6 Ways to Communicate with Highly Sensitive People

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].

A Visionary’s Soliloquy

Theresa B. from Pittsburgh, PA writes:

“My mind is a jumble of ideas, and when I have a great one I want my exec team to get to  work on it ASAP. ( I probably have ADHD or something like that.) They roll their eyes, sit back and make me feel like a child. There have been times when my ideas cost us,I’ll credit them with that. But other times the company lost out because my team wouldn’t take me seriously.  Here’s the kicker: when they come to me with an idea, it’s almost a done deal. I’m just supposed to sign off every time! So frustrating. What can I do to get them to listen to my ideas with an open mind?”

It is hard to curb your enthusiasm when you can see a promising idea so clearly in your mind. You’re struck by the potential and the long term gains. However great the idea, it’s absolutely essential that you and your partners stand back 30,000 feet and examine the proposition carefully. Your brain, Theresa, the visionary’s brain, is a mystery to those with a more linear way of thinking.  As Dr. Ned Hallowell says, “You’ve got a race car brain with bicycle brakes.”  (It’s good they are not like you, can you imagine the chaos with an exec team made up of nothing but visionaries?)

To get heard, you need to step into their world and ask yourself a series of questions before you present your idea. I suggest you have 5 or so basic questions answered before you present a new idea to your exec team. Get these 5 questions from your partners. What kind of facts do they need to consider your idea?  They may be something like: What resources do we already have to make this happen? What resources do we need?  What will it cost? Does this idea support our brand or confuse our customers? Is anyone else doing this? Chances are, your partners address these kind of questions before they ask you to sign off on their projects. That’s the difference.

You may save yourself a lot of embarrassment and frustration if you take a step back and consider these questions first. Keep them handy so when a idea strikes you’ll ensure a captive audience.

Having trouble being heard, respected or appreciated for your contribution? Perhaps it’s your presentation that needs work. Let me help. Contact me at [email protected]  

Managing Drama in Your Startup

According to a new book, No Ego by business consultant Cy Wakeman, the average worker spends 2.5 hours per day distracted by drama! We’ve all experienced varying degrees of workplace drama in other jobs – personal losses, power struggles, insubordination, office gossip and petty arguments.  Until you start a business of your own, you may not be aware of how significantly drama can hurt your bottom line. How to manage workplace drama is not typically noted in the founder’s play book. If no drama has spiked in your startup thus far, good for you, but unless you’re working with robots, it’s inevitable.

The usual sources of drama in a startup can be traced to hires without proper job descriptions, under-performing or disgruntled employees, changes in procedures, slow periods and accelerated periods where the company has to scale up quickly. Another source of drama is the life of the employee. Just as employees bring the work stress home with them, employees bring their home traumas to work. Let me address some solutions the “trauma to drama” variety.

Most CEOs want to create an open, caring work environment where people look forward to coming to work. The workplace  may be the only safe and inspiriting environment in some people’s lives.  I support mindful listening as a way to understand an employee who is experiencing personal problems outside of work. Listening wholeheartedly to an employee can help you gauge the intensity and duration of the situation so as to come up with solutions that will prevent company losses. It is the responsibility of the employee, not the employer, to ultimately solve his/her personal problems. It must be made clear that work is not a counseling center or a rehab. His or her fellow employees are not being paid to be social workers. Allowances such as a more flexible schedule, an extended lunch hour or such accommodations are appropriate. A business may have to find some temporary coverage, and if possible, the employee may need to train the temp. Your HR department may assist in finding counselors or support groups. But, I suggest that a business set in advance, reasonable limits to these assists. Meet with your staff and talk about what to do if such drama erupts.

More to come on workplace drama in future blogs.

Are you the frequent victim or the instigator of drama at your workplace? Being one or the other could cost you your job or your career. If that’s you, let’s discuss! [email protected]      

Share the Stage with Confidence

Bill H., a founder of a nutrition startup, asks, “How can I get more comfortable speaking in front of groups, investors mostly? I have my top sales guy do all the talking, but apparently it’s starting to look odd that I don’t “share the stage” with him at these presentations. If I lost him, I’d be in big trouble. What to do?”

This is a common concern for many founders wanting to project strong leadership. I define public speaking as any kind of speaking you do with the public: phone calls, 1:1 or small group conversations. Chances are you could not have gotten this far if you had trouble on the phone or in small group conversation. Keep in mind — listeners really care about the substance of what you have to offer, not how slick a presenter you are. They want to make money, period. It’s true that investors like to work with confident and energetic people, but that is secondary to their main interest.

