Top Tips for Thriving as an HSP at Work
How highly sensitive people can best use their unique abilities at the office.
A highly sensitive person, or HSP, is an individual that has heightened levels of awareness for information, sensory stimulation, or emotions. It’s estimated that HSPs make up 15-20% of the population, according to the book The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron.
The book includes the full, psychologist-developed questionnaire to figure out if you’re a HSP, but if you’re easily overwhelmed, sensitive to others’ moods and energies, and extremely conscientious, you may be an HSP.
HSPs have unique challenges and unique gifts in the workplace. But this personality trait is less discussed in inclusion and diversity trainings than other kinds of differences. If you’re an HSP, here’s how to use your gifts, ask for what you need, and thrive at work.
Set up your workspace to lower stimulation.
Interruptions, getting multiple requests at the same time, and constant talking can all trigger overstimulation in an HSP, leading them to shut down and withdraw. Because of this, HSPs will probably want to avoid open workspaces where people eat at their desks, talk on the phone, and pop over to ask questions. All of this background stimulation will drain you and lower productivity. Instead, try working from home, occupying an unused conference room, or going somewhere else away from distractions.
Use your info processing superpower.
HSPs can grasp a large sum of complex information because they’re more receptive to external input and adept at correlating and structuring information in their brains. "When an HSP attends a meeting with many participants sharing different viewpoints on a topic, they will be able to quickly summarize what has been said, provide pros and cons for each suggestion, and suggest ways to move forward,” says Rasha Accad, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance and self-described HSP.
But because HSPs are such deep reflectors, they do naturally take more time to process information and often struggle to think on their feet. Take some of the pressure off by telling your boss you’re an internal processor and discussing the ways that plays out in meetings and group brainstorm sessions. Let them know that to get the best ideas and results from you, you’ll likely need some time.
Understand the advantages and pitfalls of empathy.
HSPs will internalize the world and tend to take criticism to heart. Knowing this about yourself can help you get some distance from criticism, and recognize that almost nothing is personal. But an HSP’s ability to pick up on other people’s emotions and needs can help them mitigate, for example, signs of disapproval from a potential buyer before that person has voiced their concerns.
“HSPs are excellent at building rapport, given their empathetic nature. Consider seeking out roles where you can engage in mediation, conflict resolution, coaching, leading people, or otherwise helping people understand different viewpoints,” Accad says.
Ask for what you need.
While it may be uncomfortable to ask for a different workspace, more time, or more breaks than everyone else, it’s important to have the courage to ask for what you need. Ignoring these needs will lead to feelings of burnout and resentment. Make sure your boss knows that the output and quality of your work will be better when you can work within your boundaries. And the whole team will benefit when you speak up for yourself; when you keep the meeting on track and ensure that important decisions don’t get rushed, the outcomes are better for everyone.