The HSP World Podcast Ep. 13: How Can Highly Sensitives Thrive in the Workplace?


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Thomas: Hi, and welcome to the HSP World Podcast. With each episode, we invite a guest with the HSP Trait to have a conversation about a burning HSP-related question they have. We’re not coaches or therapists. We’re HSPs holding space with you. I’m one of your hosts, Thomas and your other hosts are;

Robyn: Robyn 

Rayne: and Rayne.

Robyn: Hi, everybody. Welcome to our latest episode. Latest at the time of recording. A little podcast humor for you. Uh, joining us today is another guest, Christian. Welcome Christian. 

Christian: Hi, thank you for having me. 

Robyn: Thanks for joining us. Christian do you mind starting us off by telling us a little bit about your HSP story, how you came to realize that you had the Trait?

Christian: Of course. So this happened about three years ago. I was actually in a therapy session and I kept saying to my therapist, Oh, Oh, she kept saying to me actually, um, you’re very hyper-aware and very aware of different environments and situations. So I immediately went home and Googled just being sensitive to different environments and up came up HSP, which I’d never heard of before, but from there I did my research. And that’s how it began. And from there I felt very understood and I brought it back to my therapist at the time. And we talked about it, we talked through it and that’s how I found out. 

Robyn: Wow. Okay. Thank you for sharing. You know, you made me think of Elaine Aron’s story, actually, the way that she came up with the term, highly sensitive, that kind of similar story where she had a therapist, a good therapist, reflecting back to her that this was a prominent trait for her.

So, yeah, that’s… made me think of that. Christian, maybe you can tell us what your question is for us today? 

Christian: Yes. So my question is how can an HSP person thrive in the workplace?

Rayne: And that’s a really, that’s a really good question. Christian you were saying you recently started a new, a new job. So that’s what brought the question up for you, right? 

Christian: Yes, exactly. And it made more sense from like how to navigate reading the room and different meetings, or working with various people at one time, and having moving projects at the same time, and how can you use your Highly Sensitive Trait to really leverage your work.

Rayne: Right. Well, that’s a really good question. It’s a really good question. 

Robyn: Yeah. Thank you for bringing our attention to this one. I believe that concerns about how to cope with and or thrive even in the workplace is one of the top concerns for highly sensitive people.

It’s one of the things that come up time and time again. And I think there’s a lot of reasons for that. I think many workplaces are not, um, suited to highly sensitive people’s needs. Depends exactly what you’re talking about. And I mean, maybe now I’m thinking about the days of when we were all still in offices.

Just some of the immediate concerns that would come to mind are not having enough personal space, quiet spaces, lights, smells, interruptions, can all really affect the highly sensitive person more than they would, a nonsensitive or non HSP. And I think probably in our virtual setting, some of these same concerns are gonna come up.

Actually if I may bring it back to you, Christian, what, what do you see as some of the core areas that you’ve been thinking about as a highly sensitive person, some of the things that come up for you as a question? 

Christian: Definitely since I have moved to a more virtual  environment, I’ve kind of had to set up my room as also my office. Um, so setting up my environment to be very work-friendly, and warm for me to work in. And also the amount of zoom calls I’m in has also increased. Um, and navigating that as an HSP, sitting in front of your computer for long hours of the day, and also within those meetings, how to stay engaged, and being sensitive to like the verbal cues and stuff like that too.

Rayne: Well, I know, I know for me see, yeah, because this is a little, it’s a little bit different because we’re dealing with a lot more online, but in a way, it’s similar to what it’s like, you know, physically as well. And I suppose for me, it’s really looking at the time, the time factor.

So if it’s meeting with people, it’s, you know, it’s having a good understanding of what, what is the objective of the meeting? You know, how long is the meeting going to be? Is there preparation before the meeting? Um, you know, those kinds of things, because those seem to have quite a big impact on the actual meeting.

If it’s not, if there’s no, you know, if there’s not set things that we’re going through during the meeting, and it’s just kind of going everywhere and everybody’s talking, you know, nothing’s really being decided on or, you know, we’re not making progress on whatever it is we’re doing, that can tend to, you know, that that’s, that’s kind of a big drain for me. That’s a big drain.

So I like to have a good idea of those things ahead of time. And also, you know, sometimes there’s meetings and, you know, you get invited and really, you know, there’s not a lot to offer. There’s either too many people in the meeting or, you know, whatever it is. So I think, I think a lot of it also has to do with, the expectations.

Also, you know, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, I think that has quite a bit to do with it as well. Um, you know, an introvert will tend to get a lot more drained from a lot of meetings than, than most likely an extrovert HSP, will, right? How do you feel about this Thomas? 

