Picture it…You’re in a meeting with a few colleagues and your boss, discussing a project you’re heavily involved with. Although you have thoughts to share, you’re silent. Dialogue ping-pongs between your manager and co-workers. You can’t get a word in edgewise. It’s a reoccurring obstacle, you cannot seem to get a handle on how to master the polite interject during a meeting.
You wait for the moment when it feels appropriate to butt in, but the moment never comes. The meeting has ended before you know it and you barely said a word. You log off feeling defeated and frustrated with yourself.
This happened to my client, Heidi, a marketing director at a sports company. Heidi was accomplished and considered a subject matter expert in analytics. Despite her expertise, Heidi frequently overthought her contributions. She placed a high expectation on herself to share value – and that perfectionism often held her back from speaking at all.
Add to that the fact that Heidi was also exceedingly courteous and kind. She never wanted to be pushy, rude, or dominate the conversation. While her intentions were good, these tendencies lead Heidi to wait too long to contribute in meetings. This not only eroded her confidence but also contributed to a lack of influence in her job. She needed to learn how to break this cycle, she needed to be able to interject during a meeting.
Heidi is what I call a Sensitive Striver – a high-achiever who is also highly sensitive. Because of their qualities, Sensitive Strivers like Heidi often have challenges interjecting and asserting themselves to make a point. You may try to build up the courage to speak, only to struggle to find a way into the conversation.
There are many reasons you may have to interject during a meeting. You may be offering a perspective, providing an update, correcting a matter, or asking for clarification. Or perhaps you are trying to push your team to stay on track. Whatever the reason, it’s essential to interject with tact.
Here are some ideas I share with Heidi that may work for you, too.
1. Break the ice
The longer you wait to say anything in a meeting, the more your fear and hesitation will build. So make a point to contribute early on. You don’t have to be the first person to speak, but try to be the second or third.
Remove perfectionism as well. What you share doesn’t have to be groundbreakingly original. You can offer a point of view or information if you have it, but piggybacking off of someone else’s comments works, too. Using your voice early will help you get comfortable expressing yourself and make it easier to break through resistance that keeps you quiet.
2. Create a disclaimer
Set ground rules at the start of the conversation. Mention that to keep the conversation efficient and effective, you may jump in to keep the discussion on track with the team’s stated goals. This gives you air cover when you do need to interrupt, such as, “Amy, as I said at the top of the meeting, our main goal today is X, and to keep us on track, we’ll have to put Y until next time.”
3. Gauge timing
If you want to interject during a meeting, it is all about intuiting the best time to speak up based on your team’s norms. Generally speaking, it’s best to wait for the speaker to pause for a few seconds before you pipe up. But if you’re remote or happen to be in a faster-paced environment, err on the side of interjecting a bit sooner.
At one point or another, we’ve all lost our cool at work. Perhaps you pulled an all-nighter to finish a project, only to feel distressed when it was criticized by a client. Or maybe a coworker failed to pull their weight and dumped their work on you at the last minute. These everyday workplace aggravations can make your blood boil. But there are some difficult conversations that tend to be the most stressful of all.
You know them well. These are the types of talks that require you to deliver bad news or negative feedback, make a demand such as asking for a raise or more responsibility, apologize for a mistake, or otherwise have a conversation that you dread.
When we anticipate or have difficult conversations, our emotions are often triggered. The mere thought of conflict and confrontation may cause you anxiety, especially if you are someone who considers themselves to be a kind-hearted peace-keeper. Even if you’re frustrated with the situation, you may fear upsetting your boss or disappointing your team, for example.
Difficult conversations intensify our emotionality because our minds perceive them as a threat. To the primal parts of our emotional brain, the worry of being disliked or losing standing is akin to being ousted from the group and causes real pain. In fact, science shows the brain makes no distinction between social exclusion and physical pain, which is why rejection – or the anticipation of it – hurts so much.
During a difficult conversation, you may find your heart starts racing and your breathing picks up. When your fight-or-flight response takes hold, it’s all the more likely you’ll get upset. Leaders and professionals who identify as sensitive strivers – which I define as high achievers who are also highly sensitive – are even more likely to have more intense, complex emotional responses during difficult conversations because of their genetic wiring.
It’s not uncommon for my coaching clients to say they have cried during a meeting or gone down an emotional spiral after receiving an unanticipated ask from their boss. These same clients tell me that they wish they could get a better grip on their responses and show up with greater calm, command, and executive presence.
