Ashley Porciuncula: “Accommodate them because you truly want to”

Keep the stress low. Monitor workloads so you can catch stress before it gets out of hand. Burnout can sneak up on any of us if it’s not actively prevented, but this is especially true for HSPs. Frequent check-ins to determine stress levels are important and will encourage them to come to you directly when […]

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Keep the stress low. Monitor workloads so you can catch stress before it gets out of hand. Burnout can sneak up on any of us if it’s not actively prevented, but this is especially true for HSPs. Frequent check-ins to determine stress levels are important and will encourage them to come to you directly when they start to feel the adverse effects of too much stress.

As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Porciuncula, a tech consultant and certified coach for startup employees and managers.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?

Thanks for having me! I’m a tech startup consultant, so I help new companies find their best path to creating great digital products and healthy teams to build them. I also hold a Master’s certification as a coach working with individuals who are building their careers for the first time, struggling with imposter syndrome, or recovering from a toxic work environment.

Can you help define for our readers what is meant by a Highly Sensitive Person? Does it simply mean that feelings are easily hurt or offended?

We often translate the word “sensitive” as being strictly emotional and forget the root of the word, Sense, of which we have five. Highly Sensitive people may be more easily overwhelmed by sensory input such as loud music, harsh lighting, the effects of caffeine, sudden loud noises. There are many advantages to being Highly Sensitive, as well. HSPs can be very empathetic, demonstrate outstanding attention to detail, and may enjoy things like art and music more than the average person.

Does a Highly Sensitive Person have a higher degree of empathy towards others? Is a Highly Sensitive Person offended by hurtful remarks made about other people?

Every individual is different, but this is one of the ways that High Sensitivity can present itself. I find that the word “offended” is overused at times. Empathy is, by definition, the ability to share the feelings of another. Observing injustice or hurtful remarks toward another person can be just as uncomfortable for a Highly Sensitive person as if they were directed toward them personally.

Does a Highly Sensitive Person have greater difficulty with certain parts of popular culture, entertainment or news, that depict emotional or physical pain? Can you explain or give a story?

Yes, an HSP can have greater difficulty with these things, but one’s level of sensitivity is not the only factor. Past experiences are often much more impactful. For example, a previous client of mine loved horror films, even the gory ones. The violence didn’t bother them at all. However, if they watched a sad story, it would affect them for days. What bothers one person may not bother another in the same way. That being said, I do know many HSPs who choose not to watch the news, because they find the reality of so many tragic stories to be overwhelming.

Can you please share a story about how a highly sensitive nature created problems for someone at work or socially?

The workplace can create unique challenges for a Highly Sensitive Person. Particularly when the environment is fast-paced and high stress, it can be difficult for HSPs to focus and stay productive. Don’t even get me started on open offices, which are sensory nightmares! One study revealed that up to 60% of workers felt that not having a quiet, dedicated place to work had adverse effects on their productivity and satisfaction. One of the things that I prioritise when working with clients on how to build a welcoming company culture is proactively reducing the risk of sensory overload. It’s much better to take precautions, just in case there is ever an HSP on your team, rather than waiting for them to gather the courage to tell you there’s a problem.

When does the average person’s level of sensitivity rise above the societal norm? When is one seen as “too sensitive”?

I don’t believe that the bar of being Highly Sensitive is drawn at how affected one is by a specific situation but instead is related to what it takes to recover. People are often accused of being “too sensitive” when others believe they are holding on to a negative emotion for too long. Being told to just “get over” something that is affecting us, especially if there are physical symptoms, can feel very uncaring. It takes work and understanding on both sides to not create a negative loop.

It’s important to remember that up to 20% of the population is considered a Highly Sensitive Person, but that’s not to say that it should be used as an excuse in interactions, merely writing someone off as being Highly Sensitive whenever it suits us. This happens most often with women, especially women of colour, who are perceived as overly sensitive, even in situations where others would not be.

I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives one certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?

There are so many! Highly Sensitive people often have fantastic attention to detail and can be fascinating conversationalists, as they process information and stories more profoundly than others. They can be more deeply moved by music and the arts. They can even be the ultimate “foodies” because the feeling of enjoying a delicious meal may be heightened for them, as well. I’ve also found that some of the funniest people I know are HSPs, since they’re always observing even the smallest of interactions around them.

Can you share a story that you have come across where great sensitivity was actually an advantage?

There are almost too many to count. Some of the greatest leaders of our time are self-described or believed to be HSPs, including Princess Diana, Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein. Being Highly Sensitive awards empathy, which is possibly the most important leadership quality that one can have. High Sensitivity has also brought us some of the most loved artists of our time, including Ansel Adams, Alanis Morisette, and Elton John.

There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. Where is the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?

When it comes to the emotional side of High Sensitivity, it’s really about how far into one’s own “personal space” that empathy goes, and for how long. An empathetic person can turn it off a bit more easily, whereas an HSP may carry those emotions with them for an extended period, and not always realise they’re doing it.

Social Media can often be casually callous. How does Social Media affect a Highly Sensitive Person? How can a Highly Sensitive Person utilise the benefits of social media without being pulled down by it?

