How to be more sensitive for an emotionally insensitive person

JILL AVERY-STOSS

You may be accused of being insensitive when your teasing brings a younger sibling to tears, or when you fail to acknowledge the thoughtfulness and hard work your mother put into making your birthday present. Disregard for others’ emotional and physical well-being, even when unintentional, can hinder your ability to connect with them and stunt your personal growth. Practicing simple steps can help you become more sensitive.

Explore this article

  • Listen to Others
  • Empathize with Others
  • Offer Support
  • Set Healthy Boundaries

1 Listen to Others

Listening to someone involves more than hearing the words coming out of her mouth. Pay attention to the emotion with which the words are spoken. You may also detect hesitancy or anticipation. Body language — such as facial expressions, gestures and posture — are telling.Tuning in to these cues can help you respond appropriately. To be sure that you understand, reflect what you’ve heard her say: “The time I’ve spent with my friends in the last month has made you feel neglected and unimportant. It sounds like you’re pretty angry too.”

2 Empathize with Others

Practice empathy by imagining how you might feel if you were experiencing another person’s emotions, successes or problems. It is a way of emotionally identifying, according to EQI.org, an online resource that offers information on emotional intelligence. You may never have been the victim of robbery, for instance, but might have a sense of the violation that accompanies such a crime. You can be more sensitive to her needs and concerns by relating to her with empathy.

3 Offer Support

Supporting someone requires that you pay attention to and empathize with what is being said — and respond appropriately. You can say, “I’m sorry for your loss. I am here to help in any way necessary,” or “Congratulations! Would you like to celebrate?” Being supportive and sensitive to others “is to not invalidate their feelings by belittling, diminishing, rejecting, judging or ignoring them,” according to EQI.org. It would be insensitive, then, to say, “Stop overreacting. It isn’t that bad,” or, “What a stupid idea! You’re very foolish.”

4 Set Healthy Boundaries

Personal boundaries are limits you set in order to protect yourself and require respect from others. For example, your boundaries may include intolerance of name-calling or a policy of not lending money to others. Setting healthy boundaries is beneficial to your well-being and can protect others as well. It “makes you a safe person. People know where they stand with you,” according to Johnson State College Counseling Center in Vermont. A poor boundary might be to allow someone to believe you are interested in her romantically, when you are not. A more sensitive approach would be to clearly indicate your intentions for the relationship.

If you consider yourself to be an emotionally sensitive person, you know exactly how brutal the world can be.

Emotional sensitivity is often perceived as weakness – because emotionalism is thought to be less rational than logic. The truth is, as an emotionally sensitive person, you don’t have a choice. Dr. Elaine Aron, a psychotherapist and researcher, estimates that 15-20% of people experience emotions and stimuli on a much deeper level than others. There is nothing wrong with feeling things on a deeper level than most people. Anytime I consider my own emotionality in my life’s journey I think of a line from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: ““I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”
There is nothing wrong with feeling things on a deeper level than most people. Anytime I consider my own emotionality in my life’s journey I think of a line from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: ““I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”

In this world of fast-paced, digital, emotionless human interaction – here are some things to keep in mind if you are an emotionally sensitive person:

Maintain “Boundaries” not “Walls”

The old adage “no pain – no gain” seems to be how people these days tackle emotional situations. As an emotional person, it is so easy to just construct impenetrable walls to prevent the possibilities of emotional damage. But what kind of existence is that? Shutting down your connections to other people just leaves you emptier in the end.
Maintaining a comfort zone and allowing people into your world on your own terms at least gives you the opportunity to open up to people, just on your terms.

Quit Looking for a “Fix”

Being emotionally sensitive isn’t a flaw. It is not some condition that you need to be medicated to fix, or some psychosis that requires treatment. In scientific terms, Sensory Processing Sensitivity just means that you think deeply, you feel deeply, and you are easily over-stimulated. There is nothing wrong with that.

Seek out Other Sensitive Souls

By taking solace in other kindred spirits that share the same emotional sensitivity that you are is like having another member on your team. Seek out people that understand your struggles, and share common views. Having someone in your life that is in the same boat you are can often be the best way to move forward through the world.

Stop Suppressing your Sensitivity

A lot of times, because emotionally sensitive people consider themselves “broken”, they try to suppress their unique emotional situation to fit in. Maintaining a zombie-like existence is soul-crushing. Be yourself, and don’t let other people make you feel weird for the fact that you feel more than they do.

