Thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person

The persistent toe tapping of your colleague, the smells wafting from the kitchen, the distant hum of a radio in the background. These are all familiar sensual experiences, but for the 20% of the overall population who are described as highly sensitive these experiences can be labelled as painful.

Dr. Elaine Aron defined this term in the 1990’s and Elena Herdieckerhoff in her TED talk accurately describes it as being in a permanent state of osmosis taking in sights, sounds, smells and emotions. Highly sensitive people (HSP’s) feel deeply and about 70% are introverted.

If you are the parent of a child with sensory processing issues you will be familiar with the challenges of getting hair cut, brushing teeth, uncomfortable clothes, overstimulation and meltdowns. It’s not just children feel like this we just learn to mask it as we grow up.

Intuition plays a large role in being highly sensitive and it can be confusing because, it means lots of voices in our head. These voices might want to send us in many different directions. Perhaps difficulty in narrowing down a career, making decisions or voicing opinions or just promoting negative self-talk.

Dr. Aron says, our original social organisations were divided into those that were impulsive and tough, (knights and warriors) and the more thoughtful and learned types (priests, royal advisors). The HSP’s of this world naturally gravitate towards the royal advisor roles, often preferring self-employment or individual contributor roles with a lot of autonomy.

To thrive at work Dr. Aron says we need to first be aware of some potential obstacles. Low self-confidence can present as we compare ourselves to others who seem to have it all together. We can lack an appreciation of our role, qualities and contributions. We can spend excess time searching for our true purpose, sometimes pursuing education at the cost of experience. We are often afraid to ask questions or rock the boat. Aron says as worry prone perfectionists we may be the hardest boss we ever worked for.

Like everything overuse of a strength can prevent us from moving forward. We need to balance listening to that inner voice with taking practical steps to move forward. But strengths are powerful because they are the sails on our sailboat, when we engage with them, they will help us move forward.

Use your skills of perception to make sense of complex situations, understand relationships or identify patterns that might be helpful to problem solve at work. Build presence through empathetic connections with other people. Use your sensitivity to identify opportunities of kindness.

The best way for you to show up is your way. If that seems easy great, it means you’re using your natural talents and strengths, if it’s hard then try listening to your inner voice to guide you on what you should be doing and in finding that voice you will speak your truth.

‘People who are gifted and intuitive, yet conscientious and determined not to make mistakes ought to be treasured employees. But we are less likely to fit into the business world when the metaphors for achievement are warfare, pioneering, and expansion’. Dr. Aron

Changing environments can bring out feelings of anxiety causing too much arousal of the nervous system and for HSP’s this can be magnified. You may not even realise it is happening until you hit shutdown point and then try to figure out why. As countries around the world open up and the movement towards return to workplaces happens this can create quite anxious situations for HSP’s who have possibly been able to manage their work environment better working from home.

Every society and organisation needs all types of people; those that are highly alert and those less cautious and willing to explore every new thing along with lots of individuals in the middle. Yet, in the Western world we have created an ideal that not everyone fits into. A study done between the University of Waterloo in Ontario and Shanghai Teachers University compared most popular traits of school age children. In China, those who were ‘shy’ or ‘sensitive’ were chosen most, but in Canada they were chosen least. This trend continues into our organisations with a 2009 study in the Journal of Industrial Psychiatry which says only 2% of CEO’s are introverted. What traits are we defining as ideal in our students and leaders?

Valuing your unique contributions will help promote your feelings of self-worth and help you extricate that worth from other outcomes such as career or financial. Elaine Aron suggests we make peace and befriend our inner function.

If you are wondering whether are you a highly sensitive person you can take the online test here. In my coaching practice I specialise in supporting introverts, gifted, and highly sensitive people. We work on promoting your strengths, managing your environment and finding effective ways of moving forward. Reach out for a free discovery call at 087 917 5785 or contact me at


‘I don’t want to go back to the workplace’

A feeling of optimism prevails, on a bright sunny morning at the end of April, as the reopening plan for Ireland over the next two months is unveiled, in national and social media. The beginning of the end. Nobody wants the pandemic to continue, but for a cohort of the population there have been some marked improvements in their working lives over the past 14 months, and that primarily revolves around; working from home. Working from home has, facilitated individuals to balance other demands outside of work, but it also meets the often, unspoken needs of about 30-50% of the population who are introverted.

As an Introvert Coach, I have noticed a common theme from clients who proclaim they will quit their job if they have to return back to the workplace. I can hear fear in their voices. With overall statistics showing improvements in productivity the argument for bringing increased flexibility to the workplace has been won. Introverted clients who come to me, tell me they have increased energy, experience feelings of calm, and can’t imagine ever going back. Research statistics show, that introverts fare poorer in well-being and happiness studies and so it is important to recognise the challenges that many introverts face at work.

Our workplaces, cultures and processes have been designed with the extrovert in mind. Busy and noisy work environments are overstimulating for many introverts who have a higher sensitivity to the neurochemical dopamine. Fast responses and quick decision-making suit the internal processing systems of extroverts who, we now know from fMRI’s, process information differently. Continual meetings suit extroverts who prefer to talk to think than the introvert approach of thinking to talk. Many introverts who previously worked outside the home, tell me by Friday they were just spent, with nothing left to give the rest of their lives. The intricate neural pathways of processing in the introvert brain drive a level of intensity that seems to drain all levels of energy. People exhaustion, regularly cited as the number one challenge for introverts has become less of an issue.

Introverts benefit from quieter environments, more structured online meetings, where time is managed and interaction can be facilitated by chat options and formalised breakout sessions to encourage smaller groups and participation. Reflection time is easier and this promotes our creative thinking processes.

Many organisations are opting for a hybrid model and this balanced approach may work very well allowing for some face-face collaboration time, along with the option to balance this working remotely. Many managers and leaders may be wondering how best to manage this. Hoping to create an inclusive environment but also cognisant of the how difficult it might be to ensure people working remotely are not left out if others are in the office. The solution is in changing what you measure. Move away from time spent in the office as the gauge and focus on building the individual working relationships particularly in the area of trust. If people feel safe, feel supported, have the opportunity to use their strengths and have positive and productive relationships at work they will naturally be engaged and location becomes unimportant.

If you are a manager or a leader I suggest treading carefully in the coming months. Check in with each and every employee. If you can’t do that, authors Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall say you have too many people in your span of control. Carry out engagement surveys. Find out what has worked and what hasn’t. The workplace of the future won’t be a one size fits all and will continually change. The platinum rule is; treat people as they want to be treated as opposed to how you would like to be treated. Temperament, whether you lean more towards the introvert or the extrovert end of the spectrum impacts how you engage with work every day and if we want to create workplaces that promote creativity, engagement and performance we have to consider the individual needs of employees and temperament should come high up the list.

Aoife Lenox is an Introvert Coach, Trainer and Consultant working with individuals and organisations to create meaningful work experiences built on strengths. Reach out to me for individual coaching, inhouse webinars or workshops or people and culture support.