Performance reviews can be stressful for both managers and their team members. Here are some ways to help it work better when dealing with Highly Sensitive team members - so your organisation can make the most out of their valuable contribution.
1. A little is a lot. Those with a Highly Sensitive temperament will probably do better with feedback given in small amounts over time, rather than a lot all at once. It might be helpful to devise a plan for this with them, so that the traditional performance review is more of a re-cap than a big event.
HS people become overwhelmed when a lot of data is presented at once (because their system is trying to take it all in and process it deeply). Being evaluated for their performance is also highly stressful – for anyone, yes, but even more so for a Highly Sensitive person. This is because they want so much to do well, and are always evaluating their own performance, and their intense awareness and immersive experience.
With these two things coming in one package – lots of data and being observed and judged on their performance – those formal, once or twice per year evaluations are one of the worst ways to actually assess a Highly Sensitive person’s performance and progress.
Good news! HS people are especially conscientious, dedicated, reflective, and self-aware. This makes them perfect candidates for a different approach to feedback. As I suggested above, devise a plan with them for how you can both approach feedback effectively. You might find that you only need to give gentle nudges and suggestions (certainly a lighter load for you). Figure out what works, together, and you’ll be pleased with the result.
2. Because they are especially conscientious, dedicated, reflective, and self-aware, Highly Sensitive team members might deal with problems before you’re even aware of them. Noticing and acknowledging this is a good way for you to recognise their self-reliance, and for them to recognise their own improvement.
3. Go gently. When giving feedback on performance, ask questions first. You want to be sure that you haven’t assumed something – and to find out what they’re aware of. When giving suggestions for improvement, offer encouragement: acknowledge the strengths or skills they have which will help them make the change, and offer support as they do it – continued suggestions, or access to resources, for example. Ideally, remind them that this doesn’t mean their whole performance on the job is in question.
4. Ask them for suggestions (for the workplace), apart from giving them feedback. Their greater awareness and processing of subtleties gives them valuable insight. Take advantage of it.
5. Work together towards goals. Be aware of their unique abilities and encourage them towards their real potential.
I hope that these suggestions have provided some helpful ideas for effectively communicating performance feedback with your Highly Sensitive team members. I’d be interested to hear what happens when you implement (any of) these, so let me know how it goes in the comments.
Tamara - Sensitive Thrive is my consulting business. I believe that the world needs Highly Sensitive people who are flourishing. We need their hope, insight, wisdom, and awareness of beauty and possibility. My vision is to help create a culture where this temperament is known, understood and valued; where organisations seek Highly Sensitive people to work for them, because they know what they can do. Where HS people feel like they fit in their workplaces, because those workplaces also fit them. A world where HS people belong, thrive, and flourish, and the world is better for it.