To take action, I suggest you identify where your discomfort in public speaking breaks down and work to refine that level. This is where a communication coach comes in handy. Are you generally anxious, unprepared, unsure of your content, a poor listener, vocally weak or disfluent, etc. at the small group conversation level?  If so, getting some guidance managing those aspects would be a good starting point. Then, consider polishing up one segment of the larger group presentation that you are most comfortable with. This way you can start “sharing the stage” with your sales guy in a small way. With practice and an understanding of what your audience really cares about, you’ll be able to take over more of the presentation in time.

Need more help with public speaking or presentation skills? I’m happy to help you. Contact me at [email protected]

Go Outside and Ask

Even though you may be surrounded by people in your start-up, you as the founder may feel a bit lonely. Here’s an apt metaphor for a founder’s situation. Think of you, the founder, at the neck of an hourglass; you have the board of directors above you and your team below you. However you tilt the hourglass, the only perspective you get is the “insider” perspective. But, despite all this top down and bottom up discussion, you still may have doubts and questions about next steps and you want to make the right decisions.

Founders need to ask for help from “outsiders” − mentors, experts, customers and potential customers. Instead of playing the “I’ve got all the answers!” charade, muster up your courage and reach out to key people for feedback and advice. Your investors have greater confidence in a founder who is unafraid and open to seeking clarity and advice from knowledgeable outsiders.

Here’s a way to request a meeting.  Email your outsider expert (subject: “Request your advice” or “Referred by Jim Z”) or leave a voice mail message with a simple request:  Hello Ms. X, I am the CEO of Y business and I learned (from Jim Z) that you have much experience in this area. I would very much appreciate your opinion regarding a major initiative I’m looking to implement. Would you have 30 minutes to talk with me by phone or over a cup of coffee in the next couple weeks? If that is possible, please let me know what days and times work best for you. 

( if email) Best regards,

your name (include your credentials and website address)

If you get a positive response, agree to a time and place and thank them.To keep good mentors, prepare your questions and possible solutions before the meeting. Be on time. Encourage your outsiders to be critical and direct; you want to know what you may be missing. Don’t try to sell them anything, nor ask them to do any work for you. Do not expect them to meet with you on a regular basis either. Be ready to wrap up the discussion at or before the 30 minute mark. If they want to extend the conversation, let them know you appreciate the extra time. If you found their advice helpful, and if they appeared to enjoy the conversation, you might ask if they wouldn’t mind talking again sometime after you have implemented their advice. Whether they agree or remain cool to your request, immediately after the encounter, show your appreciation with a modest gift card or a thank you note.

Don’t be shy, “get the answer to the test” as I like to say. If you need help with difficult conversations, ask me at [email protected]

An Intrapreneur Asks: How Can I Be Heard?

Are you an employee of a start-up itching to play more of a leadership role in your company as an intrapreneur? If you are a founder, you can bet that there are a some employees deep in the trenches with an entrepreneurial mindset; they want to develop, manage and lead smaller, revenue-producing projects within the company. Do you make it easy for them to share their ideas? I received this query from a frustrated employee that said it all:

Dear Rebecca,

How can I share my ideas for making my company better? I work in the customer service end of things, and I have ideas for speeding up orders and retaining customers. When I have suggested ideas to my bosses in the past, they seemed to agree with me, but nothing ever came of it. How can I get heard?   

A Frustrated Intrapreneur 

Dear Frustrated,

Here are 5 steps that will make it easier for your idea to be heard by the right people:

1) Check with your boss or HR to see if your company has a process or a proposal format for getting ideas to the decision maker. Just throwing out half-baked ideas is a good way for others not to take you seriously, or for your ideas to go nowhere.

2) Does your idea fit with the company’s mission and values? Is there a need for your idea? Have you any data or documented customer feedback regarding the problem you want to solve?

3) Can you explain your idea in a couple different ways (Power Point, graphics, a flow chart, etc) that are concise, simple and easily understood? Perhaps you haven’t been heard before because you speak in generalities, digress or talk beyond the average boss’s attention span of 15 seconds (or less)? If so, see my earlier blog for “Getting to the Point.”

4) What are the costs associated with the development and execution of your idea? How would your idea positively affect the bottom line? Or, if your idea had been implemented earlier, how would it have saved time and money, retained customers, decreased stress, etc?

5) How would your idea affect others in the company? Can you get the buy-in from those who would implement it?

If you address all these points and present them with a good dose of passion, don’t be surprised if you get an invitation to the boardroom!

If you are an intrapreneur wanting more tips for “getting heard,”
contact me at [email protected]

 

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