How can you tell whether someone has a Responsive (Highly Sensitive) temperament?
If you'd like to know how to pick out who in your workplace has this temperament, here are some clues - things you might notice in a person.
Whether you notice these things depends on your perceptiveness, as well; so you might not be aware of all of them. You need to know a person well enough to pick up on a lot of these indicators.
If you've noticed a few of these factors in colleagues, then it's likely they have a Highly Sensitive temperament. If you've noticed most or all of them in a person - as you're reading, someone comes strongly to mind - then it's highly likely they're HS/Responsive.
What next? It depends why you want to know. Just being aware that they act this way because they have a temperament which influences their experience of the world can help you to interact more effectively with them. You can realise that when they take longer to complete a task than you would have, it's not because they're slow or unskilled or not aware of other factors, but because they're doing a really good job of it. When they don't want to join in the talk about the latest violent show, it's not because they're unsociable or aloof, but because they're disturbed by it, and haven't watched it.
If you're a team leader, manager, or executive, being aware of who in your team is Responsive/HS will help you assign the right work to the right people, to be understanding of different needs, and to use the skills that these HS people demonstrate.
But if you want to go further - if you want to really harness the strengths and potential of those who are Highly Sensitive in your workplace; if you want to use those strengths to transform the effectiveness of your team and the innovation and foresight of your organisation; if you want to make sure that these team members are thriving at work, not just surviving - then here's what you can do:
What do you have to lose? Knowing this, and acting on it, will only have a positive effect. No harm will come of it, you will not waste resources, and so much good can result if you do act.
Photo credits: 1 - Bruce Mars, Unsplash; 3 - Anete Lusina, Pexels
What is different about people with a Responsive (Highly Sensitive) temperament?
What is so fundamentally different between Responsive (a.k.a. Highly Sensitive) and Unresponsive temperaments? Why do people who are Responsive in temperament, in fact, need anything different - in the way their workplace (or classroom) is set up, or how managers (or teachers) approach working with them?
Let me explain (you can also read my posts about gifts of sensitivity, brain differences, benefits of thriving HS people in workplaces and why you need them on your team, and other differences)- the differences, and the consequences.
The main differences
These are the basic drivers of differences between sensitive and non-sensitive/ responsive and unresponsive temperaments.
This results in:
1. Greater awareness
- what’s going on around them
- what might happen soon
- how things are interacting and are likely to interact to produce results
2. Increased insight/perceptiveness
- how things come together to make sense
- emotional states of other people, and what those might lead to
- what has led to current situations
- how to resolve the problems in those situations
- how to avoid potential problems
- how to get desired results
- a desire to do what one is doing very well
- (due to) understanding why doing something well is important, and the consequences of not
- self-motivated, because they see the reasons for doing or not doing something – can perceive consequences, meaning, etc.
- aware of others’ emotional states, what might have led to them, and how to approach them
- awareness of the experience of others
- awareness of how a person might have arrived at a conclusion
- can place another person’s position on a matter within their map of reality
- awareness of many things means more connections to be made
- deep processing leads to many connections
- those connections result in creative – different – ideas
It also means:
1. Responsive people are overwhelmed by too much data at once
- they have a great capacity to absorb information, but because they are taking in so much, it needs time to process; too much at once overwhelms their system
2. The deep processing their nervous system does needs time, and sufficient calm and quiet.
- thinking on the spot in unfamiliar situations isn’t one of their gifts
- coming up with wise and valuable insights when that information has had the time and space to be processed is one of their gifts
3. Without this time and space to process the large amount of data they take in, the above desirable results are minimised (or halted, depending on the severity of the lack of time and space).
Importance of understanding this:
With conditions which nurture/support the way their temperament works, HS/Responsive people can give forth all of their gifts, as listed above.
With conditions which counter the way their temperament works, their responsiveness is unable to be effective. It turns, instead, into a liability, and they suffer deeply for it.
1. Provide as many ‘right’ conditions as possible. Result:
This is not a threat; it's an opportunity – an invitation to something better. The excellence we can create together – Sensitive and non-Sensitive/ Responsive and Unresponsive.
I've written a few posts about what High Sensitivity is; this infographic summarises the main points about the temperament. It's an easily-shareable resource that can be used to give someone a quick overview, when you need to present the idea, such as before suggesting a workshop for your workplace.
I'm including a link to the file below the image, so you can download and share it, as needed. I hope you find this resource useful - and interesting!
What is High Sensitivity?
Maybe you've been wondering what High Sensitivity is, and want to get an idea of the basics. In this post, I'll explain those basics, hopefully in a clear and simple way. This has been done by many others, but it's always useful to have a good explanation to hand. You can find similar information on the FAQ page, and the first post for this blog was about where to find reliable information about High Sensitivity, especially as it relates to the workplace.
High Sensitivity is a genetic temperament found in 15-20% of people and many animal species. That means about 1 in 5 people have this temperament - so you almost certainly know someone who is Highly Sensitive, if you're not yourself.
It was first researched, as a discrete phenomenon, by Elaine and Arthur Aron, psychologists at Stony Brook University in New York. Studies from the beginning of the history of psychology recognised some traits, but either misinterpreted them or attributed them to personality. Elaine's book, The Highly Sensitive Person, published in 1997, is the book which shared the results of their research for the general public, and is the perfect introduction to the temperament for anyone who is Highly Sensitive or has friends or family who are. It's also a great resource for managers and other workplace leaders who need to understand their team members so they can better harness their strengths.
Observing, considering, and reflecting
There are two basic elements to this temperament, out of which all the observable traits arise: observation/awareness, and deep processing.