To clarify, becoming emotional during a difficult conversation is a normal stress response. But a crucial part of emotional intelligence is emotion regulation or the skill of being able to adjust how you internally modulate and externally express your emotions in a way that’s rooted in integrity and makes you feel proud. Without this skill, you’re not able to articulate yourself well in the moment or put your best foot forward.
Here’s how to show up as your best self during difficult conversations.
Strategize your approach
Difficult conversations are inherently uncertain (“Will she laugh at my request?” “What if I offend them?”). Lessen the ambiguity (and the emotionality that accompanies it) by outlining key points you’d like to hit during the conversation. Make these high-level, headline-like markers that can guide you if you lose your train of thought. Don’t fall into the perfectionist trap of creating a detailed script to recite verbatim. Not only does this squeeze out authenticity, but it also will leave you more stressed if the conversation doesn’t go as planned.
Likewise, determine what you want to get out of the conversation. Your goal should be realistic and achievable. Planning to “win” is a losing battle. Focus on an objective that’s within your control, such as getting your point across or stating your point concisely.
Rally your resilience
Whenever I have a client struggling with emotions ahead of a difficult conversation, I ask them to tell me about the three hardest things they’ve overcome. They don’t need to be directly related to the situation at hand. Simply reminding yourself that you can rise above challenges gives you the confidence to be greater than your fears and apprehensions.
Positive visualization can also be effective. Research shows that the mind cannot distinguish between imagination and reality. When you imagine yourself appearing cool and collected during a difficult conversation, it triggers the same cascade of neurochemicals, regardless of whether you are thinking about the past, present, or future. Picture yourself in the heat of the confrontation. How do you look, feel, and sound when you are at your best?
Approach the conversation as a collaboration
Let’s say you need to speak with your direct report about a major mistake they made. Your first impulse may be to angrily fling blame-based accusations such as “How could you let this happen?” But your intense emotions could cause your report to retreat or get defensive, eliminating the opportunity to problem-solve.
Diffuse the emotional charge by listening first. Ask open-ended questions such as:
What led up to this?
What have you tried to resolve the situation so far?
What is your action plan?
Listening and asking questions gives you the chance to gather more information while also providing room for you to pause, breathe, and collect yourself so you can respond diplomatically.
Try a mantra
Studies show that repeating a single word or phrase silently to yourself can quiet your mind. In other words, creating a mantra can be useful to calm the internal judgments that lead to strong emotions during difficult conversations. Many of my clients devise short, anchoring phrases such as:
This will pass.
I can handle feeling uncomfortable.
All I can do is my best.
I am in control of how I feel.
Beware of emotional contagion
Humans naturally synchronize with the emotions of others around them. Sensitive strivers, in particular, have more active mirror neurons, which make them more adept at empathizing, but also more likely to absorb negativity during tense situations.
To avoid taking on your counterpart’s feelings during a difficult conversation, imagine yourself surrounded by a clear bubble that shields you from their reactions. Claire Wasserman, founder of Ladies Get Paid, once shared with me that she envisions painting her body in gold armor before entering a tough negotiation.
Finally, my clients find it helpful to separate content from delivery. Pay special attention to the exact words coming out of someone’s mouth and not their tone or your interpretation of what’s been said. Stay grounded in objectivity, and you can bring your best to the table.
Almost every team has at least one dominant personality type who is motivated by winning, competition, and reaching results. While dominant personality types are often seen as commanding and confident, their characteristics have a flip side. They can also become obstinate, aggressive, and overly direct.
Take Gabe, a business development manager at a food and beverage company. Gabe was regarded as a “doer,” or someone who is outgoing and always up for a challenge. He was decisive, never hesitated, and took fast action to drive new sales. His demanding, assertive style landed the company new accounts, but it came at a cost. Gabe often upset senior leadership when he circumvented authority in order to push through new procedures. He also tended to fixate on sales targets to the detriment of long-term client relationships.
Working with someone like Gabe can be a challenge, especially if you’re on the opposite end of the personality spectrum. Many of my coaching clients, who tend to be reserved, empathetic, people-oriented professionals, struggle with dominant personalities. They find their dominant colleagues’ controlling, demanding nature hard to deal with, and many of my clients have difficulty standing their ground in the face of the dominant type’s strong will.
If this sounds familiar, then you may find yourself wondering why your dominant colleagues do what they do and how to find peace in working with them. The good thing is that you don’t have to give up being kindhearted and caring if that’s your natural disposition. But if you want to be successful in work life, then it’s essential you learn to work with personalities that are different than your own, including dominant types.