Thomas: There’s there are a number of things that have come up for me.

So first of all, I’ve been out of an office for 16 years. I’m self-employed now. But I do remember back in the late nineties and early two thousands, the transition from offices to open plan seating, and that was very difficult for me. Because it used to be, you know, you get an office and you can close the door, or even if you have a cubicle, you can, you know, you have a little bit of privacy and you can focus on what you’re doing.

And in open plan it was basically, you’re just sharing a table, a big table with a bunch of other people. And you know, you basically relied on having headphones or, or earbuds or whatever to try to be able to focus. So I don’t know how it is today. I don’t know if open plan is still prevalent. I think it’s still pretty prevalent in the tech industry.

But definitely having a cubicle or, or even an office helped me in being able to do my work.

Now one thing that I do in my home office, is, a couple of things. One is I have a heating pad on my chair, so I’m always warm and that helps my body quite a bit. It helps my back. It helps my joints, everything. So, I swear by the heating pad on my chair.

The other thing I do is I have a Pomodoro timer, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Pomodoro technique, but the idea is to time box your activities. And I set my timer for 25 minutes. And what that does is it helps me focus, one. But it also gets me out, up and out of my chair every half an hour or so. And again, that’s also good for the body because if you’re just sitting for several hours straight, for me, it really affects my joints, my knee, especially my knees and my hips.

So it’s important for me to be able to get up every half an hour and, and the Pomodoro timer helps, helps with that. 

And then as far as, as zoom calls and meetings, I’ve kind of fallen in love with this idea of a standup meeting. And I don’t know if you’ve experienced that, but the standup meeting, it comes out of the agile method, agile methodology.

And the idea is, is that the team gets together for 15 minutes and it could be once a week, twice a week, however often it needs to be, but the meeting is held to 15 minutes. And the purpose of the meeting is, is to basically find out, okay, do you have what you need? Is there anything in the way? Are you stuck?

And so the meeting is very, very much to the point and you know that it’s going to be over in 15 minutes and you know it’s just a check-in, that’s all it is.

And the reason I love it so much is because, well, number one being self-employed, I now feel like I’m part of teams. I do many stand-ups during the week and they’re all very short and, and yet I feel like I’m part of something.

And the other thing is I know that I’m not going to be sitting there twiddling my thumbs, and being drained by an agenda-less theme, so to speak. So, so those are the things that have come up for me in terms of this idea of how an HSP can help themselves in terms of workplace, in terms of meetings, and in terms of working from home.

Robyn: If I may I’d like to zoom out for a moment and I’m going to bring up a reference here.

This is a book it was written about 15 years ago. So not everything is quite up to date, but I still find it a really useful resource for thinking about highly sensitive people in the workplace. It’s called, Making Work Work for Highly Sensitive People by Barrie Yeager, and a couple of the concepts that she puts in there I find really helpful for tackling some of the big questions about how HSPs can feel good in the workplace.

So she outlines three areas. And what we’ve been talking about. All of this, I think follows falls under the area called Conditions. Okay. There’s Conditions, there’s Tasks and there’s People. It’s interesting because I think conditions is the number one thing that HSPs are going to complain about.

The meetings are too long. I don’t like being on zoom or not comfortable in my chair. The microwave smells weird. Like these are the things that are most apparent to us, but on her theory anyway, it’s the smallest factor of the three. And I think that’s because it depends on other things. So like we’re talking about, you know, um, okay, having, having efficient meetings that only last 15 minutes, right?

Or, um, I don’t know, maybe asking to take a break or something like that. But if your relationship with your manager is terrible. If your manager is someone who doesn’t really care what you think and wants to do their things their way, and insists on having a full hour long meeting, then it doesn’t matter that you have all these great ideas, right?

So I think her point is a really, and it’s interesting, cause I always thought as well, like, Oh, Conditions are what count, right? But it, you have to go deeper, right? And People, people, which means like people is not just it’s who you’re working with, but it’s also what are their values? What the values of the company or a team that you’re a part of.

And what is the nature of the relationship? Right? So often that’s the most powerful place to develop when things are going well and the relationships, and when you feel aligned with the values of your team or company, then your chances of getting other things, the tasks and the Conditions to be improved for you – you have a better chance of doing that.

So, I mean, I don’t know if this applies in your situation, Christian, but I think that would be, I think it has to go through that first. I think you have to make sure that your, to the extent that you can, right? And I mean, so sometimes just identifying is helpful as well, sometimes saying, okay, I’m in a place where the values don’t necessarily  jive with my own. Right? 

