If you have clients that you think are highly sensitive, how can you deal with them?
High sensitivity is a trait in about 20 percent of the population — about one in five people — so the chances are very good that you have a highly sensitive person in your coaching practice.
The first place I suggest all coaches to start is to educate themselves about what high sensitivity is. You can do that very easily. Dr Elaine Aron has a website called hsperson.com. She has a self test, articles, and a book, so you can easily understand whether you or your clients are highly sensitive.
About one in five, about 20 percent of us are just like this.
If you are working with a client and you think, “Gosh, this client is prone to overwhelm, they are rather emotional, they tend to be pretty deep thinkers. I wonder if they are highly sensitive?” then I recommend that you encourage them to go to the website or encourage them to read a book.
And encourage them to start noticing their interactions with people around them in their lives, in the workplace:
- What kinds of situations trigger them?
- What kinds of people tend to push their buttons?
- What tends to get them feeling overwhelmed or disempowered?
Help them to start to track their experience in regards to high sensitivity. And help them think about what their life experiences have told them about themselves.
This is going to be particularly important for male highly sensitive people. Because if you are a guy, particularly if you are European guy, you are probably taught that you are supposed to be the leader, You are supposed to be strong. You are supposed to be the breadwinner. You are supposed to be certain kinds of things.
Very few men that I know have been taught that being highly sensitive, being aware of subtleties, and noticing things that other people don't notice are good things. Most men don't think that that is necessarily valuable.
And yet, a man who can bring that into the conversation, particularly a male leader that can bring that level of awareness and depth of processing into their work and into their relationships, brings a huge gift. It is really important to the people around them.
Adapt how you interact with a highly sensitive client
Your own subtle behaviours can have an impact on your clients. Your tone of voice, the speed at which you speak, expressions that you use, if you work by Skype for instance.
You can design an alliance with them and empower them to start talking with you about things that bother them.
For instance, if they can say to you, “You know, this is hard for me to deal with, this feels like too much, let me stop you there, I need some time to process this,” in this way they start to practice the behaviors with you that they can then take out into the rest of their lives.
Strategies that are useful for coaching highly sensitive people
You can help them explore learning how to say no, and how to have boundaries with people who feel overwhelming.
For instance, if your client feels like someone is coming at them like a freight train, help them to find a way to be with that type of person — to allow the other person to be who they are, but also for your client to be able to acknowledge that they find that kind of energy difficult to be around.
When you have educated yourself, you will also be more able to normalise your client's experience. You will be able to help them see that actually, it may not feel like everyone is like this, but if they notice, they will remember that there are people that they have met through their life, who are similar to them.
And if you can help them to connect with those like-minded people then you will begin to normalise the fact that there are just some of us that are like this... About one in five, about 20 percent of us, are just like this. So how can we support and empower each other to bring more of this high sensitivity positively into the work that we do, and into our relationships with other people?
Normalise the fact that there are just some of us that are like this.
Finally, I would encourage you to think about helping your clients to learn exercises for slowing down... balancing... centreing.
For example, meditation for one to five minutes, is a great place to start and it will start to build over time. Walks in nature, journaling, expressing yourself through art and creativity.
These are all ways that can help overwhelm to recede, so they are not flooded with too much information, which is what can happen with the highly sensitive person.
If they can let the overwhelm recede they can then start processing again and bring their gifts into their work and into their lives.
This interview has minor edits for clarity.
Deborah Huisken an executive coach who helps business people understand and leverage their uniqueness. dancingstar.com