Logically you realize that feedback is a normal part of any job. You know your boss is just trying to be helpful. Her changes really aren’t that significant, but you feel like any criticism shines a huge spotlight on your inadequacy.
Your imagination goes wild. You start inventing story after story about what your boss really thinks about your (lack of) skill — even though there is plenty of evidence that you’re a top performer in your role.
At that point your inner critic really takes over. For the rest of the day, you find yourself distracted, unable to focus on anything. You leave work upset, feeling down, and wonder why you take things so personally.
You realize most people wouldn’t find one benign comment such a big deal, but it stays on your mind for days.
If that sounds like you, you may be one of the 20 percent of people who fall into the “highly sensitive person” (HSP) category. Do you tend to exhibit high sensitivity and get social anxiety or just general anxiety a lot when you're feeling overwhelmed by any kind of stimuli? Maybe it's because you think you identify more with introverts, but maybe it's because you just have high sensitivity as a personality trait.
HSPs are more aware of their environment. They internalize everything more deeply — from social interactions, to emotions, to physical and visual sensations. And all of this stimulus can lead them to feel more easily overwhelmed.
But it's important to know that being highly sensitive doesn’t make you weak. But it does mean that you have to move through your work differently than other people, and some careers may be a better fit for you than others. You may also have to use different strategies to manage your emotions at work, because your energy is precious resource.
As a highly sensitive person myself, I’ve found ways to craft my career to fit my strengths and worked with dozens of HSP clients to help them do the same.
In a workplace that glorifies strength and power, highly sensitive people like 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 an asset in the workplace.
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 including 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.
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.
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 your 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, then consider gathering others’ opinions as you bring your teammates into the fold for the final call.
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.
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 tend to feel like you’re carrying a heavy load in life at times, especially at work. But the truth is that you likely have a huge amount of untapped value to share with your co-workers, clients and in your career as a whole.
It’s time to start viewing your sensitivity for what it is: a personality trait that is, truly, your greatest strength. It's a trait that you can see as something that gives you social anxiety or makes you nervous in some situations, or you can see it as a trait that lets you feed off other people's energy and succeed in life.
Melody Wilding is a coach and licensed social worker who helps ambitious high-achievers manage the emotional aspects of having a successful career. Her clients include CEOs and C-level executives at top Fortune 500 companies such as Google and HP, as well as media personalities, startup founders, and entrepreneurs across industries. She also teaches Human Behavior at Hunter College in NYC. Get free tools to grow your career confidence at melodywilding.com. A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.
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