Here’s What to Know About Managing Sensitive Strivers

a manager meeting with an employee

Managing Sensitive Strivers doesn’t mean tip-toeing on eggshells as some may think it does.

Take Eileen, for example. She was an ideal employee – hardworking, dedicated, and outstanding as a lead project manager. She was thorough, ensuring tasks were completed on time with every detail in place. Her ability to understand and deal with complex situations was crucial in our organization’s complex structure. Eileen was often referred to as the team’s “heartbeat,” the go-to person for empathy, care, and moral support.

However, Eileen’s deep-thinking and sensitive nature sometimes posed challenges. Sudden changes would throw her off, affecting her productivity. She also tended to avoid confrontations and hesitated to give necessary feedback, which could hinder the team’s progress.

Eileen represents one in five people who are highly sensitive high achievers. This trait, known as sensory processing sensitivity, has been studied for over 30 years. It involves a more responsive nervous system, heightened awareness of subtle changes, and a deeper way of processing information.

Research links high sensitivity to genetic variations in how the brain handles neurochemicals like serotonindopamine, and norepinephrine. It’s believed this trait evolved as a survival mechanism, allowing individuals to detect threats and opportunities that others might miss.

In today’s business world, marked by automation, digitalization, and growing incivility, Sensitive Strivers are increasingly important. Surveys show that the most sensitive people are not only the most stressed but also often receive the highest ratings from managers. This underlines the fact that, with the right management, Sensitive Strivers can be invaluable in the workplace.

However, many managers are not only unaware of this trait but also lack the skills to effectively lead, nurture, and retain sensitive leaders. Managing Sensitive Strivers requires a new approach, but understanding how to harness their strengths can significantly benefit your team and company.

4 Things to Know About Managing Sensitive Strivers

View sensitivity as an asset, not a drawback

Neurodiversity, including traits like high sensitivity, makes teams more successful. Unfortunately, Sensitive Strivers are often mislabeled as fragile or overly emotional, requiring extra support. This outdated view overlooks the unique strengths they contribute to the workplace, such as creativity, problem-solving abilities, and empathy.

For managers to effectively guide and support Sensitive Strivers, it’s crucial to shift the mindset and see sensitivity as a normal personality variation, not a defect. Instead of seeing sensitivity as a liability, focus on the unique abilities your sensitive employees offer and explore ways to utilize them. For instance:

  • They have a keen eye for patterns, can read between the lines, and notice subtle signals, making them adept at identifying unseen opportunities or risks.
  • Their sensitivity to others’ emotions and needs positions them as effective persuaders, influencers, and negotiators, as well as team-building experts.
  • Their ability to listen to diverse viewpoints and find common ground is especially valuable in resolving conflicts.

Emphasize clarity in your management approach

Sensitive Strivers naturally scan for potential dangers, a trait once crucial for survival that now helps in spotting risks in business environments. However, this vigilance can lead to excessive stress and overthinking if there’s ambiguity.

Leaders today often navigate uncertain and changing conditions. Sensitive Strivers perform best with a clear structure and understanding of their roles, objectives, and expectations. To maintain balance and enable them to excel, it’s vital to provide explicit guidance about their job scope, goals, and specific expectations. This can be done by:

1. Creating a “me manual” – a guide to working with you as a leader, detailing your communication preferences, work style, and more. This helps in setting clear expectations and building a strong working relationship.

2. Developing a RACI chart, which clearly defines who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed for various tasks or decisions. This clarity in roles and responsibilities can greatly reduce their uncertainty and stress.

3. Scheduling regular one-on-one meetings, perhaps monthly, to discuss professional development. These sessions offer a structured opportunity for feedback, guidance, and support, catering to their need for clarity and direction.

Give them space to think

Avoid putting your employees under immediate pressure. Sensitive Strivers often take time to think before acting, which is beneficial as it enables them to consider various viewpoints and possible outcomes before making decisions.

To get the most effective ideas and performance from your sensitive employees, give them time to think and prepare their responses rather than expecting immediate reactions. You can facilitate this by:

  • Sending meeting agendas and initial ideas ahead of time. This preparation allows them to process information and come to meetings with well-thought-out contributions.
  • Allowing for written responses that can be provided asynchronously. This approach gives them the space to articulate their thoughts without the pressure of immediate feedback.
  • Informing them in advance about significant upcoming decisions. This notice helps them to adapt and prepare mentally for changes or important discussions.

It’s beneficial to coach your Sensitive Striver employees in handling challenges. You could practice difficult conversations with them so they feel ready or discuss strategies for overcoming obstacles, enhancing their sense of control and confidence in handling difficult situations.

Provide an escape from overstimulation

Sensitive Strivers process significantly more information than the average person, leading to overstimulation issues like difficulty focusing, irritability, fatigue, headaches, and more. When overwhelmed, they might withdraw or shut down, potentially impacting team productivity and project success.

All workers need breaks, but they require more frequent and deliberate downtime. Here are some strategies for creating a supportive work environment:

  • Implement a “no meeting day” weekly, or establish specific “do not disturb” periods. This gives them a predictable time to focus without interruptions.
  • Offer an audio-only option during some meetings. This can reduce visual overstimulation and help them concentrate better on the discussion.
  • Encourage sensory-friendly adjustments, like using noise-canceling headphones and providing control over lighting, along with regular breaks from screens.

Pay attention to insights from your Sensitive Striver employees. Their heightened awareness can alert you to early signs of burnout or disengagement in the team. For instance, they might notice a coworker becoming more withdrawn or sense a shift in the team’s mood. Take their observations seriously and act on them promptly.

By acknowledging and leveraging the strengths of Sensitive Strivers, managers can foster a more inclusive and supportive work culture that benefits everyone.

Recent Articles

Hi, I'm Melody

I help smart, sensitive high-achievers break free from imposter syndrome and overthinking so they can find the confidence to lead effectively.


Get exclusive access to Chapter One of Trust Yourself, on sale now, when you sign up for email updates below.

You can unsubscribe at any time. Your details are protected in accordance with my Privacy Policy.

Recent posts

Break free from imposter syndrome and Overwhelm

Discover which “growth gap” is causing your self-doubt and learn how to gain consistent confidence as a Sensitive Striver.

What's the #1 Cause Of Your Imposter Syndrome?

Stop the negative spiral of “I’m not enough” and increase your confidence, calm, and mastery of stressful situations.