And you can see it at different levels, like, okay, what are the values of my immediate supervisor? What are the values of the team or the values of the larger organization, depending on where you’re working, right?

Or if you have clients where the values are those clients… I think kind of doing an analysis of that can help you understand where things are working or not, and kind of delineate the possibilities.

Cause sometimes, sometimes you just have to come to the conclusion. Okay, my possibilities for thriving and growth are very limited in this job, and or this position, and or this company, right? Sometimes you just have to tell yourself that you have to say is not the kind of… I’ve walked away from a job where I realized, you know what, the values of this company are really at odds with my own. I’m not going to be able to thrive here, just not, I tried, but I’m just not. 

I think if you start from there and then kind of work your way backwards as to, okay, what are the tasks that I’m doing? Do I feel good here? Does this fit with my strengths? Are they varied enough? Are they consistent enough? Right?

Is the level of responsibility that I want to have, right? Then you can develop that. And then as well, following from that, the Conditions of like working at home and setting yourself up in a way that works for you. Does that? I don’t know. What do people think of this? 

Christian: Uh, that’s really interesting to think bigger in that way. I think you have a good point to start with the work relationships first and then work your way down. 

Rayne: Yeah, I have to agree with this. I mean, I just found out I had the Trait three or four years ago too, Christian, but I can say for my work history, the places that I did, that I liked, that I stayed in, that I stayed at for longer periods of time, were places where, you know, I liked their values.

You know, I felt supported, I had a good relationship with you know, my boss, to the point where… I remember one job, um, I had done a bunch of different projects and then there was really nothing to do. And I just went into my boss’s office and said, like, I’m bored.

I’m like, you’re going to have to come up with something because I’m leaving if you don’t do something, right? I’m bored. And, um, and they said, well, you know, what are you interested in? You know, what what’s going on? You know? And it was really cool. Like they created a position for me. You know, um, because they, you know, they liked my work.

They liked the stuff I did and they weren’t kind of confining me to a box to stay in. You know what I mean? So the relationship that the relationship with my boss was really, that’s what made the difference. That that’s really what made the difference was that I was able to be, you know, I felt comfortable going there was. I was you know, struggling with something or, I also, you know, um, the placements I did well at, I was not micromanaged.

I don’t do well being micromanaged, you know, just tell me what I need to do and I’ll go ahead and do it, you know, and if I made a mistake or something’s wrong or whatever, you know, we can deal with it, then, you know, of course do whatever training we can, you know, ahead of time.

But, um, yeah, I would have to say, I really do agree with what you were, I liked your points, Thomas and I, and I agree with what you’re saying Robyn about, about the values and the relationships and what’s the climate of the work culture essentially? You know?

Thomas: I would add to that, that if you are HSP and self-employed, that you have a choice of who your clients are, or you try to have a choice of who your clients are, because you want to make sure that all of your relationships, all, all of your clients are people that you want to work with. So that’s one thing that I do when I’m, when I’m vetting new clients I try to figure out very early in the relationship, is this the person that I’d want to be working on, working with, for or an extended amount of time? So, it that the relationships are really important. 

Robyn: So one of the ways to manage a relationship is through communication. And I find it really interesting, one point that you brought up Christian about verbal, but I guess we can also add nonverbal communication. Could you say a little bit more about that? What is it that you’d like to know about like the challenges of verbal or nonverbal communication? I don’t know if you mean particularly in an online context or just in general?

Christian: Um, specifically I was referring to like an online context with zoom meetings. Um, you get a lot of like the, the verbal communication, but sometimes you don’t get the nonverbal communication. And sometimes you get a lot of it as well with just facial expressions. But in-person meetings, you can see someone, you know, tapping or, um, shaking there, you know, there’s some shaking or something like that.

And sometimes in the zoom meetings don’t get that nonverbal communication. So that was what I was kind of like referring to.

Rayne: And that, and that you find challenging Christian? 

Christian: Yes, so if there’s not a lot of facial expressions, then sometimes it’s kind of challenging to read how their verbal communication comes across. 

Robyn: Yeah. I mean, you’re definitely right. That that’s a limitation. I find that a lot in email, email and text, right?

It’s so much more susceptible to misinterpretation because you don’t have tone and non-verbal feedback. I mean, one, one thing that you do have in a zoom call or a phone call, you do have tone of voice, right? You do have pacing, hesitation. So you can maybe amp up your non-verbal literacy for like rely more heavily on the auditory nonverbal cues, than the facial expressions. So that that’s one way to do it. I, I would have to look into this more, but I think what I do is I start like relying more heavily as well on verbal cues. Right?

