Phone +49 160 9623 2547

Alexander Hohmann

Life Coach & Business Coach in Freiburg (Germany) & near Paris (France)

Many companies are looking out for collaborators who are conscientiously engaged workers, creative, with a good antenna for people and trends, who act in the service of the organisation or human collective instead of their own individual interests. and who are able to nourish regardful interactions with colleagues and customers. Perhaps you have a number of people in your organisation and have not yet really taken notice of them? Because they prefer not to attract attention? How about high sensitivity at the workplace and in organisations? How can managers and leaders handle highly sensitive people (HSP) when they have them in their team? Consider that 15 to 20% of all humans are HSP, with probably a quite similar proportion in your work environment - and a number of them do not even know they are HSP. Perhaps you are one of them yourself? And what does it mean for people in management and leadership positions to be highly sensitive? This page is about high sensitivity, also know as high sensory processing sensitivity or as high sensory intelligence, at the workplace and related to managing and leading people. For more background information on high sensitivity as a personality trait, please refer to this page: Coaching for Highly Sensitive People.

Essential features of highly sensitive people (HSP) at

the workplace

Everything has its upsides and downsides, including high sensitivity. The task at hand therefore is to create an environment in which the upsides find an optimal expression and the downsides weigh as little as possible. With the right organisational framework in place, high sensitivity can provide treasures beneficial to the whole organisation or group of humans. What are the characteristics of HSP companies and organisations have to reckon with? How can they do them justice through a favourable environment that allows HSP to give the best of themselves to the benefit of both the company and the worker? Intense Perceptivity Highly Sensitive Persons can sense moods, currents and trend before others even notice that something is coming up. Because the deep processing of this cognition requires some time and energy, it may be that in a meeting they are silent at first and observe. When they feel the environment is trustworthy, they open up. Give them (or yourself as an HSP) some time and to not trust first impressions. HSP can seem particularly distant and dry. That is self-protection. When they start to trust, they can show themselves from their warm and empathic sides. They then often become attentive, popular and estimated colleagues in their team or department. Creativity and Intuition - if those are welcome You can expect original and creative ways and solutions from HSP. However, especially the introvert HSP may keep those ideas for themselves if they are not invited to express them. Therefore, in meetings, a savvy meeting host will be careful to expressly invite those who are silent or soft-spoken to submit their point of view. Because that point of view may surprise - by originality, creativity and foresighted consideration of numerous factors and requirements. A keen meeting moderation of that sort is especially required in cultures that entertain reflexes of reacting in a more condescending way to high sensitivity (“here comes our softie again”). Conscientiousness Conscientiousness is one of the most frequent features among HSP. It is also one of the five personality traits in the “Big Five” personality model. HSP put the cause or the working goal of the team above their own ego (and have little sympathy for those who do it the other way round). This conscientiousness can dip into a perfectionism that then leads to exhaustion. In that case, a wise person around them could give them the feed-back that they have done well enough. Employers should consider that conscientiousness is in the psychological research the trait that most reliably predicts the future professional success of a young person. A good sense of the needs of other people improves the resilience of the group and the organisation, especially in times of “change” Biological evolution may well have produced high sensitivity to allow for early threat awareness and improve the survival of the group. Today, threats are more abstract and can well exist inside the group, not only outside. HSP can sense when something in the team or group is preparing to get out of hand. They can become active earlier on and warn others while challenges are still moderate and thus more easy to meet. This increases the resilience of the team, group or whole organisation. The downside can be that HSP lose sight of their own needs. They then paradoxically need to be reminded that they have needs (and allowed to have them). Good listeners improve customer satisfaction and revenue HSP can recognize needs not only among their own group. They can also empathise with the concrete needs of customers - perhaps even including needs the customer is not yet aware of. This is particularly important while defining customer requirements, or in any profession where customers have to formulate their particular needs so that the company can meet them adequately. Customers then feel better understood. The