Sensitive people get a bad rap. Research suggests that genes are responsible for the 15-20% of people who qualify as “highly sensitive.” Psychologist Elain Aron has studied this phenomenon extensively, and using MRI scans of highly sensitive people’s brains, she’s found that they experience sounds, feelings, and even the presence of other people much more intensely than the average person.
Sensitivity and Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. The good news is that highly sensitive people aren’t more or less emotionally intelligent than others.
Highly sensitive people experience things more intensely. Their strong emotions are easier to identify (and potentially use to their benefit) than the average person. This also helps them to communicate effectively because they don’t just hear the words coming out of other people’s mouths, but they also catch on to subtleties in gesture and tone.
There are trade-offs, however, as strong emotions that are left unchecked can have disastrous consequences. Highly sensitive people can use EQ to their benefit only once they understand that they are highly sensitive. This awareness ensures they reap the benefits of their heightened emotional awareness while spotting and defeating their negative tendencies.
The Highly Sensitive Person
You’re likely wondering if you or someone you know are highly sensitive. The following are the most common qualities that highly sensitive people possess. See how many apply.
1. You think deeply. When life throws you a curveball, you retreat deep into your shell, thinking through every aspect of what transpired before taking any action. Small things (in your own life and other people’s lives) can have a big impact on you.
2. You’re detail-oriented. You’re as sensitive to details as you are to feelings. You see details that others miss, and you aren’t content until you’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed the t’s. This is a strength that is highly valuable in the right profession.
3. You take longer to reach decisions. Since you’re prone to dig deep beneath the surface, you tend to drag out decisions. You can’t help but try to run every possible outcome through your head, and this is often at the expense of the ticking clock.
4. You’re crushed by bad decisions. When you finally make a decision, and it turns out to be a poor choice, you take it much harder than most. This can create a vicious cycle that slows down your decision-making process even more, as fear of making a bad decision is part of what slows you down in the first place.
5. You’re emotionally reactive. When left to your own devices, you have a knee-jerk reaction to your feelings. You also have strong reactions to what other people are going through. When your emotions come on strong, it’s easy to let them hijack your behavior. The hard part is channeling your feelings into producing the behavior that you want.
6. You take criticism harshly. Your strong feelings and intense emotional reactions can make criticism hard to take. Though you may overreact to criticism initially, you also have the tendency to think hard about things and explore them deeply. This exploration of criticism can play out well for you in the long run, as your inability to “shrug it off” helps you make the appropriate changes.
7. You work well in teams. Your unique ability to take other people’s feelings into account, weigh different aspects of multifaceted decisions, and pay attention to the smaller details makes you extremely valuable in a team environment. Of course, this can backfire if you’re the one that is tasked with making final decisions, as you’re better suited to offering input and analysis than you are to deciding whether or not to push the red button.
8. You have great manners. Your heightened awareness of the emotions of other people makes you highly conscientious. You pay close attention to how your behavior affects other people and have the good manners to show for it. You also get particularly irked when other people are rude.
9. Open offices drive you crazy. Your sensitivity to other people, loud noises, and other stimuli makes it practically impossible for you to work effectively in an open-office environment. You’re better off in a cube or working from home.
Related: The 8 Secrets of Great Communicators
Bringing It All Together
Like many things in life, being a highly sensitive person is both a blessing and a curse. It all comes down to what you make of it.
A version of this article first appeared at TalentSmart.