Focus on the ‘what’ – not the ‘how’
Dominant personality types are task-oriented. They care about outcomes, not processes. When speaking with them, focus on concrete, tangible facts. Opt to make direct assertions or suggestions rather than approaching conversations as a brainstorming session. Talk about how your proposal affects the bottom line and the expected results.
Skip the small talk
Dominant personalities types operate on urgency and appreciate efficiency. They are the type of colleagues that you should skip pleasantries with and get straight to the point. For example, omit phrases, such as “How are you?” or “I hope you’re doing well,” from the start of your emails. Similarly, jump right into your meeting agenda, ensuring you keep banter to a minimum.
Don’t waste their time rehashing events, repeating details, or building up to your point. Lead with your key message and cut to the chase.
Give them independence
To influence a dominant personality type, you have to understand what motivates them, which is achievement and control. The more you can give this person room for independent problem solving and decision making, the more effective they’ll be.
Dominant personalities prize autonomy, so don’t be surprised if one-on-ones are brief or non-existent. Before delegating to a dominant personality, make sure the areas of authority are clearly defined and articulated. Focus them on bold, ambitious long-term goals to keep them consistently aiming higher.
Thoughtfully highlight areas for improvement
When giving this type of person feedback about their performance, focus on how the behavior changes that you’re requesting will help them reach their goals and get better results. For example, one of Gabe’s colleagues pointed out that Gabe’s bluntness was negatively impacting his direct reports. The colleague shared that if team members left, it would mean Gabe had fewer resources with which to fulfill client sales, and therefore, he may fall short of his targets. That framing inspired Gabe to change his approach. You can also use comparison as a way to constructively motivate those with dominant styles. For instance, highlight competitors who are performing better as a way to energize them to improve.
Fill their gaps
Healthy, productive teams require a mix of personalities. If you’re working alongside a dominant personality, boost their behavior by being their foil.
While dominant types tend to be innovative and progressive, they can also overlook risks and act too quickly. If you tend to be a more careful, deliberate decision maker, you can interject stability and reason into the process. Likewise, you can be the one to break down ambitious plans into specifics and guide actual implementation.
Don’t take their actions personally
Dominant personality types may respond curtly. Remember that their brusqueness does not mean they’re angry, upset, or rejecting you. Recognize that if they ask you pointed questions, it’s because they are engaging you, not because they lack trust. Expect brevity in your interactions, and understand that it’s part of their normal pattern of behavior – not a reflection of your adequacy.
If you’re someone who has struggled to assert yourself and speak up in the workplace or has battled with overthinking and a lack of confidence in your decision making, then there’s a lot to learn from dominant types. Integrate the upside of their style into your own, and you’ll be amazed at your team’s effectiveness.
This happened to one of my coaching clients, Angie, a senior director at an advertising agency. While she excelled in her role, she struggled to disconnect at the end of the day. Work worries bled into her evenings, and she often found herself distracted by deadlines at the dinner table.
You might be like Angie, and know setting boundaries is crucial, but struggle to do so. Many of my coaching clients, professionals I refer to as sensitive strivers, are the same. As deep thinkers and feelers, they are dedicated and empathetic to a fault. They struggle to say no and take on so much that it’s hard for them to figure out where to begin setting boundaries.
A good way to start is by looking at the data from your emotional responses. There is a simple internal assessment that I created that can help. If you have one of four feelings – tension, resentment, frustration, or discomfort – it’s a sign that a boundary is needed. By addressing situations where these “four feelings” arise, you create time and space for more of what you do want and less of what you don’t.
Tension presents like a sense of pressure or strain that leads to persistent nervousness, dread, or distraction. You perceive that something at stake is dependent on the outcome of your performance. You feel responsible for a situation. For some people, this can be a positive. The ability to perform under pressure is a desirable leadership skill for a reason because it activates your attention or focus on a task.
On the flip side, unresolved tension can mean that you never allow yourself to be still, rest, or recharge because you feel that you must always be moving to meet the next benchmark (either set by others or self-imposed). The next time you start to feel this feeling arise, ask yourself: What situations trigger a feeling of dread? What wisdom is my body trying to show me about where I’m overloading myself?
Resentment is unvoiced anger. It’s a signal that an important rule, standard, or expectation in your life has been violated by somebody else (or maybe even neglected by you). It often looks like long-term, persistent bitterness, indignation, or jealousy you feel every time you think about a situation or interaction. Feeling unappreciated or under-recognized. Resentment is a choice, which means you can let go of old hurts and take steps to stand up for yourself and rectify imbalances.
