Being a “Highly Sensitive Person” in the Workplace

How to thrive at work when the office environment is overwhelming.

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From dealing with criticism to speaking up in meetings, the office can be a nightmare for a highly sensitive person (HSP), but it doesn’t have to be!

Being an HSP is not a medical diagnosis, but rather a collection of traits which is recognized as a unique personality type affecting 15 to 20% of the population.

Individuals of this disposition experience the world with a higher intensity. But this can serve as both a help and a hindrance.

How to know if you are an HSP

If you can relate to most of the below tell-tale signs, then welcome to the club:

  • Are you easily overwhelmed or distracted by bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or loud noise?
  • Do you often feel the need to withdraw into a darkened room or quiet place where you can have privacy and relief?
  • Do you tend to notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
  • Growing up, did people see you as sensitive or shy?
  • Are your own worse critic, finding disapproval from others extremely hard to deal with?

If this is you, you may often be praised for your creativity, hard-working nature, and sensitivity to the emotions of others, but when it comes to having to make a phone call or speak up in a meeting, you feel out of your depth.

Be firm, but true to yourself

Just because most people are loud and proud doesn’t mean you need to be in order to be successful – simply find your own way to be heard.

Learn to be assertive, but in a way that feels comfortable to you, so that you do not put on a mask or change who you are for your work. This means putting yourself out there and having the courage to voice your ideas and opinions – but in a way which you find the most comfortable.

Maybe you can send emails wherever possible, as you are likely to be much more comfortable expressing yourself through writing. Or arrange more intimate and less formal meetings whenever possible, for more meaningful and less daunting communication with your coworkers.

Focus on your strengths

There’s no doubt that your creativity and attention to detail make you a great employee – even if talking about your unique perspective and ideas in a meeting brings on a cold sweat.

An inner-confidence for your abilities and value may just be what you need to navigate through the anxiety and give your ideas the attention they deserve. So don’t let your anxiousness fool you – your sensitivity is to thank for your best strengths!

And when negative feedback sends you into a spiral of self-flagellation, just remember that we are all a collection of strengths and weaknesses. Luckily for you, one of your strengths is your fierce determination – so whatever the challenge may be, as an HSP, you are sure to overcome it.

Use humor

If you feel nervous before a presentation or pitch, diffuse the tension by making a small joke about your nerves. It may be the last thing you feel like doing, but people are likely to see the strength in your admission of this “weakness” and feel more empathy towards you, rather than thinking any less of you.

It can actually be empowering, as you take control of your emotions. And by voicing them out loud, you take away the feeling that you must hide them – often making them dissipate anyway.

Adapt your working style

Depending on your job, you may be able to adapt your working style. For instance, as you most likely thrive in quiet places when you are left alone with your thoughts, an individual workspace or the option to work from home at least some of the time may be very beneficial to your performance.

When meetings are unavoidable, take some time to prepare beforehand by making bullet points of what you wish to say, along with any documentation you may need to back you up. This will make you less likely to lose your nerve or stammer under the pressure.

Find your little lifts

One of the best parts of being an HSP is the responsiveness to life’s small pleasures. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to calm us down or brighten our day. Identify what these little pick-me-ups may be which can lift you through the workday.

It could be as simple as bringing your favorite tea or coffee cup to the office, keeping a journal to scribble down otherwise-suppressed anxieties, or keeping photos, artwork, plants, or an oil diffuser around your desk. These small touches can lift anyone’s spirits, but for an HSP, they can be transformative – helping you feel more comfortable even in a place that usually stresses you out.

Embrace your sensitivity

Overall, being highly sensitive is not a curse or a disability so it should not be treated as such. It is a part of the fabric of our identity and is undoubtedly linked to many of your strengths and achievements.

In order to protect yourself and thrive in any situation, you must acknowledge the quirks which make you different from the norm, to adapt to them and ultimately, to embrace them.

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