concerted requirements lead to a project outcome that meets customer expectations. That in turn has direct effect on turnover and the company’s reputation in the market. Other professions depending on an attentive interaction with people gain an added quality if high sensitivity is involved - e.g. professions that have to do with healing or care, or talent management. Integration of various viewpoints HSP often have a quality that seems to get lost out of sight sometimes. They can remain open to diverse viewpoints and take them into account instead of opposing them. Even if criticism can have a harsh effect on HSP, it is rather rare that their ego will stand in the way of admitting mistakes or blind them to other perspectives. So HSP could constitute a certain immune system to polarisation. Tasks that have to do with integrating multiple viewpoints and diversity are in quite good hands with HSP. Risk behaviour and planning Highly sensitive people often seem quite risk-averse. It would be more accurate to say that they do not like unplanned risks. If they have the opportunity and time to do some planning and split big change into smaller steps, in the end they can go as far as others with change. Actually, HSP are often good planners. They think of possible contingencies others do not think of. So it is a good idea to charge HSP with planning tasks or at least ensure that HSP are part of the planning team and that their views matter. And when bigger change is divided into smaller steps, the intervals in-between are a good opportunity to assess the current advancement of the current project and correct and validate it with the customers. Agile project methods make abundant use of turning bigger things into smaller bites and assessing them one after another. Especially risk management gets additional quality with HSP - if the the corporate culture does not disparage their concerns as annoying nagging. For instance, the big financial crisis that started 2007 was mostly a risk management crisis. The outcome shows that those who had doubts were right. They just were not being listened to. Conflict & competition Where conflicts, competition and perhaps even outright dog-eats-dog mentality are common, HSP will experience that as an unhealthy environment. Processing the intense unpleasant stimuli caused by such situations may lead to inner paralysis. Quite some of the potential of an HSP gets lost in such a climate. Work environment has a big impact on HSP Most HSP see the trend towards big open-plan offices and free choice of desk with some horror. (This is well described in Susan Cains classic “Quiet”, where she talks about introversion but actually describes non-extrovert highly sensitive people - see Dr. Elain Aron’s article on the topic here.) If there is much movement and noise in the room, HSP have a hard time shutting out these distracting stimuli. Too much light or cold light can also be unpleasant to them. If smaller office or individual rooms are not possible, companies may at least propose part of the offices with rules for quiet work, like leaving the room for conversations or phone calls. HSP experiencing continuous malaise in their work environment should talk to their management and, if no change is possible, consider finding another position in the company or elsewhere. Lack of self-esteem and self-assurance (“ego”) Many HSP share a certain lack of self-esteem and self-assurance, although this tends to get better with age. Once HSP have found their place or path or vocation, they can be more relaxed. However, in our societies, this lack of “ego” is still often seen as a weakness and HSP can be cut off or even bullied by others. There can be some silent suffering hidden within a company or organisation. Organisations should keep an eye on that - in terms of corporate health management, but also out of humanity. And there may be a rethinking going on in parts of the business world: companies look for people who commit themselves to common goals and projects instead of using the company for their own ego. Temporary withdrawal and breaks Highly sensitive people need breaks to process the accumulated stimuli. Otherwise they reach nervous overwhelm and lose their productivity and resourcefulness. Interminable meetings or seminars without breaks can be very demanding on them, even if they only listen. Having a quiet place or room to withdraw to from time to time is helpful, even essential. How everything is connected - the bigger picture HSP often think out of the box of their immediate task or workplace and can see connections that elude others. If that is the case, it qualifies them for interdisciplinary assignments and staff positions covering related to various departments. When an HSP from another department comes to you to suggest some improvement, please do not immediately discard that as intrusive. Because it usually is meant with sincerity and can be quite reasonable. This HSP may have seen something nobody else saw. HSP often have a sense of the multiple connections between people and the larger environment. In times when workers claim more “meaning” at their workplace, it may be useful to ask HSP for their inspiration on how to bring meaning into the work at hand.

Are highly sensitive people well suited for

management and leadership?