But, resentment makes it virtually impossible to exercise empathy or approach situations objectively. It can increase self-pity, not problem-solving. If you find yourself feeling this way, ask yourself: Where do I think I’m being treated unfairly? How can I clarify and express my expectations in a courageous way? What, if anything, do I need to work on letting go of?
Frustration is a common feeling for many. I’d identify it as being upset, annoyed, or displeased at someone else or yourself as a result of being unable to change or achieve something. Feeling blocked or held back in your pursuits. It’s a clear signal that your current approach is no longer working, so it’s time to pivot. Or you’re doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.
Feeling frustrated can tell you that you’re going after something that’s significant to you but that your brain believes you can be doing something better to achieve your goal. It can also lead you to give up and resign yourself to less than what you really want. When you start feeling frustrated, consider: What can I control? How can I be more flexible in my approach? What small thought or behavior can I change today that will start to make a difference?
Discomfort is a lingering or low-grade sense of uneasiness, impatience, guilt, or even embarrassment. Usually accompanied by your intuition telling you that something isn’t right. When you feel uncomfortable, this is a signal telling you that you need to clarify what you want, then take action in that direction. Mild, intermittent discomfort can be a sign that you’re pushing and challenging yourself to try new things and experiment or can serve as a catalyst to change circumstances you’re unhappy with.
But too much of this discomfort can stifle growth. Pushing yourself beyond your limits is a surefire path to exhaustion. When you recognize that you are having feelings of discomfort, ask yourself: Where am I forcing myself to do something that I’m not okay with? What situations zap my energy or leave me feeling unsettled?
Does every situation where these four feelings arise deserve a boundary? No. But look for patterns and recurring themes. That will point you toward opportunities to create new rules and make changes so you can protect your mental and emotional energy, especially in the areas where it’s hardest to set limits: work, personal life, health, and your relationship with yourself.
This was a question one of my clients, Sarah, came to coaching with.
Sarah was an accomplished manager and executive. During her career, she had earned two PhDs and over the course of twenty years, worked her way from the legal department to director of business development at a luxury retail company.
One year earlier, the CEO had tasked Sarah with starting a sub-division within the business development department to focus specifically on innovation. This meant her team was responsible for creating and implementing cutting-edge strategies to modernize the company’s marketing and distribution channels.
As a Sensitive Striver, Sarah was thoughtful, empathetic, and skilled at spotting opportunities others missed – a combination of skill which made her a perfect fit to lead the team.
But Sarah had started her career as a lawyer and operated under the false belief she had no idea what she was doing. The thought of building the innovation team filled her with imposter syndrome. She doubted whether she had what it took to get the job done and make their work a success.
Soon, her insecurity started to hold her back in other ways, namely in terms of her ability to make decisions. Sarah often found herself overthinking choices – both big and small – which stressed her out and slowed the team’s progress. She had trouble trusting her own judgment, and instead sought excessive amounts of outside approval before making a call.
Most of all, Sarah was constantly second-guessing herself.
After she would eventually make a decision, she would find herself preoccupied by all the what if’s (What if we had chosen direction B? What if X wouldn’t have happened? etc). She would toss and turn at night (and feel distracted at his desk during the day) by thoughts of whether he could have made a better choice.
In other words, Sarah couldn’t stop ruminating.
What is rumination?
Ruminating is a type of overthinking that involves obsessing over the same thoughts. Typically these are “dead-end” thoughts that aren’t productive, positive, or useful. It’s as if your mind is a record, stuck on the same track that keeps playing over and over – hence the second-guessing.
When you’re ruminating, you’re dwelling and living in the past. You analyze and replay situations over and over. You may rehash conversations, dissect people’s body language, and stress about what you did or didn’t say.
When it comes to decision-making, ruminating can look like:
Beating yourself up for making a decision too slowly.
Worrying about other people’s reactions and judgments.
Thinking about a decision can be helpful – especially if it leads to a resolution or provokes new solutions and insight. But rumination doesn’t do that. It simply causes distress and drains you of mental and emotional energy you need to do your job effectively.
Why rumination affects Sensitive Strivers
Rumination to some extent is normal because we tend to believe that by ruminating, we’ll gain insight into a problem.
The problem arises, however, when it becomes an ingrained mental habit that begins to hold you (and possibly those around you) back from your full potential – as it was for Sarah in the story above.
Ruminating is also common in people who possess certain personality characteristics, like Sensitive Strivers.
As driven, deep thinkers, Sensitive Strivers pride themselves on being conscientious and thorough. When well balanced, their thoughtfulness can be a strength – contributing to above-average self-awareness and giving them superpowers like intuition and creativity.
