Our first child educated me about the term ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ – by being one. Some very simple everyday items and events would quickly overwhelm and distress him.
Of course as most parents would, we researched, became informed and helped him cope, grow and adjust into a happy healthy adult.
According to Dr. Elaine N. Aron, 1 in 15 to 20 children are born with a nervous system that is highly aware and overly quick to react to stimuli.
Lets take this into adulthood and ask ourselves…
What about the ones that got away? ( I think I’ve found a lot of them!)
The ones that grew up in an environment where they didn’t learn to cope. Maybe instead the people around them adjusted to suit, serve and even enable their sensitivities.
What happens when they go out in to the world to work and learn without the coping skills and emotional maturity to deal with every day workplace challenges?
Is the highly sensitive or temperamental person working next to you, working for you, or are you working for them?
Are you the highly sensitive person? Could your emotions be hi-jacking your performance?
Are you working in a culture or a team that is overly sensitive?
What are the signals?
When thinking about workplace and culture, there are no guides or rules of thumb for…
- How sensitive is highly sensitive?
- What are the signals and what should we do about it?
- What is the cost of high sensitivity in the work place?
Some of the subtle signals that I came across recently are:-
- Before being introduced to someone, I was told ’how to be’ around them, a recent example.. “ When you meet with Dave, make sure you don’t mention last weeks Q&A. He’s still not over it”
- I was working with client who said “Don’t ask about how the interview went, I totally over-prepared and couldn’t answer anything clearly”
- I went to meet a customer who said “Lets chose a different meeting room, this one doesn’t feel right to me”
- I heard from a student who took their constructive feedback as a ‘reprimand’
So many examples to share from subtle whispers of “think I could have done better”through to, “it’s their fault I messed up”, to an in-your-face loud roar of “Wow, what happened there, I totally screwed up”. All grown adults who have been hi-jacked by their emotions.
What do we do to enable this?
We end up dancing around and positioning ourselves to cause the least amount of distress as possible. Sometimes wasting time, energy and a good deal of money serving the long list of what we can and can’t do around certain people so we don’t upset or derail them.
What we can do to help
Start with ourselves.
Take responsibility for our awareness about how well we cope when things are not ‘just right’ for us.
Look at those events and notice the raw data we all have available about ourselves that alerts us to our sensitivities.
Simple raw data like our heart rate. Did it increase, did we feel our blood pressure go up, did we notice we held our breath for a while, did our shoulders raise and tense, did we feel a bit sick, did we start to get muscle ache, did we notice our body temperature increase, did we start to get thirsty?…
All this raw data from many alert systems in our body is combining to create an emotionwhich will lead us towards or away from the performance we want.
As soon as our rational brain tries to manage the emotion, it’s hi-jacked and before we’ve had the chance to access our wisdom and common sense, we have mis-labeled the emotion as something bad and gone straight to action. Usually not an action that serves us in performing effectively.
Actions that when our rational brain is back in the driving seat leave us saying “Wow, what happened there!”
We need to take control and allow our rational/thinking brain to kick in The challenge is that the emotional part of our brain gets hold of the data faster than the rational part – hence the hi-jacking!
The best tool for disrupting the emotional brain running away with itself is ‘breathing’. No wonder mindfulness has become the go to tool for dealing with stress and everyday hi-jacking!
While there are many excellent expert studies available, I have found that breathing rhythmically four seconds in and six seconds out works brilliantly. It allows the raw data to re-calibrate and it’s enough time for your rational brain to go ‘hey I got this’ and deliver the performance you want.
Then it’s about helping others
If you notice the hi-jack happen to people around you – reach out, offer to help them build coping mechanisms too.
Imagine the ripple effect …..
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