First things first: Of course there is no clean answer to the above questions, since so much depends on the combination of the individual personality and the situation. And there is little research on it. An HSP who has created his or her own organisation can give it an HSP style from the beginning and therefore be very happy in the leading chair. Middle management however can be very demanding. In middle management, people can find themselves squeezed between contradictory demands from “above” and “below”. HSP often share a sense of balance and equalisation within the fabric of human interrelationships. But in management positions, that can be impossible at times. In management, HSP can find themselves having to apply instructions from above without being able to blind themselves to the human cost they cause. That can be highly taxing on them. Perhaps the “Vantage Sensitivity” rule applies here, too, as it does with HSP in their childhood: HSP blossom above average in a positive and stable environment, but negative stress and conflictual environments also take a toll above average on them. So an HSP manager or leader is probably best suited for an environment that is stable and where human interactions are essential. Fortunately this is something that companies pursue more actively today then they used to. When a crisis comes up and means change or restructuring, or if they have to reprimand or even discharge colleagues, then they can get stuck in the empathy trap. They have a hard time shutting off the consequences of their actions on their fellow humans. They can suffer deeply when relationships switch from being with each other to being against each other. HSP are not well suited for the “devil may care” management style. Once the crisis is mostly over, highly sensitive leaders can make a precious contribution to bringing back the social fabric in the organisation to a balance and healing the organisational “trauma”. They can foster the faster return of the company or organisation to a healthy way of operating instead of having it remaining in a sort of “post-traumatic” numbness. Something similar can be seen with animals: When a threat approaches the herd, the highly sensitive individuals raise an alarm before the other members of the herd become aware of the danger. The whole herd then starts moving - including those who did not see the threat. Then the rather non-highly sensitive parts of the herd go into defence mode and repel the threat. Once the environment is peaceful again, the herd finds back into a more relaxed configuration. For a leader or manager (or a to-be leader or manager) to adapt to these various circumstances and solve tensions between situation and personality, seeing a coach can fully make sense. Because leadership positions bring up lots of questions that the leader understandably does not want to discuss with the team. And to be honest, in higher hierarchical positions, one does not always want to discuss them with more senior people. This is where a neutral view from the outside helps.
Ruhige Achtsamkeit im Park von Versailles

Alexander Hohmann

Life & Business Coach in

Freiburg or online

Certified Systemic Coach

(DE / EN / FR)

Many companies are looking out for collaborators who are conscientiously engaged workers, creative, with a good antenna for people and trends, who act in the service of the organisation or human collective instead of their own individual interests. and who are able to nourish regardful interactions with colleagues and customers. Perhaps you have a number of people in your organisation and have not yet really taken notice of them? Because they prefer not to attract attention? How about high sensitivity at the workplace and in organisations? How can managers and leaders handle highly sensitive people (HSP) when they have them in their team? Consider that 15 to 20% of all humans are HSP, with probably a quite similar proportion in your work environment - and a number of them do not even know they are HSP. Perhaps you are one of them yourself? And what does it mean for people in management and leadership positions to be highly sensitive? This page is about high sensitivity, also know as high sensory processing sensitivity or as high sensory intelligence, at the workplace and related to managing and leading people. For more background information on high sensitivity as a personality trait, please refer to this page: Coaching for Highly Sensitive People.