However, when unbalanced, their Thoughtfulness can become a hindrance, which is exactly what was happening for Sarah.
Sensitive Strivers also tend to be perfectionists. So while they deliver high work quality, they are often extremely hard on themselves and their own worst critic, which leads to rumination.
If this sounds like you, then fear not, because it is entirely possible to rebalance your Thoughtfulness. With new tools to channel your sensitivity and ambition, you can stop second-guessing yourself and learn to regain your confidence and trust your judgment.
How to stop second-guessing yourself
Here’s a three-step process to end rumination that I coached Sarah through, which will also serve you.
At its core, rumination operates on negative self-talk. These unhelpful thoughts can sound like:
I’m such an idiot. Why didn’t I think of that sooner? A smart person would have.
This is all going to turn out to be a disaster.
I bet everyone is thinking I’m a failure.
Everyone’s inner critic is different, so your brand of negative self-talk sounds different. Regardless, your first step remains the same, and that is to interrupt the unhelpful thoughts.
This works because rumination is like an automatic, knee jerk reaction. It may be so automatic that you’re not even aware it happens. But interrupting the thoughts helps you build internal strength and command to be more in control of your experience.
You can interrupt your negative self-talk in a few ways, such as by silently saying STOP or “This isn’t helpful” or snapping a rubber band on your wrist. I also like to have my clients name their inner critic, so they can find emotional distance from their cruel inner voice when it arises.
Rumination and second-guessing yourself are characterized by wishing you or a situation were different or beating yourself up for all the woulda-coulda-shoulda’s that exist in decision-making. In both cases, you are wasting valuable time and energy fighting against reality.
A much more productive approach is radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is not the same as resignation or passivity. Rather it is about:
Adjusting your perspective to willingly and realistically take in the facts, realizing you can’t change them even if you’d like to.
Assertively moving forward without staying stuck in thoughts like “why me,” “this is unfair,” or “it wasn’t meant to be this way.”
Embrace radical acceptance by rooting into the present instead of fighting it. Sarah did this by reminding herself “this is where I am now” or “I don’t like the situation we’re in, but I can’t change how it unfolded” after making decisions.
After you’ve interrupted rumination and accepted reality, you can approach the final step in the process: redirecting your thinking.
By redirecting your thinking, I mean channeling your depth of thought and intelligence more constructively. Specially, you can do this through self-coaching – asking yourself open-ended, growth-oriented questions that open up new possibilities.
Self-coaching questions to stop second-guessing yourself include:
How can I make the most of the circumstances in front of me?
How might someone who is confident respond?
How would I advise my closest colleague to approach this?
What thought helps me feel energized and powerful?
What would I believe if I knew everything was going to work out?
What’s the very best next step I need to take?
Keep in mind that you can’t attempt this process once and expect rumination to magically dissolve. Changing any habit, especially a mental habit that’s as ingrained as second-guessing yourself, requires repetition and dedication.
But if you follow the steps above, soon you’ll experience greater success without so much stress.
No one likes criticism about their work. But being hypersensitive to criticism can feel like a burden you constantly carry.
Whether you’re getting input about how a slide deck could be improved, hearing that leadership isn’t on board with your idea, or otherwise speaking up and putting yourself out there – it can be difficult to separate a person’s response from your own self-worth.
Throughout your career, you’ll always be given feedback in some form or another. Learning to cope with criticism is a key part of professional (and personal) growth, and when processed productively, can actually boost your confidence and be extremely valuable for advancing your career.
That’s not to say, though, that it can’t be extremely uncomfortable or even upsetting: You put your all into your work and take pride in your efforts, so when you’re criticized, it can really sting.
Negative feedback tends to hit Sensitive Strivers especially hard. Because we process everything more deeply, we end up taking people’s opinions personally – seeing it as a failure or indictment on our professional aptitude and capabilities. When we get negative feedback or someone throws a comment our way, we have an intense reaction to it.
According to research, about 15 to 20% of the population has a genetic trait that leads to a highly calibrated nervous system. This explains why things affect you more profoundly than they might someone else.
Research also shows that Sensitive Strivers have more active mirror neurons, which means you are naturally more perceptive and attuned to your surroundings.
But as a result, you might spend more time monitoring and analyzing other people’s behavior. This vigilance can render you overly preoccupied with external approval and others’ thoughts and opinions, or cause you to read into situations more easily – sending you down an intense emotional spiral.
A simple exercise to deal with negative feedback at work
When on the receiving end of criticism, it’s essential that you separate criticism of the message from criticism of you as the messenger.