Maintain Healthy Habits for Yourself

One of the keys to maintaining a healthy mind is to maintain a healthy body. I know for me, when I am overwhelmed emotionally, I tend to seek out comforts in unhealthy ways. Be it comfort food, extreme sessions at the gym, alcohol, or other self-destructive behaviors, they all add up. Don’t let your emotional weight become an unbearable burden on your body, because that just creates a vicious cycle. Doing thinks like meditating or writing out your thoughts is often times so much more rewarding than trying to sweat out or drown your emotions.

Highly sensitive people often “feel too much” and “feel too deep.”

THE BASICS

  • Are You a Highly Sensitive Person?
  • Find a therapist near me

How to be more sensitive for an emotionally insensitive person

Are you a highly sensitive person? Do you know someone in your personal or professional life who may be highly sensitive? High sensitivity can be defined as acute physical, mental, and emotional responses to external (social, environmental) or internal (intra-personal) stimuli. A highly sensitive person may be an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere in between.

Although there are many positive aspects of being a sensitive person (such as greater ability to listen and affirm, greater empathy and intuitiveness, better understanding of others’ wants and needs, etc.), in this writing we will focus on aspects of high sensitivity which adversely affect one’s health, happiness and success, and often complicate relationships. Below are 24 signs of a highly sensitive person, with excerpts from my books: “Are You Highly Sensitive? How to Gain Immunity, Peace, and Self-Mastery” and “How to Communicate Effectively with Highly Sensitive People”. These traits are organized into three major categories: Sensitivity About Oneself, Sensitivity About Others, and Sensitivity About One’s Environment.

While many people may experience some of these signs from time to time, a highly sensitive person will likely “feel too much” and “feel too deep.” Some individuals may be highly sensitive to just one or two stimuli, while others may be strongly affected by more on the list.

Category One: Sensitivity About Oneself

1. Often has difficulty letting go of negative thoughts and emotions

2. Frequently feels physical symptoms (i.e. stress or headache) when something unpleasant happens during the day

3. Often has bad days that affect eating and/or sleeping habits in an unhealthy way, such as eating or sleeping too much or too little

4. Often experiences tension or anxiety

5. Tends to “beat oneself up” when falling short of own expectations

6. Is afraid of rejection, even in relatively minor situations

7. Compares self with others often (in physical, relational, social, work, financial, or other scenarios), and experiences unhappy feelings from negative social comparison

8. Often feels anger or resentment about situations in life or in society which seem unjust, aggravating, or simply annoying

Category Two: Sensitivity About Others

9. Often thinks/worries about what others are thinking

10. Tends to take things personally

11. Finds it difficult, when triggered by relatively small unpleasantness with people, to just “let it go”

12. Feels hurt easily

13. Often hides negative feelings, believing they are too strong, turbulent, embarrassing or vulnerable to share; keeps a lot of negative emotions inside

14. Alternatively, often discusses negative emotions with others because there’s a lot of “drama” in one’s life

15. Has a hard time accepting critical feedback, even when it’s given reasonably and constructively

16. Often feels like people are judgmental, even when there’s no strong evidence

17. Often overreacts to real or perceived slights and provocations

18. Often feels awkward in group situations and feels unable to be oneself

19. Feels self-conscious in romantically intimate situations; excessively worries about partner’s approval; is unreasonably afraid of being judged or rejected by partner

Category Three: Sensitivity About One’s Environment

20. Feels uncomfortable in large public crowds, in a room full of people talking, or when too many things are occurring simultaneously

21. Feels uncomfortable when exposed to bright lights, loud sounds, or certain strong scents

22. Startles easily at sudden noises, fast traffic, or other unpleasant surprises

23. Often feels upset when watching or reading negative news in the media. Dislikes “shock” entertainment (i.e. intensely scary or violent shows)

24. Often feels unhappy when following people’s posts on social media

Again, although there are many positive qualities to being a highly sensitive person, this article focuses on aspects of high sensitivity which adversely affect one’s happiness and well-being. While some highly sensitive individuals are affected by just one or two of the traits above, others may be overstimulated by more on the list.

For many highly sensitive people, the key to managing oversensitivity is to utilize emotional immunity and sensory immunity strategies, to calm and alleviate overstimulation. For those who live or work with highly sensitive individuals, effective communication skills are a must to foster positive and constructive relationships. See references below.

