Originally published in Comfort Zone Newsletter: August 2013
Knowledge about sensory-processing sensitivity has been slow to enter the business world. That is changing with New Zealander, Janine Ramsey (now living in Australia). I met Janine in Santa Barbara at an HSP gathering, where she showed me a presentation she was hoping to give to companies on preventing expensive bullying lawsuits by recognizing HSPs, who may be more vulnerable to bullying. Janine had just had an experience of this herself and had to leave a job, so the topic was fresh in her consciousness. HSPs, however, may be fortunate that she was left free to think about this issue.
Enter Sensitivity Style
Janine showed me her Power Points on “Roses in the vineyards,” comparing HSPs to the roses that wine growers plant at the end of their rows of grapes because roses are subject to the same diseases as wine grapes, but develop them faster. It’s a little like the canaries in the mines. We talked about the need to add something positive about HSPs, and Janine went back to Australia to work on that. However, she found that companies did not particularly want presentations for the entire company about an interesting minority of their employees.
After a year of deep HSP-type thinking she came up with the idea of having a model that offered something for everyone equally and presented the ideas in a less confronting way by using the term “Sensitivity Style.” But there was still the need to speak to non-HSPs without just making them not something. This reminded me of the high sensation seeking (HSS) dimension. She took this idea and ran with it, creating a four-fold typology that we think is quite powerful, and she has put these ideas into a delightful package.
She has given the four types clever, positive names: Senturion for the pure high sensation seekers (HSSs), sensationalist for the HSP-HSSs, sentimentalist for the HSPs without high sensation seeking, and sensible for those who are neither HSSs or HSPs. After taking the HSP and HSS tests, anyone can put themselves some place among her four types, so that her presentations now have universal appeal for any company.
The discussions are lively as each type learns about the others, appreciates the others, sheds negative stereotypes, and develops communications skills that work with all four types. You can imagine how many bullying problems would be resolved without even needing to discuss them. (Yes, it is a bit like the Myers Briggs, but without the confusing overlap of introversion and high sensitivity that can leave out extraverted HSPs unless they receive their results from another HSP, such as Jacquelyn Strickland.)
From Losing the Best to Appreciating the Best
A good example of how Janine’s work benefits an organization is a large company in Australia that teaches swimming to people of all ages. The first thing an organization gains is a sense of what type is playing what role in the company. After Sensitivity Style presentations were delivered to groups at various levels, this company found that senior leadership teams were comprised mainly of senturions and sensibles. (The exception was in Learning and Development, where the senior leaders were sentimentalists.) In the operational managers group, most were sensibles with a few senturions. The most important discovery was that the actual teachers were 30% sentimentalists, 20% sensationalists, and 50% sensibles. That is, 50% of the actual swim teachers were HSPs (HSS or not), significantly higher than the general population norm of 15-20%.
You can well imagine how these HSPs would be good with someone learning to swim–perhaps the sensationalists with the active, distractible types, and the sentimentalists with those having trouble with confidence, learning new skills, or participating in class. I wonder if a high percentage of their students are other HSPs having trouble learning to swim until they have a teacher who understands them. HSPs could have extra trouble with a fear of water, after years of being warned not to go near it because they might drown. Also, the sensation and mere idea of putting one’s face under can be overwhelming.
I took a swim class every summer until I was 13 and never learned to swim because I couldn’t put my face under. I loved the water so much. I still try to swim almost every day. But I had this sensitivity! I would even fill a basin of water at home and try to do it, but I just couldn’t. Finally a sensitive teenaged swim teacher fitted me with nose plugs, ear plugs, and swim goggles. Then she left me alone with rocks on the bottom of the pool for me to pick up when I could. I was 13, finally well protected from water getting into any head openings, and pretty determined, so I eventually got those rocks. In the process I felt how, when you get your head down, your bottom goes up. At last I had the bodily experience that floating is natural, while sinking and drowning is hard to do. What a great idea. (I taught my HSC to swim the same way.)
After Janine’s presentation, everyone reported increased self-awareness and awareness of the other styles, whatever their own. In particular non-HSPs in management worked on better strategies for interacting with their HSP staff. Many of these had always been considered their “best teachers.” Now they knew why. It was also very significant for everyone to learn that one of their most valuable and respected senior leaders, a man, was a sentimentalist. The non-HSP styled managers now think of sensitivity as a positive trait that leads to top performance in certain roles. What more could we ask for?
How You Can Help and Be Helped
Janine is just one HSP (sensationalist, of course) on a mission to affect companies all over the world. She is trying to make it possible for them to use her materials or have her present, in person or online. It is an ambitious project and she could use our help. If any of you are in an organization that would benefit from a Sensitivity Style presentation, here is your chance for yourself and other HSPs to gain the respect you deserve. Just direct them to Janine through her website.