In fact, this ability has allowed George to build some wonderful client relationships and become a partner in his firm, in spite of being generally seen as a reserved and even shy person.
When his colleagues ask him how he does that, George doesn’t know what to answer, since it seems so natural to him just to know what people want. Because he needs to say something, he starts pointing out various analytical tools he uses, but it doesn’t help his colleagues much, because all employees in his firm are aware of these tools – and yet somehow George is always the one who knows more about the client. The company finds him so valuable that it’s happy to overlook his constant need to withdraw and stay at home during busy days, and even recently allowed him to work part-time.
What George is not aware of is that his main strength is not his analytical abilities, but a laser-sharp intuition, which often comes together with difficulties to manage stress.
George is a classic example of a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP (you can take this quick test to check if you are one of them, too). Although he doesn’t know anything about HSPs, he has probably noticed the good and bad sides of this trait all the time.
What's High Sensitivity?
High sensitivity is not an illness, but rather a genetic modification that occurs in about 20% of humans (and some higher animals), who process information deeper and notice more subtleties in their environment. HSPs have a larger number of mirror neurons – brain cells responsible for fast learning and imitation. These people are highly intuitive and empathetic, and can easily guess what the other feels or needs, often without asking specific questions. This quality makes them great at any job that requires helping other people or client relationship, or trend watching, and HSPs can build a great career if they get into these fields.
Unfortunately, the gift of sensitivity can also become the biggest burden, since Highly Sensitive People get overwhelmed more than other people when things get busy. Their nervous system gets easily overloaded with excessive noise, bright light or other sensory stimuli. When they do, they become quite unsociable or can even fall sick. Because they process more information and do it deeper than most people, they need more time to recover – quite a luxury in the modern corporate environment.
In his company George has earned a reputation of a hardworking introvert, because in busy days he closes down in his office and doesn’t talk to anyone. The truth is although George likes people, he just needs to take time off during and after busy projects. George’s best way of having the rest is being in the nature, and he spends weekends walking in the English countryside with his phone off.
Being Sensitive in a Corporate World
There are quite a few Georges out there in the corporate world, but it’s difficult to recognize them at first. Statistically, the same proportion of men and women are born with a high sensitivity trait. Yet, because in our society mostly women are allowed to be intuitive and empathetic, a highly sensitive George needs to mask to be just like any other guy.
A George can choose quite an analytical and brainy profession that require a lot of research and data processing, but also some interaction with other people – like project manager, consultant, or scientist. He is also very drawn to “helping” professions like therapists, coaches, or HR/recruitment, or can make a very talented artist. Many successful leaders are HSPs because they are quite capable to understand other people and inspire them - Abraham Lincoln is believe to be one. But most often, male HSPs who want to have a career in the corporate environment prefer to shut down and hide their “craziness” from others, blaming themselves for not being able to be up to the competition all the time.
It has taken George many years to recognize his intuitive ability, and it only happened because a woman he adored told him he had a great intuition, which he found pleasurable. When he started reading more about it and discovered he was an HSP, a lot of things started falling into place for him. George was able to accept his sensitivity and understand how it has helped him to build a successful career, also sometimes intervening with it and keeping him away from people.
HSP's success factors
When we talk, George admits that had he known about his trait earlier, he might have been as successful, but would have paid a lower price for that. He wouldn’t force himself to work or be in the meetings when he really felt he needed time to rest and think. He might have chosen to structure his day in a different way, so that he has more time for reflection and having more meaningful conversations with fewer people.
He also understands now why he has always avoided large social gatherings and how somehow he never got the clients from these events, although it’s a common belief that you need to socialize to build your network. The truth is that HSPs hate chit-chat, and are far better in building deep and long-lasting relationships than doing small talks.
If you are a Highly Sensitive Person, it’s not uncommon to worry about being overwhelmed at work or feeling that you react to certain things stronger than most people. Yet, this is not an obstacle for a successful career (and again, not an illness or something that needs to be cured). Simply being aware of this trait and knowing how to structure your life around it and “sell” its advantages to your employer will help.
Also quite a lot of Highly Sensitive People end up working as independent contractors or building their own business because they can’t adapt to the corporate environment (Steve Jobs is a perfect example of an extremely successful visionary HSP). The good news is that you can learn to manage your trait very efficiently, and make it your competitive advantage. If you want to learn how to have a successful career or business being an HSP – sign up for my newsletters below. In these newsletters, I am discussing suitable career and business strategies for HSPs and how they can become successful while remaining who they really are – intuitive and sensitive human beings.