Haven’t heard of HSP? Don’t worry, not that many people have. This relatively new moniker, chronicled in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, opens a window of understanding into yourself, your friends and family members, and your colleagues at work.
HSP, or Highly Sensitive Person, is not the latest labeled psychological disorder. It is a natural born trait that we either possess ourselves or encounter in others every single day. HSPs are the people who feel more deeply, have more emotional ups and downs, and are acutely aware of smells, sounds, and sensations that others don’t even notice.
I’ll out myself and say that I’m most definitely in this camp. While I don’t often exhibit the tendency to easily cry, like many HSPs, I certainly wear my emotions on my sleeve. There’s a fine line separating sensitivity from merely being temperamental, having attitude, or taking things too personally, and years of therapy have taught me that these later traits need to be recognized and treated.
But I like taking on the world and feeling every little thing. I stand in stark contrast to a close colleague who likes to refer to himself as a machine. Like “the ultimate driving machine,” he takes pride in his Germanic heritage, and says he’s all about precision, reliability, and rational decision-making.
I like to poke fun at his description of himself by reminding him that machines break down and then become obsolete, and he is alternatively amused and annoyed by my more sensitive characteristics.
“Why do you care so much about that client?” he asks.
“How can you actually be surprised that they decided to give us 30-day notice?” he inquires.
“When will you finally learn that other people don’t think like you?” he demands.
You might recognize this yin-yang, push-pull, good cop-bad cop dynamic in your own work relationships. But there’s a larger point here about HSPs that can actually be mined as a secret weapon for your business. Most of you engineers, and even MBAs, might not be HSPs, but you can spot it in us touchy-feely types a mile away. Rather than see it as a character flaw or a weakness, you should learn how to tap it, bottle it, and sell it.
First, buck the conventional wisdom that says “don’t get emotional at work.” Tell that to Elon Musk and scores of other great innovators who are prone to getting very emotional in business. They use that energy to motivate themselves and others to move mountains.
Next, while data is always important, so is your gut. Rather than relying exclusively on analytics, know how to plug into what your gut is telling you about a potential hire, product launch, or business pitch. Do that, and you’ll notice yourself getting out of your own head and putting yourself in the position of others. For just a moment, you’ll see the world from their perspective, whether they are a stressed-out client, a jittery employee, or a longtime vendor. And very often, this empathy is priceless.
In a world where people are becoming more like machines, and machines are becoming more like people, mining that HSP energy can not only make us successful at business, it can help make us fully human again.