How to Develop the Courage to Be Sensitive

by Sep 20, 2016

To be sensitive is a strength, not a weakness

be sensitive

Opening lines of communication is the best step

The cutting words, “Don’t be 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.

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. [Tweet “We do need to be sensitive.”]

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.

Read: How to tackle a difficult conversation

How to be a sensitive leader

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. Read: How soft skills can be learned

 “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. [Tweet “It takes true strength to stay tuned-in.”]

Read: A Simple Yet Powerful Way to Handle a Stress Episode

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

Don't be afraid to be sensitive

Your heart can be just as important as your head.

  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, you coaching, and your ability to lead.

Download these career reflection worksheets to create a career strategy and plan that works for you.

Marcia Reynolds Contributor
Dr. Marcia Reynolds, president of Covisioning LLC, is author of The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs. She weaves together three areas of expertise: organizational change, coaching and emotional intelligence to help leaders have powerful conversations.
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