So asking more clarification questions, calling out awkwardnesses, well, that’s when I’m managing, uh, a meeting, right? I’ll say, okay, I noticed there was a really long pause or people don’t seem sure about this question. Like, can we. No limit limit. Let’s uh, let’s talk about that. Uh, it was this a difficult, uh, is this difficult point, do people have hesitations, would you rather write to me privately, you know, that kind of leaning into it a little bit more. 

Thomas: One thing that I’ve started to do also is, is to just recognize that it goes both ways.

I don’t do it a lot, but sometimes I’ll follow up on either the chat channel, you know, private chat or Slack, if the company is using Slack. To just check in and say, Hey, you know, I noticed this, is there anything I can help with? Whatever.

And then the other thing I’ve noticed is that I tend to myself in, in zoom calls, I tend to turn off my facial expressions because I sort of feel like, Oh, I don’t need to, I don’t need to be, you know, I don’t need to do anything. But I’ve often gotten feedback is, is like, why did you look so um, so distressed? 

Robyn: Yeah. I’ve, I’ve had this happen to another, a friend, yeah. 

Thomas: And I write back and say, I wasn’t distressed. I’m fine. You know?

So I’ve now made it a point to, um, to smile. Even though, you know, I might not do that naturally, but I smile. And sometimes I’ll laugh and chuckle and, and I notice that it actually causes other people to laugh and smile and it perks up the meeting.

Even though, I don’t, I don’t know how to say this, but it’s like, I never thought that, that I am responsible for other people other people’s well-being in a, in a meeting context, but actually I am, you know? Like, like being joyful and being happy and participating is an important part of what I need to do. Even though my, my introversion and my HSP might just have me hold back. 

Robyn: Thomas, I’m just imagining, uh, that you’ve like photoshopped on this big grin onto your face at all times.

Thomas: Yeah. Like getting one of those masks with a big smile on it.

Robyn: It just kind of follows you around awkwardly.

Rayne: How is this stuff sounding for you, Christian? 

Christian: I mean, a lot of it has resonated. Definitely. Before the position I was in, I’m in now, I was, I was working at a PR firm and they had an open space for the office and I hated it. Um, it was awful.

But I’m hearing a lot of really reflect, like maybe like personal reflection on my values, and how I feel supported, and how I define having good relationships,  and applying that to my workplace with my coworkers and managers, boss, things like, and communicating that with them, to really thrive in the workplace. 

Robyn: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting because, for so long HSPs, I think we were fighting for better access to remote work. Because it does help us very much with the Conditions element, right?

Like it gives us a lot more control over our environment to have the right volume, the right lighting, other things that we need to structure our day to be at an optimal level of stimulation, right?

And now we’ve all got it. And unfortunately, we’re seeing… It’s different when you ask for it, then when you’re forced into it, right? Cause then you, when you’re forced into it all the time, then you see the, the other side, right?

But I think it’s just good to remember that it does afford us a lot of benefits specifically for, for HSPs. Right? We can use those to our advantage if the other parts of the puzzle, like the good relationships are there. 

Christian: Definitely, yeah. I mean, I, the working from home situation has fared me way better than an open space situation. Yeah. 

Robyn: That’s awesome.

Thomas: Well, Christian, thank you for today’s conversation. And I’m curious how you feel about it. Did you enjoy it? 

Christian: I did. Yes. Um, they’re super insightful. I’m definitely gonna go look up Making Work Work, uh, by what was the author’s name? Barrie? 

Robyn: Barrie Yeager. Yeah. We’ll put a link to that in the show notes.

Christian: Perfect. Yeah, that’d be great. I’ll definitely be researching that book after this call and I think it’s a super insightful to hear you guys experiences as well. And hearing the various, um, obstacles that you’ve guys have gone through and some different tips.

So I feel like I am equipped that go back to my boss and coworkers and kind of define those relationships and set those boundaries, things like that.

Thomas: Fantastic. Well, thank you for joining us. 

Christian: Of course, thank you for having me. 

Rayne: Thank you Christian for your courage to ask the question, it’s a really good question, and I really enjoyed chatting with you about it, and I know your question’s going to be helpful for other HSPs.

Christian: Of course. Thank you. Yeah. I hope it helps other HSPs in their work-from-home setting too.

Rayne: Excellent. 

Robyn: Yeah. So thank you everybody. And thank you to our listeners. Please join us for our next episode where we’ll be having another interesting HSP conversation. And to any Highly Sensitives out there who have a burning HSP-related question, whether it’s a big one or a small one, we invite you to ask it on the HSP world podcast.

Just email


Music credit: Intro and Outro music from the YouTube Music Library. Song is Clover 3.

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