It’s important to avoid what authors Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone call “wrong spotting” – where we go on the defensive and fall down an anger spiral that can leave us distracted and depleted.
Besides, there can be a lot of value in criticism especially when it’s delivered constructively. You want to avoid your emotions getting the better of you, and blinding you from all that there is to learn from the person’s comments.
There’s one simple exercise I give my coaching clients that helps them parse helpful feedback from that which can be left behind. It also helps them slow down their own reaction so that they can think clearly and be in control of how they respond to the feedback instead.
Here’s how the exercise works:
1. Take a sheet of paper and split it into four columns
It’s best if you do this on hard copy versus a computer, as studies show handwriting is more cathartic. It forces your brain to be more deliberate and also serves a pattern interrupt (since you likely spend most of your day typing).
2. In the first column, write down the exact feedback
Transcribe what the person said, word for word. Use their exact phrasing and do not layer your interpretation on top of it. Remain as objective and fact-based as possible.
3. In the second column, list everything that’s wrong with the feedback
This is your chance to let it all out – your anger, frustration, insecurity. Mention inaccuracies, blindspots, and errors in the feedback. Don’t hold back.
4. In the third column, list what might be right about the feedback
This is where you start your mindset. Begin to broaden your perspective and consider where the other person might be coming from. Are there helpful improvements within the criticism they shared, for example? A new discovery or opportunity? What can you learn or take away from the information they’ve shared with you?
5. In the fourth column, commit to taking action
Note down your next steps. This may be having a follow-up conversation to clear the air, making a correction, or simply letting it go and moving on with your day.
This exercise provides structure so that you can process feedback in a more balanced way, get back to equilibrium faster, and take constructive steps forward.
Remember, receiving criticism is a fact of life and it can really bring you down if you let it. By having tools to process it you’ll be able to recover more quickly and shine like the competent professional you are.
Common workplace situations that may be moderately stressful to others – like speaking in meetings or getting feedback (even over Zoom these days) – can quickly overstimulate you. In fact, studies show that workers with sensory processing sensitivity (the trait’s scientific name) tend to experience more stress than their less-sensitive peers.
In addition to being more sensitive to stimuli, HSPs process information more deeply and thoroughly. So it’s not uncommon to overthink decisions, beat yourself up for working more slowly than others, or judge yourself for not being gregarious and outspoken.
High sensitivity in the workplace
As a coach to highly sensitive professionals, I frequently see clients struggle with self-doubt and imposter syndrome that results from being in the minority. Only about 20 percent or so of the population is highly sensitive (meaning they have a more responsive nervous system), so it’s no wonder you feel different – because you are.
But “different” is not bad; thinking and feeling deeply isn’t a defect. You see, your sensitive qualities, when channeled productively, can be your career superpowers. The research proves it: managers consistently rate people with higher sensitivity as their top contributors. That’s because HSPs are thoughtful, conscientious, empathetic, and dedicated, all of which make them ideal employees and leaders.
The key to using your high sensitivity as a strength at work comes down to self-acceptance and confidence. Stepping into your power requires you to recognize that your innate qualities are both rare and valuable, particularly in today’s business world where incivility seems to reign.
Plus, as work becomes more automated, the need for professionals like you – ones with natural intuition and creativity – has never been more crucial. Your abilities can never be replicated by technology.
Stepping into your power as an HSP at work requires you to recognize that your innate qualities are rare and in demand – and to know the value that gives you.
1. You’re diplomatic when it matters most
As a highly sensitive person, you think longer and more deliberately before speaking. This tendency to pause before acting is a hallmark of sensory-processing sensitivity, according to psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron, who first discovered the high sensitivity trait.
That means you’re thoughtful with your words. And in the workplace, this translates into being able to balance different people’s perspectives and tactfully communicate, even when the pressure is on.
2. You’re a brilliant critical thinker
Studies have shown that sensitive people have more active brain circuitry and neurochemicals in areas related to mental processing. So the HSP brain not only takes in more information but also processes that information in a more complex way.
Work-wise, you are likely heralded for the way you explore various angles and paths, whether it’s a proposal for a new business plan or trying to solve a team challenge.
3. Your self-awareness is unmatched
As an HSP, you have a vibrant inner life and are likely well-acquainted with your emotional landscape. One reason for this is because high sensitivity is linked to a gene that increases the vividness of inner experiences.
While this level of self-awareness may be second-nature to you, it’s an indisputable asset in terms of your career. For example, people with a more accurate self-perception tend to perform better in the workplace and are better able to tailor their leadership style to the situation at hand.
