Yesterday I got a call from a dear friend. He was upset because ever since his company changed the office layout into an open floor, he can’t get his work done. He was frustrated and he felt powerless.
Many people suffer from one-size-fits-all approaches like this, both at work and at home.
As I see it, respecting others as the unique people they already are is one of the world’s two biggest problems. The other one is respecting ourselves as the unique people we already are.
Understanding highly sensitive people, as Doctor Elaine Aron defines them in her research, is a delicious step towards making both of these problems smaller.
That’s why I’m so excited to share with you today some ideas from her book, “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.” I hope my post will encourage you to explore more on this topic, so that you and those around you can enjoy better lives.
Doctor Elaine Aron pioneered the study of the innate temperament trait of high sensitivity in 1991. She is the author of five books on this topic, and conducted decades of research on what helps highly sensitive people thrive.
What’s a Highly Sensitive Person?
Highly sensitive people have a rich inner world. They think a lot, often even about their own thinking. They demonstrate great creativity, insight, passion and caring for others.
Throughout history, highly sensitive people tended to fill the advisor role (counselors, historians, teachers, scholars, judges), people who balanced kings and warriors, and who, according to Doctor Elaine Aron:
“have the foresight to look out for the well-being of those common folks on whom the society depends, those who grow the food and raise the children. They warn against hasty wars and bad use of the land.”
They find loud music or crowds highly stimulating and need a break from them more often than others. However, being highly sensitive is not the same as being socially introverted. In fact, based on Doctor Aron’s research, about 30% of highly sensitive people are socially extraverted.
They’re often disturbed by sirens, glaring lights, strange odors, clutter and chaos. They probably won’t find NYC a very welcoming place, with a siren every 5 minutes and repelling odors in subway elevators.
They’re also more aware of subtleties in the environment around them. As Doctor Elaine Aron writes:
“Most people walk into a room and perhaps notice the furniture, the people- that’s about it. Highly sensitive people can be instantly aware, whether they wish to be or not, of the mood, the friendships and enmities, the freshness or staleness of the air, the personality of the one who arranged the flowers.“
The book starts with a short quiz which helps you understand whether you are a highly sensitive person or not. You can also take it online here. You should however read through the whole first half of the book to get a more accurate idea.
Why does this conversation matter so much?
Up to 20% of people in the US are highly sensitive (and more are mildly sensitive), yet our society, schools and work places continue to be built to suit non sensitive people, which oftentimes makes others feel inadequate.
For example, highly sensitive people work better by themselves, not in teams. They also work better in offices, not in open spaces. Yet, team work and open spaces are the norm in many corporate cultures and business schools.
Understanding others leads to more harmony. There will always be many personality types working together in the same place. When we better understand them, we can change the environments we create for our teams to fit not just one personality type, but all.
If you’re a highly sensitive person
Throughout the book, Doctor Aron gives a plethora of examples of highly sensitive people who lived a good portion of their life thinking there was something wrong with them.
They weren’t happy. Until the day they understood why they didn’t fit the mold society had created for them, and that they’re not alone.
If you’re a highly sensitive person, you’ll benefit from knowing that, even though you live in a society in which aggressive behaviors dominate, not only is there absolutely nothing wrong with you for not fitting that behavior, but there is also a much needed place in our world for you to shine exactly as you already are.
You have to honor yourself for that which you already are, which is in no way any less or more than anybody else on this planet. Subsequently, it’s helpful to understand the changes you need to make in your environment and in your beliefs in order to shine as your brightest self.
I remember a time when I started working in a new job, in an environment that was completely different than anything I’d been used to before. It was loud, chaotic and filled with frenzy. I signed up for projects and promised delivery dates based on how I knew I’d worked up until that point.
It wasn’t long before I became disappointed, not understanding why on earth it’s taking me so much longer than before to finish my projects. What I’d finish in three days before, would now take me 2 weeks!
If I’d known then what Doctor Aron wrote in her book, it would have been obvious to me that a hectic environment like that could have never brought out the best of my ability, and that all I needed to do was to change it to fit my unique working style.
The same could be true for you. You have to understand what makes you thrive and what doesn’t.
Luckily you don’t have to do it alone. You can take advantage of the research that generous scientists like Doctor Aron have already done.
The second half of the book is filled with practical tips to help you become the best, happiest version of your highly sensitive self at work, in your business and in your relationships.
Many highly sensitive people start their own business because they crave the independence and creative freedom. If you’re highly sensitive and started your own business, use your highly sensitive assets to grow your business.
Your empathy, your emotional awareness, your creativity and your generosity, are much needed skills for creating a marketing experience your customers will love and tell all their friends about.
I especially like what Doctor Aron has to say about selling, which many highly sensitive people wish to avoid:
“And what if you believe something could truly help a person or the world at large? In its gentlest form, yours probably, selling is simply sharing with others what you know about something. Once they understand what you think is its value, you can let them make up their own mind.
When money is to be exchanged, highly sensitive people often feel guilty that they’re taking “so much” or anything at all. Usually we cannot and should not give ourselves or our products away. We need money to continue to make available what we’re offering. People understand that, just as you do when you purchase something.“
If you’re not a highly sensitive person
Statistically speaking, given that 20% of people are highly sensitive, you probably work with or have in your family at least one highly sensitive person.
Regardless of whether you recognize yourself or not in the description of a highly sensitive person, it’s important to understand how highly sensitive people think and operate, so that you can enable those around you to thrive.
For example, whereas a person who’s not highly sensitive may thrive during a crowded discussion and may come up with his best answers during a meeting with other people, a highly sensitive person may need to step away and think by himself before sharing his answer with the rest of the team.
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Cover image credit: Andreas Ronningen