Psychologist Elaine Aron, who has been studying the innate temperament trait of high sensitivity since 1991, coined the phrase “Highly Sensitive Person.”
For those individuals who have these traits—about 20% of the general population—it can be a gift and a curse. HSPs feel both positive and negative emotions more intensely than non-HSPs. This sensitivity is thought to be linked to higher levels of creativity, richer personal relationships, and a greater appreciation for beauty.
Highly sensitive people require extra time to process, and if something seems off, they will usually identify an issue to be looked into further. Brain scans have shown that HSPs have more active mirror neurons, which are responsible for feelings of empathy for others, and more activity in brain areas that are involved with emotional responses.
Let’s take a look at the qualities of highly sensitive people so that you will recognize their traits, gifts, and the way they can feel most comfortable in the workplace.
1. They process things deeply
The highly sensitive brain has a more active insula, the part of the brain that helps enhance perception and increase self-awareness. HSPs are also wired to pause and reflect before engaging. Therefore, HSPs are always taking in a lot of information around them and thinking deeply about it.
Since HSPs notice more subtle details in their environments, they are more emotionally impacted by social stimulation and will notice the “pulse” of the workplace energy, which can be very helpful. They notice little details that others may miss, such as subtle body language or small changes to an environment. They are the first to notice if a colleague gets a new haircut or if someone is upset.
2. They feel emotions intensely
HSPs feel more emotional in response to both positive and negative events, and they notice subtle details that others miss, such as nonverbal cues or small changes in their environment.
Due to their high capacity for empathy, HSPs often feel guilty for saying “no” and are worried about hurting others. There needs to be time to reflect before taking action. Even positive transitions, such as getting a promotion or starting a new relationship, can be challenging. But managed correctly, these individuals can use their skills of perception to help create a harmonious workplace environment.
3. They have a sensitivity to sensory information
Certain types of external stimuli bother HSPs, including bright lights, loud noises, social stimulation, crowded buses, quickly flashing movie screens, strong smells, and rough textures. Many cover their ears when an ambulance or fire engine passes by, often cut the tags out of clothing, and/or strongly feel the effects of caffeine or dark chocolate.
4. They enjoy meaningful connection
When Highly Sensitive People are living a lifestyle suitable for their temperament—which includes adequate downtime, meaningful connection, and time to integrate experiences—they are able to access many of the gifts that their highly perceptive brains and heightened emotional capacity afford. HSPs typically enjoy one-on-one interactions and prefer meaningful connections. That means they’re great assets in a workplace that values this sort of communication and team building.
Even the little moments can bring HSPs great joy, as they feel everything deeply and are easily moved. Compared to others, they tend to feel events more deeply and for longer periods of time. Perhaps they’re the first to cry during a movie or have vivid dreams that will linger for days. Sensitive people are often deeply spiritual and feel connected to nature and animals. Having a tendency to be conscientious leads to a commitment to doing things the right way.
5. They are empathetic, intuitive, and perceptive
HSPs are very caring, empathetic, and emotionally responsive to the needs of others. Heightened perception, insight, and intuition allow the Highly Sensitive Person to notice nonverbal cues and pick up subtle nuances. Due to a higher level of sensitivity, when HSPs are in the right environment, they tend to thrive and exhibit many valuable workplace traits such as enhanced perception, empathy, creativity, and detail-orientation.