How to Effectively Lead Highly Sensitive People

The administrative team of an assisted living facility debated for an hour about how to respond to a surveyor’s quality-of-care concerns.  The manager said, “Emma, you haven’t said anything.  What do you think?”

Surprising to many, Emma offered excellent suggestions which the team quickly supported. 

Afterwards, the manager said to Emma, “I really appreciate your suggestions.  I wish you had offered them earlier.”

“I am very shy and I get nervous when speaking in a group,” Emma replied.

When describing Emma, team members used phrases like, “quiet,” “passive,” “avoids conflict,” “fragile,” “emotional” and “stressed.”  Melody Wilding, writing in the Harvard Business Review, would likely describe Emma as a highly sensitive person (HSP); one who takes all information seriously and is in tune with subtleties that most overlook.

Wilding says that HSPs make up about twenty percent of the workforce, and they can best be managed by clear communications and structure—specific assignments, suggested formats, deadlines, to-do lists, scheduled status reports, “heads up” about upcoming changes, 1:1 discussions, and written rather than oral reporting.

Leaders who treat HSPs as weak and shallow miss the benefit of their insights.  By contrast, HSPs add considerable value to teams led by leaders who understand them. 

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