Embracing Your Strengths as a Highly Sensitive Manager



This article was based on episode 75 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get the mini-guide here or the full guide when you become a member at mamieks.com/join. Purchase a single full guide at mamieks.com/store.


Do you sometimes find yourself acutely aware of the emotional needs of family, friends and colleagues? Are you overly consumed with concern for the experience of others? Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time? Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations? If so, you may be a highly sensitive person.


Business coach and teacher, Heather Dominick, whose business grossed over a million dollars during her first seven years of self employment, increasingly struggled to cope with the feelings of exhaustion and massive overwhelm that were adversely affecting her health and well-being. Her belief that her professional success came at too high a cost led to a search and life-changing discovery: pushing herself so hard at work was actually a symptom of being a highly sensitive person. The ensuing process of exploration and self-discovery led to feelings of inner centeredness, peace and a renewed sense of professional fulfillment. It also influenced her decision to dedicate her work to helping other entrepreneurs understand what it means to be a highly sensitive in the workplace and how to transform their new emotional awareness into a vital asset for success.


HIGHLY SENSITIVE PEOPLE EXPERIENCE THE WORLD IN A DIFFERENT WAY


According to Dr. Elaine Aron, a psychologist and one of the founding researchers of the high sensitivity personality trait, heightened sensitivity is found in fifteen to twenty percent of the population and is an innate characteristic. The highly sensitive person (HSP) is often acutely aware of nuances in his/her surroundings due to differences in processing mechanisms across all five senses.


Typical environments may become overstimulating, overwhelming or stressful due to a nervous system that is wired differently. Because the majority of the global population is not highly sensitive, the world has not been designed to accommodate this heightened state of awareness and receptivity. The result is that navigating the world as a highly sensitive person can be super challenging. For some, the routine experiences of an ordinary day in the workplace can engender a damaging degree of stress, tension and frustration. These challenges are often more pronounced with demanding careers in entrepreneurship or self-employment, but they exist for all highly sensitive individuals including managers.


Heather’s found 12 strengths and their related shadows that are common for HSEs (Highly Sensitive Entrepreneurs). While her focus is on entrepreneurs, the lessons are relevant to managers who themselves are highly sensitive as well as those managers who have highly sensitive individuals on their team.


THE STRENGTH OF EMPATHY AND ITS SHADOW OF OVER-RESPONSIBILITY


The ability to tune in to the feelings and emotions of others is one of the highly sensitive individuals’ greatest strengths. It’s almost as if they are able to intuit the needs of others. As a manager, understanding how to adapt your own behavior to meet the needs of the other person is extremely important.


While empathy is an incredible asset when it is harnessed and used in its “strength capacity,” it easily can become a “shadow capacity” of over-responsibility. In other words, beware of when you’ve gone past having a sense of what someone else is feeling or experiencing to the point of feeling responsible for that feeling or experience. This belief can work against the manager who needs to be able to delegate, give feedback and empower their colleagues take responsibility for mistakes.


THE STRENGTH OF CREATIVITY AND ITS SHADOW OF OVERWHELM


Highly sensitive people often enjoy exceptional creativity. They can be inspired to passionately pursue multiple projects while remaining acutely aware of the details of each one. This often results in intense stress and overwhelm. Therefore highly sensitive entrepreneurs, managers and leaders frequently struggle with the shadow behaviors designed to avoid discomfort from overwhelm.


Although feeling overwhelmed and working to avoid it are not isolated to those who are highly sensitive, the experience and resulting behaviors are different. The highly sensitive nervous system takes in stimulation at higher degrees than someone who is not highly sensitive. When highly sensitive individuals perceive overwhelm on the horizon, or actually become overwhelmed, they will be triggered into a coping mechanism.


TYPES OF COPING MECHANISMS


Coping mechanisms include:

  • Hiding (Pulling back and finding lots of ways to keep really busy doing everything and anything except what actually needs to be done to move a project forward.) Hiding regularly shows up as a form of martyrdom as a way to stay busy while feeling productive. For example, hiding behaviors often include focusing on the caretaking of friends, spouse, children, and animals. These activities not only avoid overwhelm, but also avoid the possibility of overwhelm.

  • Pushing (Attacking a task or project and pushing hard to complete the work.) Pushing behaviors often appear normal because they’re exactly the same as how non-highly sensitive people approach work. But for highly senstitives, it comes at a steep cost, typically in the form of weakened health or relationship issues.

While some people primarily utilize one coping mechanism, others find themselves relying on both depending on the circumstances.


SHIFTING FROM COPING TO CREATING


As managers, it is critical to overcome coping mechanisms. We must embrace the strengths of being highly sensitive while managing the shadows. To do so:


1. Discover if you or a colleague are a highly sensitive.

Take the HSE quiz (www.hsequiz.com) to help you determine if you’re a highly sensitive person. Heather suggests having your whole team complete the quiz both as a way to learn about each person but also to provide shared language for the team to discuss potential challenges.


2. Be aware of your (or their) preferred coping mechanism(s).

Although this sounds overly simple, it is actually quite important and profound. It includes:

  • recognizing the feelings of being under pressure;

  • observing the accompanying reactive or automatic behaviors;

  • deciding if they are fulfilling your ultimate intention; and then

  • initiating actions to respond differently.


3. Engage in regular self assessment.

This simple and profound act can be used at the end of every day or after a big task or project is completed. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What worked well?

  • What did not work so well?

  • What will I do differently the next time?


Once you’ve completed these steps, turn your insights into implementable actions. Articulate specific behaviors for the next time you encounter that task, context or challenge.


This process will begin to dismantle and unravel automatic behaviors that have been developed over many years of coping in order to just ‘get by’ as a sensitive person. When you take such steps, you unleash your full potential while finding more joy in the everyday experience at work.


KEEP UP WITH HEATHER

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This article was based on episode 75 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


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