Social media can be terrible for anyone, but this is especially true with Highly Sensitive Persons. They are often more authentic on social media, which isn’t always the case with anonymous people behind a screen. This can lead to feeling like they’re in a genuinely hostile environment. Forming a community of similarly authentic people can be a powerful tool to maximise the positive voices in our online space.

How would you advise your client to respond if something they hear or see bothers or affects them, but others comment that they are being petty or that it is minor?

Setting clear boundaries is important. You have the right to make a statement such as, “You may feel differently, but this is how I feel,” and to change the environment to something that suits you better.

There are also times when one might want to ask, “Is this a situation that goes against the moral guidelines that I’ve set for myself? Can I use this situation to teach others?”

If, in the end, the people that you are around don’t seem interested in your comfort, then it’s okay to remove yourself from that situation.

What strategies do you recommend to your clients to overcome the challenges that come with being overly sensitive without changing their caring and empathetic nature?

Self-care is tops! The world doesn’t always accommodate Highly Sensitive people on its own, so creating an environment that feels happy and healthy is key. This can mean having a strong group of friends who accept and embrace a Highly Sensitive nature and surrounding oneself with media that is uplifting. It’s okay to block the people and things out of our view that don’t serve us! Taking a bit of extra time in the home or workplace to create a space that’s kind to one’s senses goes a long way, as well. Finally, allow yourself to enjoy your Highly Sensitive gifts. Surround yourself with the music, art, films, food, and other things that you are fortunate enough to experience so thoroughly. The more a person allows themselves to refuel with healthy things, the more comfortable they are able to bring with them when they go out in the world.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?

Highly Sensitive People aren’t weak or fragile. They often possess great fortitude of character because of their Highly Sensitive nature.

There is a stereotype that most Highly Sensitive people are women. This is completely false. All genders are equally likely to be sensitive, or even Highly Sensitive. Men are often taught to suppress their emotions from a young age because having emotions and masculinity are pitted against each other in many parts of today’s society. This can lead to depression and is part of the reason why men are at a higher risk of suicide. For these reasons, we should all be very aware to not perpetuate harmful gender-based expectations.

Finally, not all HSPs are introverts. If they do keep to themselves, it may not be because they don’t enjoy the company of others. It may simply be because an environment like a large group or party isn’t enjoyable to them or causes some form of sensory overload. Introduce yourself to those who you suspect may be Highly Sensitive and you’ll likely end up with a very caring friend.

As you know, one of the challenges of being a Highly Sensitive Person is the harmful, and dismissive sentiment of “why can’t you just stop being so sensitive?” What do you think needs to be done to make it apparent that it just doesn’t work that way?

I believe the key here is for Highly Sensitive people to embrace it, and allow themselves to love their Highly Sensitive nature. Reaching this level of self-acceptance means they can speak to it without shame, and from a place of joy. That’s not always easy or possible, so in times when it doesn’t come naturally, it can sometimes be useful to provide someone with resources on Highly Sensitive Persons. I recommend “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron and the website Highly Sensitive Refuge, which is also a wonderful place to gather support.

Okay, here is the main question for our discussion.

Can you share with us “5 Things You Need To Know To Thrive When Managing A Highly Sensitive Person.” Please give a story or an example for each.

  1. Be real. If you suspect that you are managing a Highly Sensitive Person, don’t attempt to diagnose them as such. Instead, simply be authentic when you praise their empathetic nature, their communication skills, or their attention to detail. Make sure that they know that their sensitive and empathic nature is an asset to their team, and you welcome it.
  2. Maximise their comfort. Physical comfort and personal space are often very important to Highly Sensitive People. While some may not care if someone switches their chair, or if a stranger sits at their desk when they’re away, those things can be core to an HSP feeling safe and having a sense of belonging. It’s very important to respect the physical space of an HSP.
  3. Keep the stress low. Monitor workloads so you can catch stress before it gets out of hand. Burnout can sneak up on any of us if it’s not actively prevented, but this is especially true for HSPs. Frequent check-ins to determine stress levels are important and will encourage them to come to you directly when they start to feel the adverse effects of too much stress.
  4. Provide a quiet space. Be aware of HSPs when it comes to sensory overload. This might mean ensuring that office music is at a very low volume, providing a quiet place where they can go work during the day if they need, or designating a quiet breakout space if you’re throwing a company party.
  5. Accommodate them because you truly want to. Make caring for HSPs an organisational value, not just something that you view as a concession for certain people. Everyone can benefit from increased comfort, better communications, and encouraged self-care. Instead of singling out HSPs for these things, ensure that your company or team is always prepared for Highly Sensitive individuals. This prevents HSPs from having to come forward, which can be difficult for them.

In short, be kind and caring toward your employees! They will all benefit from it, and you’ll ensure that any of the HSPs that you’re fortunate to have on your team can thrive and use their gifts to better support those around them.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to inspire people to be more aware and authentic online. I believe that being more genuine would naturally also make us more understanding, more caring, and would reduce the need to impress so much, which can cause feelings of inadequacy in others. We are moving toward a much more accepting place, as a species, and I want to see that continue for people of all kinds, as well as levels of sensitivity.

How can our readers follow you online?

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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Thank you for the conversation!

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