How to be more sensitive for an emotionally insensitive person

A sensitive person’s brain is different: Research points to some advantages.

THE BASICS

  • Are You a Highly Sensitive Person?
  • Find a therapist near me

How to be more sensitive for an emotionally insensitive person

Being insensitive is certainly an undesirable trait, but does that mean that the opposite, being sensitive, is a desirable one?

Apparently, in our Western society we cannot make up our minds: We consider either being insensitive or being sensitive to be unfavorable. Society demands that sensitive people develop a thick skin, and that insensitive people be more considerate.

But what does highly sensitive really mean? Is “Highly Sensitive Person” a scientific term?

As it turns out, there is research on this innate trait of high sensitivity. The scientific term is “sensory-processing sensitivity” (SPS). Highly sensitive people are born that way; it is not something they learned.

As children, they might be described by teachers as shy or inhibited, especially in Western countries. As adults, they might be described as introverts. It is important to note that not all sensitive people are shy or introverts. In fact, 30 percent of HSPs are thought to be extroverts.

HSP scales for adults and children have been developed and used in research (1). A commonly used scale contains 27 diverse but strongly interrelated items.

An HSP .

  • has a rich and complex inner life
  • is deeply moved by the arts and music
  • gets easily overwhelmed
  • has difficulty performing a task when being observed
  • easily startles
  • is sensitive to pain, caffeine, and hunger
  • is attuned to inner bodily sensations
  • readily notices sensory changes

A case study of a young female who would be classified as an HSP:

Fatima likes to throw herself in the arms of nature. She experiences the blueness of the oceans like nobody else. As she walks, she feels like trees bend just a little to talk to her. Mountains provide her with a sense of greatness like there is something out there much bigger than humans.

When she enters a room, she is the first to notice odors, subtle sounds, and startles easily. When she watches TV series, she immerses herself in each of the characters. It takes her days to recalibrate her sense of self after watching a movie or reading a book.

She is an amazing teacher. However, when the principal observes her class, she gets overwhelmed and delivers her worst performance. The week before her menstrual cycle, she is very focused on her pelvic pain, and PMS causes her to be irritable, have foggy brain, and make poor decisions.

She is very conscientious, wants to avoid making mistakes at all costs. She is guarded around people so that she does not say anything wrong, which would make her very anxious. At the same time, she easily gets affected by others’ moods and stories.”

Researchers linked this trait to positive qualities but also to mental illnesses

It is not surprising that this trait is found in artists, poets and is linked to giftedness, creativity, and empathy. At the same time, an HSP is at a higher risk of depression and other mental illnesses. They are also at a higher risk of burnout because they get easily overwhelmed. This is why it is critical to know if you are an HSP, so you can seek out relationships and environments that make you shine (see the last section).

The brain of an HSP is different

There are biological reasons for all the components of this trait. An HSP’s brain is wired differently and the nervous system is highly sensitive with a lower threshold for action (2). This hyper-excitability contributes to increased emotional reactivity, a lower threshold for sensory information (e.g. bothered by noise, or too much light), and increased awareness of subtleties (e.g. quick to notice odors).

There are also changes at the macro brain level. The areas associated with this trait greatly overlap with the brain areas that support empathy! Also, they have a hyperactive insula, which explains their heightened awareness of their inner emotional states and bodily sensations. This hyperactivity explains their sensitivity to pain, hunger, and caffeine.

There is also some recent evidence that this trait is related to the infamous 5-HTLPR gene (serotonin gene), implicated in many psychological conditions, such as depression (3).

How to make the most of your high sensitivity

  • Reduce the number of intense stimuli in your environment.
  • Limit the number of tasks when multi-tasking.
  • Avoid burnout by noticing early warning signs, such as feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
  • Get your thoughts and deep emotions on paper so that they won’t cloud your brain.
  • Try mindfulness meditation, especially to deal with high sensitivity to pain. This will teach you to acknowledge pain as the sum of sensations suspended from the label of pain.
  • Take advantage of your creativity: Draw, color or write.
  • Take advantage of your predisposition for higher empathy to strengthen relationships—to become a better co-worker, and to assure your self-worth.
  • Be comfortable in your sensitive skin. Own it and never be ashamed of it.
  • Be honest about your predisposition to be an HSP, especially in close relationships. But don’t forget to highlight the positive aspects: more empathy, deep thinker, able to see things from a different perspective, appreciation of arts and music, and others’ positive qualities.

