Wed 12 Feb 2020

Sensitive personality traits: a hidden gem for employers?

 Our society has championed resilience for a long time.   Language such as "toughen up", grow a "thicker skin" or "harder shell" is often used when talking about people who are sensitive.  

In a wider world which celebrates strong, bold and confident personality traits, we could be forgiven for thinking that softer skills show a weakness that should be hidden or worked on in order to "fix" them.

But, with increasing numbers of people identifying as having sensitive personality traits,  these unique soft skills could add some serious value in today's workplace.

Although levels of sensitivity is perhaps more accurately viewed as a spectrum rather than rigid categories of sensitive/non sensitive, there is an extreme end.  Often referred to as Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) or Highly Sensitive People (HSP), it is estimated that this trait applies to around 20% of the human population. According to research by Dr Elaine Aron, HSPs are aware of subtleties in their surroundings and more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.

While HSPs may be easily overwhelmed by noise, light or other stressors, they are also intuitive, highly attuned to people around them and have high degrees of empathy and creativity.   They can sense emotions and respond quickly.  They are good at reading people and can quickly pinpoint areas of friction, often addressing them before they fester.  They naturally establish meaningful relationships.  These innate soft skills could be what is needed to close the gap between good and excellent customer service in organisations in a range of business sectors.  

Organisations can cultivate and maximise the use of these valuable skills by ensuring their managers are equipped to deal with different personality traits, rather than a one size fits all approach.  As well as some good quality management training,  providing staff with quiet and calm areas for time away from the buzz of an office environment and the use of agile working practices could all be beneficial.  Keeping an eye on the wellbeing of staff, watching out for signs of overwhelm and stress and ensuring that there is a culture of care and support would all help to nurture and retain valuable, key talent.

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