Essential features of highly

sensitive people (HSP) at the

workplace

Everything has its upsides and downsides, including high sensitivity. The task at hand therefore is to create an environment in which the upsides find an optimal expression and the downsides weigh as little as possible. With the right organisational framework in place, high sensitivity can provide treasures beneficial to the whole organisation or group of humans. What are the characteristics of HSP companies and organisations have to reckon with? How can they do them justice through a favourable environment that allows HSP to give the best of themselves to the benefit of both the company and the worker? Intense Perceptivity Highly Sensitive Persons can sense moods, currents and trend before others even notice that something is coming up. Because the deep processing of this cognition requires some time and energy, it may be that in a meeting they are silent at first and observe. When they feel the environment is trustworthy, they open up. Give them (or yourself as an HSP) some time and to not trust first impressions. HSP can seem particularly distant and dry. That is self-protection. When they start to trust, they can show themselves from their warm and empathic sides. They then often become attentive, popular and estimated colleagues in their team or department. Creativity and Intuition - if those are welcome You can expect original and creative ways and solutions from HSP. However, especially the introvert HSP may keep those ideas for themselves if they are not invited to express them. Therefore, in meetings, a savvy meeting host will be careful to expressly invite those who are silent or soft-spoken to submit their point of view. Because that point of view may surprise - by originality, creativity and foresighted consideration of numerous factors and requirements. A keen meeting moderation of that sort is especially required in cultures that entertain reflexes of reacting in a more condescending way to high sensitivity (“here comes our softie again”). Conscientiousness Conscientiousness is one of the most frequent features among HSP. It is also one of the five personality traits in the “Big Five” personality model. HSP put the cause or the working goal of the team above their own ego (and have little sympathy for those who do it the other way round). This conscientiousness can dip into a perfectionism that then leads to exhaustion. In that case, a wise person around them could give them the feed-back that they have done well enough. Employers should consider that conscientiousness is in the psychological research the trait that most reliably predicts the future professional success of a young person. A good sense of the needs of other people improves the resilience of the group and the organisation, especially in times of “change” Biological evolution may well have produced high sensitivity to allow for early threat awareness and improve the survival of the group. Today, threats are more abstract and can well exist inside the group, not only outside. HSP can sense when something in the team or group is preparing to get out of hand. They can become active earlier on and warn others while challenges are still moderate and thus more easy to meet. This increases the resilience of the team, group or whole organisation. The downside can be that HSP lose sight of their own needs. They then paradoxically need to be reminded that they have needs (and allowed to have them). Good listeners improve customer satisfaction and revenue HSP can recognize needs not only among their own group. They can also empathise with the concrete needs of customers - perhaps even including needs the customer is not yet aware of. This is particularly important while defining customer requirements, or in any profession where customers have to formulate their particular needs so that the company can meet them adequately. Customers then feel better understood. The concerted requirements lead to a project outcome that meets customer expectations. That in turn has direct effect on turnover and the company’s reputation in the market. Other professions depending on an attentive interaction with people gain an added quality if high sensitivity is involved - e.g. professions that have to do with healing or care, or talent management. Integration of various viewpoints HSP often have a quality that seems to get lost out of sight sometimes. They can remain open to diverse viewpoints and take them into account instead of opposing them. Even if criticism can have a harsh effect on HSP, it is rather rare that their ego will stand in the way of admitting mistakes or blind them to other perspectives. So HSP could constitute a certain immune system to polarisation. Tasks that have to do with integrating multiple viewpoints and diversity are in quite good hands with HSP. Risk behaviour and planning Highly sensitive people often seem quite risk-averse. It would be more accurate to say that they do not like unplanned risks. If they have the opportunity and time to do some planning and split big change into smaller steps, in the end they can go as far as others with change. Actually, HSP are often good planners. They think of possible contingencies others do not think of. So it is a good idea to charge HSP with planning tasks or at least ensure that HSP are part of the planning team and that their views matter. And when bigger change is divided into smaller steps, the intervals in- between are a good opportunity to assess the current advancement of the current project and correct and validate it with the customers. Agile project methods make abundant use of turning bigger things into smaller bites and assessing them one after another. Especially risk management gets additional quality with HSP - if the the corporate culture does not disparage their concerns as annoying nagging. For instance, the big financial crisis that started 2007 was mostly a risk management crisis. The outcome shows that those who had doubts were right. They just were not being listened to. Conflict & competition Where conflicts, competition and perhaps even outright dog-eats-dog mentality are common, HSP will experience that as an unhealthy environment. Processing the intense unpleasant stimuli caused by such situations may lead to inner paralysis. Quite some of the potential of an HSP gets lost in such a climate. Work environment has a big impact on HSP Most HSP see the trend towards big open- plan offices and free choice of desk with some horror. (This is well described in Susan Cains classic “Quiet”, where she talks about introversion but actually describes non- extrovert highly sensitive people - see Dr. Elain Aron’s article on the topic here.) If there is much movement and noise in the room, HSP have a hard time shutting out these distracting stimuli. Too much light or cold light can also be unpleasant to them. If smaller office or individual rooms are not possible, companies may at least propose part of the offices with rules for quiet work, like leaving the room for conversations or phone calls. HSP experiencing continuous malaise in their work environment should talk to their management and, if no change is possible, consider finding another position in the company or elsewhere. Lack of self-esteem and self-assurance (“ego”) Many HSP share a certain lack of self-esteem and self-assurance, although this tends to get better with age. Once HSP have found their place or path or vocation, they can be more relaxed. However, in our societies, this lack of “ego” is still often seen as a weakness and HSP can be cut off or even bullied by others. There can be some silent suffering hidden within a company or organisation. Organisations should keep an eye on that - in terms of corporate health management, but also out of humanity. And there may be a rethinking going on in parts of the business world: companies look for people who commit themselves to common goals and projects instead of using the company for their own ego. Temporary withdrawal and breaks Highly sensitive people need breaks to process the accumulated stimuli. Otherwise they reach nervous overwhelm and lose their productivity and resourcefulness. Interminable meetings or seminars without breaks can be very demanding on them, even if they only listen. Having a quiet place or room to withdraw to from time to time is helpful, even essential. How everything is connected - the bigger picture HSP often think out of the box of their immediate task or workplace and can see connections that elude others. If that is the case, it qualifies them for interdisciplinary assignments and staff positions covering related to various departments. When an HSP from another department comes to you to suggest some improvement, please do not immediately discard that as intrusive. Because it usually is meant with sincerity and can be quite reasonable. This HSP may have seen something nobody else saw. HSP often have a sense of the multiple connections between people and the larger environment. In times when workers claim more “meaning” at their workplace, it may be useful to ask HSP for their inspiration on how to bring meaning into the work at hand.