Aron, E.N., Aron, A., Jagiellowicz, J., 2012. Sensory processing sensitivity: a review in the light of the evolution of biological responsivity. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Rev.16 (3), 262–282.

Pluess, M., Boniwell, I., 2015. Sensory-processing sensitivity predicts treatment response to a school-Based depression prevention program evidence of vantage sensitivity. Pers. Ind. Differ. 82, 40–45.

JILL AVERY-STOSS

You may be accused of being insensitive when your teasing brings a younger sibling to tears, or when you fail to acknowledge the thoughtfulness and hard work your mother put into making your birthday present. Disregard for others’ emotional and physical well-being, even when unintentional, can hinder your ability to connect with them and stunt your personal growth. Practicing simple steps can help you become more sensitive.

Explore this article

  • Listen to Others
  • Empathize with Others
  • Offer Support
  • Set Healthy Boundaries

1 Listen to Others

Listening to someone involves more than hearing the words coming out of her mouth. Pay attention to the emotion with which the words are spoken. You may also detect hesitancy or anticipation. Body language — such as facial expressions, gestures and posture — are telling.Tuning in to these cues can help you respond appropriately. To be sure that you understand, reflect what you’ve heard her say: “The time I’ve spent with my friends in the last month has made you feel neglected and unimportant. It sounds like you’re pretty angry too.”

2 Empathize with Others

Practice empathy by imagining how you might feel if you were experiencing another person’s emotions, successes or problems. It is a way of emotionally identifying, according to EQI.org, an online resource that offers information on emotional intelligence. You may never have been the victim of robbery, for instance, but might have a sense of the violation that accompanies such a crime. You can be more sensitive to her needs and concerns by relating to her with empathy.

3 Offer Support

Supporting someone requires that you pay attention to and empathize with what is being said — and respond appropriately. You can say, “I’m sorry for your loss. I am here to help in any way necessary,” or “Congratulations! Would you like to celebrate?” Being supportive and sensitive to others “is to not invalidate their feelings by belittling, diminishing, rejecting, judging or ignoring them,” according to EQI.org. It would be insensitive, then, to say, “Stop overreacting. It isn’t that bad,” or, “What a stupid idea! You’re very foolish.”

4 Set Healthy Boundaries

Personal boundaries are limits you set in order to protect yourself and require respect from others. For example, your boundaries may include intolerance of name-calling or a policy of not lending money to others. Setting healthy boundaries is beneficial to your well-being and can protect others as well. It “makes you a safe person. People know where they stand with you,” according to Johnson State College Counseling Center in Vermont. A poor boundary might be to allow someone to believe you are interested in her romantically, when you are not. A more sensitive approach would be to clearly indicate your intentions for the relationship.

The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

In research that has gone on since the late 1990s, psychologists and neuroscientists have found that a fraction of the population is simply “wired” differently than most (Aron, E. & Aron, A., 1997).

In 1997, Elaine Aron, Ph.D. wrote The Highly Sensitive Person. She describes the HSP as more sensitive to sounds, textures, and essentially all outside stimulation than average.

HSPs also think more about decisions and actions, and naturally process more deeply. This is thought to be an adaptive, survival mechanism. It has also been found in animal species, like fruit flies, fish, and almost 100 other species.

According to Aron and her research, some of the signs that you may be an HSP are being easily overwhelmed by bright lights, strong smells, and loud noises. You may get rattled when rushed, avoid violent TV shows, and withdraw into bed or a dark room when you get stressed. As children, HSPs also have a rich, complex inner life, and are often seen as shy by adults.

A very important thing to know about highly sensitive people is that they are born this way. In the classic question of nature vs. nurture, scientific evidence shows us that the HSP falls soundly in the Nature camp.

So we know that your parents do not cause you to be highly sensitive by the way they raise you. But it does beg another kind of question:

Is the highly sensitive child affected differently by emotionally neglectful parenting than a non-sensitive child might be?

Based on the thousands of emotionally neglected adults who I have had the privilege to know and/or work with, I would have to answer that question with a resounding yes. In my experience Childhood Emotional Neglect affects HSP children differently than non-HSP.