4. You’re skilled at spotting opportunities for innovation
Evolutionarily speaking, picking up on environmental cues and recognizing things that less sensitive people missed helped HSPs make wiser decisions and come out ahead in threatening situations.
In the modern world, for example, this vigilance means you’re constantly scanning for ways to make improvements in the workplace and offering novel suggestions. You probably also find that you’re the person who highlights gaps before they become problems, which can save your company valuable time and money.
In essence, your attention to subtleties makes you a creative, inventive problem-solver.
5. You’re capable of integrating and managing large amounts of information
A large majority of my coaching clients are Product Managers or Project Managers.
This may sound strange, but it makes complete sense when you think about it: HSPs’ depth of processing and conscientiousness are the perfect combination for roles that require organization, collaboration, strategy, and information management as core skills.
6. You have a pulse on team morale
Research shows that HSPs have more active mirror neurons (which helps them empathize and understand other people’s behavior). This is why you may find that you can sense people’s moods long before they say a word, as well as absorb their emotions as if they were your own.
Many of my coaching clients find they have a talent for anticipating people’s emotional needs in the workplace – whether sensing when their team is burned out, knowing if a certain individual needs more support, or reading between the lines to suss out when their client or boss is unsatisfied.
So, once again, being an HSP in the workplace can be a big asset.
7. You have strong intuition
Have you ever had the experience of knowing a situation feels off? Or how about the opposite – feeling in your gut that a certain direction or decision is absolutely right?
That’s your intuition speaking loud and clear (or as I call it, your “sensitive sixth sense”).
As an HSP, you have a great capacity to recognize patterns and synthesize different inputs, which can be a secret weapon in decision-making. Your intuition is more highly developed than that of non-HSPs because you’re constantly adding new data to your bank of knowledge about the world and yourself.
And according to a survey of top executives, the majority of leaders leverage feelings and experience when handling crises.
8. You impress people with your thoroughness
As an HSP, you are the one who shows up to a presentation with comprehensive data. Or you might be the coworker who spends extra time preparing to dazzle an important client.
Whatever the case may be, your dedication and commitment wow others and ooze professionalism. Others look to you to drive excellence and uphold standards.
HSPs don’t dabble in the mundane. In the workplace, you are likely after the bigger “why” behind strategies and actions your team is taking.
Driving towards a larger purpose helps keep people grounded and focused, particularly in the face of uncertainty. As a leader, you are effective at helping others find meaning and fulfillment in their work, qualities anyone would want in a great boss.
10. You create a harmonious work environment
Your experience as an outsider has probably made you passionate about inclusion.
HSPs deeply value fairness. In fact, research shows that HSPs tend to score higher on ratings of justice and ethics in studies.
In your career, that means you uphold your promises and stick to your word. You can always be counted on to follow through (even if it sometimes comes at the cost of your own well-being).
And now more than ever, your voice can make a difference in the workplace, especially when it involves speaking up in the face of inequity or mistreatment of others.
12. You’re constantly learning and growing
Every client I’ve worked with has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. These highly sensitive professionals have a high drive for growth and are frequently immersed in personal and professional enrichment outside of work that may include coaching, courses, certifications, books, and additional training.
This is the best career insurance there is, because it always ensures you’re evolving and advancing, regardless of the conditions around you.
As a highly sensitive person who experiences strong emotions, you might feel like you’re carrying a heavy load at times, especially in the workplace. But the truth is, you likely have a huge amount of untapped value to share with your coworkers, clients, and in your career as a whole. Embrace being an HSP in the workplace for all the positives you bring to the table.
Influence – especially in the workplace – is about setting an example that inspires others to do as you do. The keyword here is, inspire. Influencing others isn’t about pressuring people to submit to your requests. Nor is it about manipulation.
So, how does a leader influence a team to work towards a vision, share their passion, and to get things done?
If you’re a sensitive high-achiever (or what I call a Sensitive Striver), then you already have the tools that other less-sensitive leaders may not. Your team will understand that you care about their values as much as your own, because of your ability to read them and to feel how they are feeling.
Your strength in empathy gives you a boost because you know what matters to your team. This creates a space of connection, understanding, and trust. With that as your foundation, your success in influencing as a leader will shine.
Leadership by influence: 4 essential aspects to increasing your influence in the workplace
Once you have a solid base of trust and connection with your team, you can strengthen your ability to influence and further your success as a leader. Here are a few key skills to increase your level of influence:
1. Be transparent
To increase your influence in the workplace, you must remain open and honest. It’s important to allow others to voice their questions and concerns and to answer them with transparency. Being honest is easy when there is good news to share, yet remaining 100% honest when the news is bad can be difficult.
