Embrace your sensitivity, and control it.
If you’ve ever been told “Don’t be sensitive” or “You’re being too sensitive” this is for you.
Sensitivity is a beautiful thing, in life and at work. Sadly, while the word sensitive is a positive for parenting; it’s a negative for work.
Have you ever heard someone congratulated for their sensitivity at work?
Show me someone who has, and I’ll show you a liar.
Sensitive mothers are perceived as exemplary. They nurture, protect, sympathize and empathize. It’s one of the great maternal instincts.
Sensitive employees are perceived as weak. The word is associated with overreactions, over analysis, tears, and generally unproductive behavior.
I think this is fubar. I have my sensitivity to thank for my career growth. Here’s why:
Being sensitive makes me work my ass off. As a lifelong sufferer of imposter syndrome, I come to work every day excited, and also expecting to get fired. I internalize every reaction to my work, verbal and non. I know when something is mediocre — be it a delay responding in chat after I’ve shared something, a glance in a different direction mid conversation, or even a “hmm” or a sigh, all of these things are signals I see because I’m sensitive to them. And then I try harder.
Being sensitive makes me a great manager. I make it my #1 priority to support the people that work for me. I watch everything they do and say. I know before they’re ready to tell me if they’re unhappy. I know if they need a lot of elbow room, and I sit back and let them lead and manage me. I make it easy to have hard conversations by drawing things out. There are emotional aspects of work that can affect your psyche and I respond to the signals.
Being sensitive makes me a great leader. I care about the wellbeing of those around me. I build relationships through making time to connect with my colleagues. When they’re down I ask if everything’s ok; when they’re elated I ask what’s up. While my hard work lets me lead by example, my sensitivity makes me someone worth following.
The definition of sensitive is:
“quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences.”
As far as I can tell, that’s a positive.
Here’s the rub: Sensitivity is a superpower. Like all superpowers, you need to learn to harness and control it.
I’m sensitive. That means the same feeling that allows me to do my best work can also lead me to my worst work.
How do you harness and control sensitivity?
I’m a work in progress, but I also have an easy framework for separating positive and negative sensitivity. Positive being sensitivity that yields great things, negative… you get it.
I once saw my sister-in-law ask my nephew, “Mason, do you want to make a happy choice, or a sad choice?” It’s amazing how much this two-second question has helped me.
When you’re having an emotional reaction, control how it shows itself by asking yourself: “Do I want to make a happy choice, or a sad choice?”
Sad choices on emotional reactions allow for outbursts, complaints, and generally getting overly worked up about things. They let people know what makes you tick. They let people know how to manipulate you. They can also severely affect your reputation and career.
Harness your sensitivity. Indulge the urge that make you curious about your colleagues state of mind. Overanalyze the response of others to your work, and make it better. Care for your employees and take care of them. Be an effective and empathetic leader worth following.
If you’ve been told “You’re being too sensitive” find a way to embrace it.
If you catch yourself telling someone “You’re being too sensitive,” I hope I’ve made you think.