The Emotionally Neglectful Home

What is the experience of a child growing up in an emotionally neglectful home? It is a feeling of growing up deeply alone, even if surrounded by people. It is a process of having your emotions ignored, or even thwarted. It is what happens when you are not asked often enough:

What do you want?

What do you need?

What do you prefer?

What are you feeling?

Do you need help?

In the emotionally neglectful home, its not so much what your parents do to you thats a problem. Its just the opposite. The problem comes from what your parents fail to do for you: validate and respond to your emotional needs enough.

This can be very confusing for the child since from the outside (and sometimes even from the inside too), for many emotionally neglected children their family appears perfectly normal in every way.

Children who grow up in an emotionally neglectful home learn some powerful lessons very early and well:

Your feelings are invisible, a burden, or dont matter.

Your wishes and needs are not important.

Help is not usually an option.

The HSP Child Growing Up In An Emotionally Neglectful Family

As we talked about above, the HSP child is born with some special sensitivities. Deep thinkers, thoughtful and responsive by nature, HSPs are greatly affected and more easily overwhelmed by external stimulation. HSPs also have greater emotional reactions and more empathy for others.

Imagine being a deeply thoughtful, intensely feeling child growing up in a family that is neither. Imagine your intense feelings being ignored or discouraged. Imagine that your thoughtfulness is viewed as a weakness. Imagine if it seems the people around you are operating at a different speed, and living on a different plane than you.

What do you do with your powerful anger, sadness, hurt or confusion? How do you try to fit in?

Many HSP adults have shared with me the words they heard often in their childhood homes, from parents and siblings alike:

You are overly emotional.

You are over-sensitive.

Some HSPs are actively made a joke of in their families. Some can be chided and derided or identified as the weak one, the slow one, because of the more thoughtful processing, or the dreamer because of the rich and complex inner life.

Most emotionally neglectful families are not only unaware that emotions are important, but they are also deeply uncomfortable with the feelings of their members, typically either passively or actively discouraging the show of any feelings.

What if one particular child feels more deeply than the rest? What will he learn about his feelings in this family? How will he learn how to value, tolerate, understand, and express his feelings?

The HSP child in the emotionally neglectful family learns that she is excessively emotional. And since our emotions are the most deeply personal expression of who we are, that HSP child learns that she is different, damaged, weak and wrong. She may grow up to be ashamed of her deepest self.

Help & Hope For the HSP Who Grew Up Emotionally Neglected

Do not worry, there are plenty of answers for you!

From the many posts on this blog, or by visiting my website (also linked below), you can learn much more about the Emotional Neglect you grew up with, the messages you received, and how to heal. You can also learn about what it means to be an HSP by visiting the website of Elaine Aron, Ph.D.

Understanding is a good start. After that, there are clear steps to take to fight those messages and heal your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

It is only by clearing the Emotional Neglect from your life that your HSP qualities will be allowed to shine. Only then will you be able to allow your intense emotional energy to empower you, and your deep processing abilities to guide you.

Only then will you be able to celebrate the unique qualities that make you different, and see that being set apart from birth, and again in your childhood, does not need to keep you set apart for life.

How to be more sensitive for an emotionally insensitive person

“Just as the performance of the vilest and most wicked deeds requires spirit and talent, so even the greatest demand a certain insensitivity which under other circumstances we would call stupidity.” – Georg C. Lichtenberg, German scientist, philosopher and satirist

When we look at the world as a whole, the majority of us will concede that kindness and acceptance is more commonly practiced than cruelty and meanness. This outlook is often strongly challenged by our inevitable run-ins with the latter group. Some people are unapologetically insensitive to their fellow human beings. Such individuals lack the empathy and tactfulness that so many of us come to expect. In short, we – at the very least – anticipate common courtesy and basic decency from those we come in contact with.

Although a minority, those that do not heed to these standard social practices pose a threat – a risk of spreading their pessimistic ways to otherwise good people.

The purpose of this article is not to delve into complex sociological topics. Instead, we wish to provide a bit of insight to what makes insensitive people think and act in such a manner.

You’ll surely notice that these 5 behaviors are quite commonsensical. Despite this, we’ll often forget what goes on “in the background” of another person’s mind; particularly those who go against the generally accepted social contract of decency and common courtesy.