Are highly sensitive people

well suited for management

and leadership?

First things first: Of course there is no clean answer to the above questions, since so much depends on the combination of the individual personality and the situation. And there is little research on it. An HSP who has created his or her own organisation can give it an HSP style from the beginning and therefore be very happy in the leading chair. Middle management however can be very demanding. In middle management, people can find themselves squeezed between contradictory demands from “above” and “below”. HSP often share a sense of balance and equalisation within the fabric of human interrelationships. But in management positions, that can be impossible at times. In management, HSP can find themselves having to apply instructions from above without being able to blind themselves to the human cost they cause. That can be highly taxing on them. Perhaps the “Vantage Sensitivity” rule applies here, too, as it does with HSP in their childhood: HSP blossom above average in a positive and stable environment, but negative stress and conflictual environments also take a toll above average on them. So an HSP manager or leader is probably best suited for an environment that is stable and where human interactions are essential. Fortunately this is something that companies pursue more actively today then they used to. When a crisis comes up and means change or restructuring, or if they have to reprimand or even discharge colleagues, then they can get stuck in the empathy trap. They have a hard time shutting off the consequences of their actions on their fellow humans. They can suffer deeply when relationships switch from being with each other to being against each other. HSP are not well suited for the “devil may care” management style. Once the crisis is mostly over, highly sensitive leaders can make a precious contribution to bringing back the social fabric in the organisation to a balance and healing the organisational “trauma”. They can foster the faster return of the company or organisation to a healthy way of operating instead of having it remaining in a sort of “post-traumatic” numbness. Something similar can be seen with animals: When a threat approaches the herd, the highly sensitive individuals raise an alarm before the other members of the herd become aware of the danger. The whole herd then starts moving - including those who did not see the threat. Then the rather non-highly sensitive parts of the herd go into defence mode and repel the threat. Once the environment is peaceful again, the herd finds back into a more relaxed configuration. For a leader or manager (or a to-be leader or manager) to adapt to these various circumstances and solve tensions between situation and personality, seeing a coach can fully make sense. Because leadership positions bring up lots of questions that the leader understandably does not want to discuss with the team. And to be honest, in higher hierarchical positions, one does not always want to discuss them with more senior people. This is where a neutral view from the outside helps.
HSP - High Sensitivity at the workplace, in Business, Management and Leadership

High Sensitivity at the workplace,

in Management and Leadership