notice.
Many highly sensitive people cope by developing routines that allow them to manage stressors and know what’s coming. Of course, you can’t always prevent sudden changes to routine, but if you know that this will throw them off, you can give as much notice as possible — and give them a break if they’re momentarily flustered.
3. Understand that criticism will affect them differently.
“People can say something negative, [and] a non-HSP [highly sensitive person] can say, ‘Whatever,’ and it doesn’t affect them,” Ted Zeff, Ph.D., author of The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide, tells The Huffington Post. “But a HSP would feel it much more deeply.”
4. Enjoy the value they bring.
Don’t think of your HSP colleagues as special snowflakes that need coddling; instead, think of them as sensitive instruments, who will pick up on emotions and tensions before anyone else. This ability to gauge the temperature in the room can be invaluable to companies. Certainly, sensitive team members have the ability to make life easier for their co-workers, by picking up on and adapting to changing moods.
5. See your reports for who they are.
To get the most out of every member of your team, sensitive or not, pay attention to who they are, not who you’d like them to be. Just because someone is the most diligent team member when it comes to meeting their obligations, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should promote them to a decision-making role.
This isn’t to say that highly sensitive people shouldn’t lead — not at all. Just that when you’re managing people of any sensitivity level, you’ll have to resist the urge to force them into promotions that they don’t want, in order to recognize their achievements. Keep the lines of communication open, and pay attention to what they’re telling you about where they see themselves down the line.
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