Here are 5 “in the background” behaviors, attitudes, and circumstances that create insensitive people:

1. Brain Chemistry

Brain chemistry is the first topic of discussion – and for good reason. This is almost assuredly the primary driver of callous behavior.

As we are all well-aware, our brains are different. In some cases, such as those people that possess narcissistic tendencies, very different. This fact cannot be overlooked.

Insensitive people have a very different brain chemistry than most. Certain mechanisms within their brain just do not permit the conveying of altruism or sensitivity. Most of the time, insensitive people aren’t aware that their behaviors are perceived as such. Even if someone pulls them aside and attempts to explain their behavior as unacceptable or off-putting, the insensitive person will display a sense of bewilderment. Hence, they’ll probably carry on as usual.

2. Different Thought Patterns

Related to the previous topic in some ways, thought processes are another main reason why insensitive people act the way they do. The main difference is that thought patterns are often a byproduct of environmental factors; while brain chemistry is something that is (oftentimes) autonomic.

Take, for example, the corporate world – a fiercely-competitive arena that may manifest into aggressive thought patterns. After a period of time, these patterns – you guess it – alters one’s brain chemistry.

Likewise, strongly-held personal beliefs and convictions (e.g. religious views, political stances) may cause someone act or say things perceived as aggressive and insensitive.

3. Anger

Angry emotions feed irrational thoughts, words and behaviors. When we’re angry, our higher-level executive functions are heavily suppressed. This impact on the brain makes it much more difficult to retain a sense of self-control. Of course, when self-control is absent, the likelihood of doing or saying something insensitive multiplies.

Anger lowers our inhibitions, and makes us forget the consequences of our actions. Unfortunately, this includes the pain inflicted on the receiving end of our insensitivities. We can hurt someone deeply – and, many times, they do not deserve such treatment.

4. Lack of Self Esteem

Lack of self-esteem as it relates to insensitivity is relatively simple to understand.

Many (most?) people with self-esteem issues can still constructively interact with others by keeping their concerns in-check. However, a small number of individuals will degrade others to “make themselves feel better.” The problem with this is two-fold: (1) it’s a very, very short-term “solution” to a much deeper issue, and (2) pain is inflicted onto someone who, in many instances, did nothing wrong.

How to be more sensitive for an emotionally insensitive person

5. Stress

How effectively someone deals with stressful situations, whatever they may be, is easily seen by how they interact with others afterwards. Do they bark something nasty to someone else? Do they carry on and get things done anyways? Insensitive people fall into the former group.

Saying that we all deal with stress differently is a huge understatement. Some people simply cannot handle certain stressful triggers in a constructive fashion. Furthermore, those inept at dealing with stress will spread their negative state of mind to others around them.

Simply put, stress is a distraction, and insensitive people are almost incapable of handling the effects of stress without hurting someone in the process.

The cutting words, “Don’t be so sensitive,” have characterized being sensitive as a weakness when it is actually a strength. It takes courage to be sensitive. It’s worth the work to develop your sensitivity if you want healthy and satisfying relationships.

How to be more sensitive for an emotionally insensitive persondestina/Dollarphotoclub

Were you ever told, “Don’t let them get under your skin?” “You shouldn’t take things so personally,” or, “You’re too soft. You should toughen up?”

The problem is when you cut off your senses, you aren’t experiencing others and yourself fully. You are disconnected internally and externally. You deny your needs and put up a wall between yourself and the people you are with.

In a previous post, I described the difference between cognitive and sensory awareness. In order to fully hear and understand someone, you need to be aware of your sensory reactions as well as your mental activity. With sensory awareness, you are able to receive what is going on with others and use this information to better connect, reassure, inspire, activate and invigorate them.

Yet I’m often asked if venturing into the land of emotions is risky, especially for leaders. “Don’t I have to demonstrate that I’m not emotionally affected by what is going on, that I don’t allow people’s emotions to sway me?” Or, “Won’t I get too involved in their drama?” The business world is full of aphorisms that declare, “Only the tough survive.”

Being sensitive doesn’t mean being wishy-washy. It means you are aware of what is going on around you on a sensory level and you are aware of how your own emotions are impacting your decisions and actions. The sensitive leader is the one who recognize when people are conflicted, distressed, or resentful. Adding courage to this sensitivity, you are then able to move people through the darkness to the light of possibility.

Leaders who develop the courage to be sensitive help people feel heard and understood, which then opens them to explore options and their own capabilities as they willingly move forward.

