It’s not what you can do it’s who you know! Have you ever heard that familiar refrain enjoining us to so tactfully and aggressively “get out there” and meet new people? Has it simply bewildered or caused you anxiety as a highly sensitive person knowing that some 70% of us are more introverted? It has for me and I think it is about time we examine something more suitable for those of us who are better suited to a different format.
Networking used to mean that one joined a country club and met “the guys” who would in turn open new doors of opportunity. Or it meant joining a PTA group and meeting the influential women in the community in hopes of courting favor or at least being “in the know” on the important happenings about town. Today with fewer people working at traditional occupations networking has taken on new importance and even more significance as stability and security quickly fade into the past. Now is the age of insecurity, on-demand labor policies in many workplaces, and the independent contractor, who is independent in no way we would identify as desirable. Our bills are full-time and regular, but work is not.
For the HSP meeting new people may prove to be a difficult experience depending on the individual’s level of comfort with a new person. HSPs are highly empathetic and quickly pick up on the energies of any person they are around. If a new person strikes an HSP the wrong way the impulse may be to cut off conversation quickly and escape. For some people this instinct may be quite strong, especially if the other person is negative or arrogant in any way. Other HSPs learn to ignore or minimize their empathetic reactions to new people and focus on their goal. Interactions may still be draining, but learning to control reactivity is an important coping mechanism.
For those HSPs who find meeting new people to just be painful I offer hope. All is not lost and you are not consigned to never being afforded the opportunities to let your talents shine. You will, however, have to go about networking in a different way. In the case of the shy, introverted, or highly reactive person I recommend learning to very effectively use communications other than face to face. Email communications are one way and offer tremendous advantages for the HSP. For instance in email one has the luxury of time to compose complex thoughts and revise before hitting that send button. The lack of face to face pressure creates a space in which the HSP can create a thought or communicate something of themselves. Networking is always about building a personal connection between yourself and the new contact.
It’s known that people have a natural reluctance to anything new. They are naturally inclined to say no, that’s resistance theory. We counter that by personalizing our communications with something of our passions. This could be an idea or thought that we deeply hold or some slightly revealing detail about how our mind works. Subtlety is better than brash statements. It is better to finesse a new contact than knock them over the head with neediness. In that sense put your innate creative abilities as an HSP to work and really craft those emails or other communications. Trying to communicate a complex thought? Develop a visual graphic showing the connections between concepts and ideas rather than rely on the written language. Language is limited in its descriptive capacities, the visual language is not and, in fact, most people learn better and faster through visual graphics.
Want to enter a new field, but lack any contacts? Search them out via any social media platform you can find them on or look them up on their company web site. People now expect to find each other on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. The HSP is at an advantage in each of these formats. Now how about the how of how to develop the contact? Again the HSP holds a special edge: empathy. HSPs are able to read other people’s emotions and subtle clues better than the general population. Make that work for you! Often in text communications it’s what is not said that is as important as what is being said. Read between the lines, so to speak, and intuit what the needs are then seek ways to fulfill them. Be out front with your ideas and energies even though in person you may be fairly quiet. The more you do it the more comfortable you will become with not only making new contacts, but presenting ideas and thoughts.
The benefits of technology open up new insecurities, but also opportunities for those who can foresee the utility of social media platforms, email, and personal web sites. Above all else the key is to continually cultivate new contacts and projects for the long-term. Making use of technology allows the HSP to actually enjoy an advantage in making new contacts even if many of us still need to work on our face to face persona. That can come in time as we slowly build self-confidence and self-esteem through succeeding at small undertakings. In time there is no reason just about any HSP cannot be as effective, if not more so, than any other person.
What about that other bugaboo, the telephone? Many HSPs dread the telephone experience and use it as little as possible. Whether it’s a fear of the unknown, an overstimulating feeling that it must be answered, or a simple dislike for superficiality HSPs can learn to be extremely effective communicators even on the telephone. How so you ask? HSPs make very good performers. Many stage performers and other public personalities are, in fact, HSPs. Our capacity for deep thinking enables us to amass a tremendous amount of specific knowledge that we can recall in a second’s notice. Empathy again allows us to enter the experience of another person and “know” what they’re feeling and need/want to hear at any moment. Lastly, our own nervousness is many times communicated through gesturing or psychomotor activation, which doesn’t show on the telephone. Whether you know it or not, whether you have developed it or not you as an HSP possess the exact qualities to be an extremely effective communicator, but it takes practice and a willingness to engage it. Don’t let opportunities slip by because you fear networking. Embrace it in a big and bold way, give it your all knowing you’re embodying yourself at your best, and don’t be afraid to push your own boundaries. You might just pleasantly surprise yourself.
Dr. Tracy Cooper is a consultant providing pragmatic career advice to HSPs and sensation seeking HSPs. His web site may be found at drtracycooper.com