Highly Sensitive people are what biologists call 'Responsive'. They are, first, highly aware (sensitive to the environment). They take in more information through their senses than those who are non-Sensitive ('Unresponsive'). Not only are they taking in more generally, they're very aware of subtleties. So, they won't just see that someone looks a bit upset, but will notice the set of their mouth, the expression in their eyes, what their hands are doing, the tone of their voice, and the speed at which they're talking.
Secondly, Highly Sensitive people process this information deeply. They're both taking in much more, and processing that increased input more deeply than the rest of the population. This makes sense, given that large amount of data their nervous system has absorbed - it needs more time and care to analyse. During this process, many connections are being formed, gradations of meaning and value are determined, and appropriate responses developed.
Here's how Elaine Aron describes these two basic aspects:
This trait is mainly about having an innate preference to process information more deeply, to compare the present situation as completely as possible to your knowledge of similar situations in the past. It's found in about twenty percent of humans, and it's also found in most other species, ... often in around that percentage.... [E]volution selects for it, not against it.
Definitely a needed ability in the world, wouldn't you say? This refined perception and propensity for thinking before acting is the main reason that High Sensitivity is such an important - essential - trait among humans and other species. Highly Sensitive individuals provide both the innovation and carefulness that societies need to progress in beneficial ways, while maintaining balance.
The Arons describe High Sensitivity's main characteristics with the acronym 'D.O.E.S.', which I'll explain here - I've listed them in the order I find most logical.
For a person to be Highly Sensitive, they must have all of these four characteristics:
If you'd like to see if you're Highly Sensitive, you can take this self-test, developed by Elaine Aron and colleagues: https://hsperson.com/ (this is a page explaining the temperament; you can reach the test from here. There's also a test for children). Another good article by Dr Aron helps you determine whether you are Highly Sensitive.
I have other posts dealing with the benefits which come from this temperament - and the importance of helping those who are Highly Sensitive to thrive at work - so keep browsing, or bookmark the main blog page for later.
I've made a list of what High Sensitivity IS and ISN'T - since there are various myths or misconceptions around about it. You can get it by clicking the button below. No sign-up required - this is a direct link to the file.
You can use this list for your own reference, and/or to help those in your workplace understand what High Sensitivity actually is - and bust some myths they might believe about it.
Often, what we see in Highly Sensitive people is the result of too much unhelpful stimulation - that state of being overwhelmed. But this is a really poor indicator of what High Sensitivity is. And the reason they get there is because they're living in a world set up for everyone who's non-Sensitive. So what, really, is this temperament? What are its gifts - and how do we recognise them and allow them to flourish?
In this recording, I discuss the following:
- alternative terms for the Highly Sensitive temperament (*note: Willow MacIntosh - I couldn't think of his name at the time - is the champion of the term 'High Sensory Intelligence' mentioned here. He's the founder of a company called 'Inluminance', which works to help people with this temperament use their gifts in the world)
- misunderstandings about what sensitivity means
- what it actually means
- how the Sensitive temperament leads to unique gifts (an insight into the process)
- why it's in everyone's best interests to help Highly Sensitive people to thrive
- where the overstimulation that's often the most visible feature of the temperament comes from - and why this isn't what their 'sensitivity' is really about
- how to see past this: my goal
- benefits and reasons for reducing unhelpful stimulation for HS people at work
This recording was made using my computer's microphone, in the middle of summer, so there's fan noise in the background. I hope it's not too distracting - I think it is at first, and then you become used to it. As I don't have a dedicated podcast, I'm not focusing on recordings and don't have a separate microphone. For now, the message is the most important thing. I hope that message comes across, despite the imperfect nature of the recording.
There are two options for listening: the weblink below to the track on SoundCloud, and a downloadable audio file.
I also have a list of myths and facts about High Sensitivity, which you can view, and download, via the button below (no sign-up required - this is a direct link to the file).
You can save or print this, and use it for your own reference when working with Highly Sensitive people. You can also provide it to managers and other leaders when explaining the concept to them, as you work to get them on board for helping Highly Sensitive people thrive in your workplace.
(If you’ve heard any others not on this list, let me know – if they fit, I’ll add them)
High Sensitivity is a group of traits that make up a temperament shared by about 20% of people.
There are a lot of things that go into any one genetic trait, so there are a huge number of factors which affect what High Sensitivity is and how it works. I want to share just a few that I think are easy to understand and really interesting.
1. Dopamine - this is your 'reward' chemical. You probably know that it affects motivation and feelings of accomplishment or reward. It also works with each person differently. A Highly Sensitive person is driven less by external rewards and more by internal rewards; so they will be more motivated to avoid certain situations, like loud parties or crowded places, and seek out others, like natural settings and calm environments. These are the things which allow them to process well and use their gifts positively, while those they're motivated to avoid are the things which depress their gifts and overwhelm their senses.
2. Mirror neurons - these are what help us to understand and be empathetic towards others. We observe people and compare our takings with our own experience. These neurons are more active in HS people, along with other areas that process social and emotional data. This means high levels of compassion and empathy, along with a lot of concern about and interest in others' wellbeing. It allows them to be insightful and caring about others' experience.
3. Emotional regulation - the vividness of a person's experience during emotional moments is increased in HS people, meaning they feel things more strongly/vividly than others in response to their environment. Now, we all feel things deeply/strongly at various times; this doesn't mean that HS people are the only ones to experience things deeply. What it does mean is that they experience them more vividly. They're having an immersive experience while someone else is having a pleasant time.
4. Awareness - Highly Sensitive people are more alert and conscious - more aware - in various situations, especially those involving others. In the brain, this can be seen as more activity in the cingulate and insula, which are responsible for consciousness and moment-to-moment awareness.
Information adapted from 4 Brain Differences of Highly Sensitive People
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.