When you allow yourself to be sensitive – to feel deeply and empathize with others – you are more capable of making a difference.

I know this is easier said than done. Staying alert to the emotions you are feeling or receiving can be painful, scary, or uncomfortable. It takes true strength to stay tuned-in.

Here are 7 steps for staying awake to your sensory awareness:

  1. See being sensitive as strength. This requires a shift in perspective, not in personality.
  2. Start your practice with simple conversations. Ask people about their lives outside of work. People want to be seen and appreciated.
  3. Listen with your heart and gut as well as your head. Be grateful to open your heart. Breath into your belly to notice the center of your body. When you get uncomfortable or confused, ask your heart and gut what you should say or do next.
  4. Allow yourself to feel what others are feeling. This doesn’t mean you get lost in the negative emotions. Just notice the sensations. Then, without judging or trying to rescue people, ask if they know what caused them to feel that way. Be curious about their response. When you notice with curiosity and compassion, you demonstrate authentic empathy. You can also gain a true sense about what is occurring before you ask them what they might do next.
  5. Notice when you feel uncomfortable with a person’s emotions and what you then do to relieve the pain. See if you can return to being present with the person and curious about how they perceive what is going on. See if you can’t uncover what is stopping them from moving forward. Then you can determine together if the fear, anger or disappointment is based on a real event or just an assumption.
  6. Don’t criticize yourself. If you interrupt or try to fix the person before they feel heard, catch yourself and return to listening. If you beat yourself up for not being perfectly aware, you will disconnect from the person.
  7. End with a sense of hope. Let the person know you want the best for them no matter how things turn out. You believe in their capabilities. Then thank them for sharing with you. Offer support or encouragement before you ask if the conversation feels complete.

More than anything, we all want to feel seen, understood and valued. Using your courage to be sensitive will help strengthen your relationships, your coaching, and your ability to lead.

How to be more sensitive for an emotionally insensitive person

One of the mos t important traits of a leader is sensitivity to the feelings of the people around them. Sensitivity may come more easily to some, but it’s a skill that anyone can learn, a flexible set of capabilities that can be acquired and improved with practice.

For leaders, managers, bosses —anyone who lead or manages people—sensitivity not only helps them be a better leader, but also provides insight into themselves. Here are some of the ways top leaders develop their sensitivity:

They practice passive activism. Great leaders grant emotional people the dignity of their own processes. They allow the person who is being emotional to define the meaning of what is happening by encouraging them to discuss the issues in practical, human, simple, and direct terms.

They build snowballs. The best leaders give their undivided attention to whomever they’re with. They don’t allow themselves to get distracted by other activities or let their mind wander, because they know their undivided attention will help the conversation grow like a snowball as it unfolds. A snowball conversation is an opportunity to learn someone’s true feelings and motivations.

They leave their judgment at the door. We all have biases and make judgments—that’s only human. But as a leader, listening and learning are more important than expressing your own point of view. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with what’s being said, just that you’re willing to keep an open mind.

They don’t make comparisons. Sensitive leaders understand that each person’s experience, strengths, and challenges are unique and can’t be compared to anyone else’s. Being pleasant and courteous to other people is a good way to be respectful of what they’re feeling.

They listen with care. Leaders pay close attention to anyone who’s expressing themselves. If you struggle with careful listening, try summarizing or paraphrasing what the other person is saying. It forces you to pay attention, and gives the other person a chance to confirm that you’ve understood correctly.

They ask questions. Asking questions is a great way to learn more about the perspective of another person. Questions also signal that you value their thoughts and feelings. Being open to whatever the person might have to say is a sign of compassionate communication.

They avoid stock responses. If a person is going through a hard time, try not to say things like “Everything happens for a reason” or “I know exactly how you feel.” Your intentions may be good, but as a leader you have to be smart about what you say and how you say it. Saying that a bad experience may be “a blessing in disguise” is insensitive to the person who is struggling.

They acknowledge the person. It’s important to recognize the person in front of you and not minimize what is going on or being said. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Especially when feelings are sensitive, it’s important to feel acknowledged and understood.

Lead from within: Being sensitive to other people’s feelings can teach you a lot about yourself.

N A T I O N A L B E S T S E L L E R
The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your GreatnessHow to be more sensitive for an emotionally insensitive person

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Photo Credit: iStock Photos

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.