How to Communicate With a Highly Sensitive Person
Simple ways to bridge different personalities and embrace a closer relationship
We probably all know someone that unintentionally makes us feel like we’re walking on eggshells while wearing stiletto heels. I definitely have a few people in my life who misinterpret everything, are easily offended and quick to react.
But before we decide to write off the relationship there are a few tips that may help us understand and better relate with a highly sensitive person.
In her Psychology Today article ‘The HSP Relationship Dilemma’; Deborah Ward suggests a highly sensitive person can often be a ‘breath of fresh air’ to those who appreciate authenticity. The highly sensitive person curses superficiality and there is not a narcissistic bone in their body. If you take the time to learn more about your person, you may discover many wonderful traits they possess.
If we know a certain behaviour prompts negative reactions then we should respect that boundary. Our person is sensitive to tone and body language and will pick up on subtle expressions and connotations of negativity. Even if this tone isn’t directed towards them, they will take it personally.
Pay attention to their body language
This may be obvious, but recognizing defensive reactions could be your cue to back down and change the subject. This could be a good time to take mental note of what appeared to be a sensitive topic and revisit the topic in the future from a different approach. This approach will then be from an understanding position, as you are now aware of its sensitive nature. Understanding your person is a key quality in communication. This is also a good time to remember their personal triggers and try to avoid them in future communication.
Keep lines of communication open
It is still important however to keep communication with your person open. Even though they are highly sensitive, they are still reasonable. It’s possible with the right approach to ask them what they appreciate or do not appreciate in communication. As such, you can also let them know aspects you appreciate. Open communication can be beneficial in a relationship with a highly sensitive person.
Use the sandwich approach
When we communicate with a highly sensitive person, we must try to remember to keep our approach non-confrontational. Start off with an earnest internal compliment such as “The way you… is such a great quality”, then ease into the subject at hand. Then perhaps rather than saying “you are…” try to say “I noticed that… “ or “Is their another way I could…” Be gentle with your approach but not patronizing. They may be sensitive, but they are not less intelligent. This goes back to keeping communication open; basically hearing them and understanding their style of communication. You could end the conversation by bringing up another good quality your person has.
Don’t invalidate their emotions
Another essential aspect to keep in mind when communicating with a sensitive individual is to never invalidate their emotions. Nothing will feel more dehumanizing than believing their feelings are irrelevant. Even if we don’t understand the nature of their sensitivity, it doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Try to visit their perspective. It could make a difference. Their emotions are real, just as real as the emotions we experience in our own upsetting situations.
Plan out heavy conversations
It’s beneficial to plan out these conversations when both parties are at their best. Approaching a sensitive topic when either of you are tired, or had a bad day is not the best time. Prepare a relaxing environment with low external stimulation. I know from first hand experience with my person that environment, timing and delivery can make the difference between a mutually pleasant and understanding conversation and a defensive all out battle. The former is so much better..
Keep emotions level
It’s important not to overstimulate the highly sensitive person. That also means to tone down overly excited behaviour as well. They like calm situations, and loud, gregarious emotions could trigger them. According to Elizabeth Fox Butler, PsyD. the highly sensitive person’s sensory processing is more accelerated, and they tend to delve into fight or flight mode faster easier than others. This would explain their reactive nature towards certain stimuli.
Time to process
Ultimately when all is said and done, it’s important to give your person time to process the discussion. If they seem flustered just give them time to explain their thoughts. Show interest and attentiveness. This will go a long way with your person.
A highly sensitive person likes to be validated and understood like everyone else. Their sensory processing and reaction may be quicker, but they still have social needs and a desire for communication. If we learn to communicate in a mutually beneficial manner then we could build a deeper bonding experience, one with appreciation for their individuality, and one that fosters a rewarding relationship for years to come.
Please feel free to browse some of my other articles on social awareness and self improvement.
Advice for Long Distance Relationships in the Era of Self Isolation
A discussion on ways couples can remain close while separated by closed borders and travel restrictions
Harvard Encourages Mindfulness Meditation for Anxiety
Scientists show mindfulness based stress reduction techniques reduce anxiety disorder symptoms
Thank-you for reading! You can find me at Lifestyle by Design!