Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are those who “feel too much” and “too deeply (emotionally)” than the average person. They experience acute physical, mental, and emotional responses to external (social, environmental) or internal (intra-personal) stimuli. Highly Sensitive People are neurologically different from others and have many gifts, but their intense reactions to people and situations often cause confusion, conflict and greater emotional turmoil. In order to foster positive and constructive relationships with a HSP, the less sensitive person, or the person who is less extreme in their responses to various stimuli, must utilize special communication strategies.

Here are 6 of the most helpful strategies:

  1. Pause for processing. HSPs deeply process internal and external information and the stress of this can be overwhelming. This will look like they are struggling to express themselves. Give attentive silence and avoid interrupting them or feeding them the words you think they are looking for. When they are done talking, tell back how you understand what they said. Conversely, ask them to tell back what you have said to be sure they have understood you and captured your message accurately.
  2. Notice and gently suggest alternative behaviors. How you point out weaknesses and shortfalls can make or break relationships. Avoid a voice tone that is condescending, patronizing, too loud or parent-like. Say instead, “I noticed that…” or “Are you aware that…” or “Another approach might be to…” These words carry much less blame and shame.
  3. Timing. Pick the right time to give feedback. If you or they are tired, rushed or upset, it’s likely that your feedback will be less appreciated. No one needs to hear that they did 25 things wrong all at once, and this is especially disturbing for HSPs. Pick the top 1-2 to address at one sitting. Engage in a problem-solving discussion that keeps the emotion from escalating. Notice when they are getting overwhelmed and take a break. They may need more time to process a mistake and a solution than you do.
  4. Praise and encourage authentically. Be modest and honest in your praise; many HSP shudder when given a compliment, even a well-deserved one. To keep stress low for both of you, try not to get overly excited about their successes or lack of progress. If emotions aren’t kept in check, your highly sensitive friend will lose face if they disappoint you.
  5. Invite questions. Positive, inspiriting talk and a supportive attitude make you more approachable for questions. They may be hesitant to bother you when they become bogged down with a problem. Let your open door policy (with its boundaries) be known. You may be the “safe” sounding-board they’re looking for. Don’t criticize.
  1. Don’t rescue them from distress unless absolutely necessary. HSPs learn from their mistakes, but with more pain. If you rescue them too often, they may never acquire the thick skin needed to get through life. Your constant rescuing might actually hinder their growth.

Do you need more help communicating with a highly sensitive employee or co-worker? Contact me at [email protected].

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