Being a sensitive person in the workplace can often feel like a double-edged sword.
Your colleagues likely appreciate your generous nature, depth of personality, and sense of dedication. On the other hand, when it comes to tough realities of the workplace like receiving feedback, your emotions can run unchecked.
Maybe you're completely crushed by constructive criticism or you've noticed that your attention to detail can slip into perfectionism. Perhaps your high attention to surroundings has translated into being easily peeved by co-workers.
In a workplace that glorifies strength and power, highly-sensitive people like you may falsely assume the ability to experience things more intensely is a weakness or personal failing.
On the contrary, you might be surprised to know that recent workplace performance research confirms what psychologists have known for years: managers consistently rate people with higher sensitivity as the best performers in their organizations.
As our society becomes more automated, the need for workers with intuition, creativity, and empathy becomes even greater. The abilities of sensitive people can never be reproduced by technology. They continue to excel at everything from job interviews to leading teams and most everything in between.
If you're a highly sensitive person and decide to fully leverage your unique gifts, you'll bring a refreshing set of valuable contributions to the table.
Here are five ways to use your sensitivity as your greatest strength in the workplace.
1. Have confidence in your communication skills.
Most highly sensitive people display rare strengths in key areas of emotional intelligence, also known as emotional quotient (EQ)—the ability to recognize and understand emotions in themselves and others. These strengths include self-awareness and social-awareness.
Because you can become easily overstimulated, you may need help in the areas of self-management and relationship management. Your hyper-awareness of emotions might mean you need help acting on those emotions in constructive ways.
But whether you're leading a team, motivating your colleagues or providing a sounding board for others, at the end of the day your sensitivity is a gift for communication that can help your workplace run smoothly and make your career blossom.
Highly sensitive people experience strong emotions that are easy to identify. They communicate so effectively because they don't just hear the words coming out of other people's mouths—they're also attuned to subtle gestures and tone.
2. Speak up if others have missed something.
It's another asset you have: you're attuned not only to feelings, but also to those tiny details others may have missed. You’re the one who spots something that doesn’t quite add up before your company hires a new candidate or who sees the perfect place to move funds around when it's time for budgets cuts.
You aren't satisfied until every detail has been worked out and every contingency has been planned for. In the workplace—especially if it's fast-paced with lots of moving parts—this strength for keeping track of the details is invaluable.
3. Jump into teamwork.
If you or someone you know is highly sensitive, you likely make an exceptional team member. You have a rare ability to take people's feelings into account and think through different parts of complex decisions.
For example, when colleagues on your team are scrutinizing how a new policy might affect each department in your organization, you can spot the hidden benefits and downsides.
You also thrive in and contribute to supportive, collaborative atmospheres. Keep in mind, though, that this can all go wrong if you're the one left making final decisions. Use your gifts of assembling input and analysis and then consider gathering others' opinions as you bring your teammates into the fold for the final call.
4. Use your creativity to solve problems.
You might be the person who's always carrying a notebook around. Or maybe you'd benefit from having a whiteboard in your office to capture and brainstorm ideas.
As a creative person, you're deeply in tune with your inner world and this can lead to fascinating breakthroughs, innovative solutions to problems, and a unique sense of clarity most of your coworkers don't get to experience. Once you feel comfortable accessing your creative side, more colleagues will turn to you for inspiration when they feel stuck.
5. Prepare for stimulating situations.
Most highly sensitive people don't fare well when caught off guard in meetings or presentations. When high-stakes interactions send your emotions off the charts, you might feel a discomforting loss of control. The best antidote is preparation—the right way.
To the extent possible, try to anticipate questions and think through your best responses ahead of time while keeping in mind that over-preparation can be a crutch as well. You don't want to become rigid and unable to respond if something unexpected should occur.
Especially in the case of negotiations or job interviews, consider creating an outline with the "high points" you'll most want to cover. Just make sure you don't wing it—if you're flustered, your memory will fade quickly.
As a highly sensitive person who experiences strong emotions, you might feel like you're carrying a heavy load at times, especially at work. But the truth is, you likely have a huge amount of untapped value to share with your co-workers, clients, and in your career as a whole.
Melody Wilding '11SW teaches human behavior at The City University of New York and is a nationally recognized Master Coach who distills psychological insights into actionable career advice. A licensed social worker trained at Columbia University, she's helped thousands of professional women and female entrepreneurs master their mindset and emotions for greater success. Melody has worked with CEOs and executives running top startups along with published authors and media personalities. She can help you identify and remove mental and emotional barriers keeping you from reaching the next level in your career. Learn more about her approach and results at melodywilding.com. If you're interesting in working with Melody one-on-one, get in touch about special private coaching rates for Columbia alumni.