When you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP), navigating your career can be challenging.
Common workplace situations that may be moderately stressful to others — like speaking in meetings or getting feedback (even over Zoom these days) — can quickly overstimulate you. In fact, studies show that workers with sensory processing sensitivity (the trait’s scientific name) tend to experience more stress than their less-sensitive peers.
In addition to being more sensitive to stimuli, HSPs process information more deeply and thoroughly. So it’s not uncommon to overthink decisions, beat yourself up for working more slowly than others, or judge yourself for not being gregarious and outspoken.
Highly Sensitive Person Traits
Wondering if you might be a highly sensitive person? Some characteristics of highly sensitive people include:
- You have a rich inner world
- You have strong emotional reactions
- You pick up on other people’s emotions very easily
- You’re aware of subtleties in your environment
- You’re easily overwhelmed or frazzled
- You startle easily and don’t like surprises
- You take longer than others to adjust to changes or transitions
- You need time to think before you act or respond
- You’re conscientious and expect a lot from yourself
- You take feedback and criticism to heart
- You often put other people’s needs ahead of your own
- You get stuck in overthinking or analysis paralysis because you see many sides of a situation
If you related to most of these items, then you are likely among those with a more attuned nervous system.
High Sensitivity in the Workplace
As a coach to highly sensitive professionals, I frequently see clients struggle with self-doubt and imposter syndrome that results from being in the minority. Only about 20 percent or so of the population is highly sensitive (meaning they have a more responsive nervous system), so it’s no wonder you feel different — because you are.
But “different” is not bad; thinking and feeling deeply isn’t a defect. You see, your sensitive qualities, when channeled productively, can be your career superpowers. The research proves it: managers consistently rate people with higher sensitivity as their top contributors. That’s because HSPs are thoughtful, conscientious, empathetic, and dedicated, all of which make them ideal employees and leaders.
The key to using your high sensitivity as a strength at work comes down to self-acceptance and confidence. Stepping into your power requires you to recognize that your innate qualities are both rare and valuable, particularly in today’s business world where incivility seems to reign.
Plus, as work becomes more automated, the need for professionals like you — ones with natural intuition and creativity — has never been more crucial. Your abilities can never be replicated by technology.
It’s time that your highly sensitive self fully leverages your unique gifts and brings a refreshing set of contributions to the table. Here’s how.
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12 Superpowers HSPs Bring to the Workplace
Stepping into your power as an HSP at work requires you to recognize that your innate qualities are rare and in demand — and to know the value that gives you.
1. You’re diplomatic when it matters most.
As a highly sensitive person, you think longer and more deliberately before speaking. This tendency to pause before acting is a hallmark of sensory-processing sensitivity, according to psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron, who first discovered the high sensitivity trait.
That means you’re thoughtful with your words. And in the workplace, this translates into being able to balance different people’s perspectives and tactfully communicate, even when the pressure is on.
2. You’re a brilliant critical thinker.
Studies have shown that sensitive people have more active brain circuitry and neurochemicals in areas related to mental processing. So the HSP brain not only takes in more information but also processes that information in a more complex way.
Work-wise, you are likely heralded for the way you explore various angles and paths, whether it’s a proposal for a new business plan or trying to solve a team challenge.
3. Your self-awareness is unmatched.
As an HSP, you have a vibrant inner life and are likely well-acquainted with your emotional landscape. One reason for this is because high sensitivity is linked to a gene that increases the vividness of inner experiences.
While this level of self-awareness may be second-nature to you, it’s an indisputable asset in terms of your career. For example, people with a more accurate self-perceptions tend to perform better in the workplace and are better able to tailor their leadership style to the situation at hand.
4. You’re skilled at spotting opportunities for innovation.
Evolutionarily speaking, picking up on environmental cues and recognizing things that less sensitive people missed helped HSPs make wiser decisions and come out ahead in threatening situations.
In the modern world, for example, this vigilance means you’re constantly scanning for ways to make improvements in the workplace and offering novel suggestions. You probably also find that you’re the person who highlights gaps before they become problems, which can save your company valuable time and money.
In essence, your attention to subtleties makes you a creative, inventive problem-solver.
5. You’re capable of integrating and managing large amounts of information.
A large majority of my coaching clients are Product Managers or Project Managers.
This may sound strange, but it makes complete sense when you think about it: HSPs’ depth of processing and conscientiousness are the perfect combination for roles that require organization, collaboration, strategy, and information management as core skills.
6. You have a pulse on team morale.
Research shows that HSPs have more active mirror neurons (which helps them empathize and understand other people’s behavior). This is why you may find that you can sense people’s moods long before they say a word, as well as absorb their emotions as if they were your own.
Many of my coaching clients find they have a talent for anticipating people’s emotional needs in the workplace — whether sensing when their team is burned out, knowing if a certain individual needs more support, or reading between the lines to suss out when their client or boss is unsatisfied.
So, once again, being an HSP in the workplace can be a big asset.
7. You have strong intuition.
Have you ever had the experience of knowing a situation feels off? Or how about the opposite — feeling in your gut that a certain direction or decision is absolutely right?
That’s your intuition speaking loud and clear (or as I call it, your “sensitive sixth sense”).
As an HSP, you have a great capacity to recognize patterns and synthesize different inputs, which can be a secret weapon in decision-making. Your intuition is more highly developed than that of non-HSPs because you’re constantly adding new data to your bank of knowledge about the world and yourself.
And according to a survey of top executives, the majority of leaders leverage feelings and experience when handling crises.
8. You impress with your thoroughness.
As an HSP, you are the one who shows up to a presentation with comprehensive data. Or you might be the coworker who spends extra time preparing to dazzle an important client.
Whatever the case may be, your dedication and commitment wow others and oozes professionalism. Others look to you to drive excellence and uphold standards.
9. You focus on the big picture.
HSPs don’t dabble in the mundane. In the workplace, you are likely after the bigger “why” behind strategies and actions your team is taking.
Driving towards a larger purpose helps keep people grounded and focused, particularly in the face of uncertainty. As a leader, you are effective at helping others find meaning and fulfillment in their work, qualities anyone would want in a great boss.
10. You create a harmonious work environment.
Your experience as an outsider has probably made you passionate about inclusion.
Due to your ultra awareness and empathy, you value different working styles. As a result, you give people the space to be independent and create working conditions where they can thrive.
11. You’re a pillar of integrity.
HSPs deeply value fairness. In fact, research shows that HSPs tend to score higher on ratings of justice and ethics in studies.
In your career, that means you uphold your promises and stick to your word. You can always be counted on to follow through (even if it sometimes comes at the cost of your own well-being).
And now more than ever, your voice can make a difference in the workplace, especially when it involves speaking up in the face of inequity or mistreatment of others.
12. You’re constantly learning and growing.
Every client I’ve worked with has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. These highly sensitive professionals have a high drive for growth and are frequently immersed in personal and professional enrichment outside of work that may include coaching, courses, certifications, books, and additional training.
This is the best career insurance there is, because it always ensures you’re evolving and advancing, regardless of the conditions around you.
As a highly sensitive person who experiences strong emotions, you might feel like you’re carrying a heavy load at times, especially in the workplace. But the truth is, you likely have a huge amount of untapped value to share with your coworkers, clients, and in your career as a whole. Embrace being an HSP in the workplace for all the positives you bring to the table.
Check out the Ultimate Guide for Sensitive Strivers for free resources to outsmart imposter syndrome, stop second-guessing yourself, and much more.