The best leaders are transparent in all instances. If a question is posed that you are not prepared to answer, say, “I want to be sure to have all of the correct information before I answer that. Let me check the facts and get back to you by the end of the day.” Be sure to follow-up as soon as you can address their question. Answer with positivity and openness, and you will achieve a team committed to you and your goals.
As a Sensitive Striver, if problems do arise, your ability to communicate with empathy will be a guiding light for the rest of the team.
2. Inspire loyalty
Inspiring a sense of commitment from your team is vital to successful leadership and influence. This can be accomplished by motivating and improving the working lives of your employees. Look for and speak to their accomplishments. Understand that your success also lies in the quality of people that you help advance within the company.
If someone in your group is going above and beyond in their role, acknowledge them. The pride you take in your team’s successes not only motivates your team but inspires deep loyalty to you as their leader, which is the best use of your influence in the workplace.
3. Lead by example
Sensitive Strivers don’t fall short on determination. Lead by example by staying confident and focused on the end goal. A leader crippled by self-doubt or deterred by setbacks sets an uneasy tone and can contribute to chaos among the team. When a problem emerges (which you have most likely played out in your head), keep a steadfast and positive attitude. This is important, though difficult, especially if your reputation is on the line.
If you see yourself struggling to maintain or regain positivity, take a moment to remind yourself that you can change your mindset. Your attitude is your choice, and your team will mirror that behavior. Turning obstacles into unprecedented opportunities generates a collective calm that is nothing short of inspiring.
4. Beware the perfectionism pitfall
Sensitive Strivers tend to be perfectionists. Your impeccable attention to detail and ambition to keep going until it’s “flawless” contribute to your success. Yet, at other times, your need to do things “right” can fuel anxiety. As Brené Brown says, “Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there’s no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal.”
Carrying your expectation of perfection over to the team you are trying to lead will decrease your influence in the workplace and chip away at the group’s morale. To avoid fallout, stay focused on what is working, and what you can control. More likely than not, the end goal is still intact.
The ability to influence others is one of the most essential qualities a leader can have. Taking the time to learn the steps of influencing others intelligently and ethically, will improve your success as a leader, and that of the company’s.
Sensitive Strivers, you have a leg up in the world of influencing people. Your high emotional intelligence, your passion, and your drive will set you apart. You will be a leader who brings people together with a common goal and will inspire your team to get things done and done well.
Complex feelings like disappointment, panic, or even shame are natural, but that doesn’t make them any less difficult to deal with. Without the right strategies for regulating your emotions, it’s easy to overreact.
However, many well-known strategies are unrealistic or impossible to do during the workday. Few people can go for a run or write in a journal during a heated meeting, for example.
Here are four realistic alternative strategies you can use to control your emotions in the moment. Stay calm and composed and respond in a way you’ll feel good about.
1. Cool down
When you experience an emotion, your body gears up to fight or flee. Your sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive. Your heart rate speeds up and your internal temperature rises. It’s why your palms perspire when you’re nervous or your cheeks get flushed when you’re embarrassed.
To push back the rising tide of emotion, you have to quell your internal, physiological response. One easy way to do this is to lower your body temperature. Grasp onto a cold glass, melt an ice cube in your mouth, take off a layer of clothing, or move closer to the air conditioner. Better yet, take a time out and head to the bathroom so you can splash water on your face.
Scientifically speaking, this activates the mammalian diving reflex and kicks on your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation.
2. Ground yourself
When overwhelming emotions strike, it’s tempting to lose yourself in a wild train of thought. You might recall every past instance of failure or worry about future outcomes. When this happens, you can use grounding techniques to reorient back to reality and keep yourself firmly rooted in the present.
Simple grounding techniques you can use in the moment include to control emotions:
Clenching and releasing your fist
Digging your heels into the floor
Relaxing your hips into the corners of your chair
Concentrate on the eye color of the person you’re speaking to
Pay attention to concrete, observable sensations and objects around you. This channels your attention toward what’s true and what you can control versus the chatter running through your head.
3. Breathe like a Navy SEAL
Navy SEALs know a thing or two about managing emotions under pressure. They use a particular form of regulated breathing to stay alert, focused, and calm. Box breathing, or four-square breathing, is a practice you can use discreetly at your desk or even in the middle of tense conversations.
Here’s how it works:
Breathe in for four seconds.
Hold air in your lungs for four seconds.
Exhale for four seconds.
Hold your breath, lungs emptied, for four seconds.