Dealing with the sensitive types

To be taken as a serious road cyclist, you have to have at least two broken collarbones. By that count, I qualify. I remember the last time I had my arm in a sling, one of my friends touched me lightly on the arm and this triggered a very painful response. I often think that emotional sensitivities are something like that. It only takes a light touch to trigger a strong reaction.

I believe that the great majority of people have sensitivities of one sort or another. But there are three things in particular that people tend to be sensitive about – disrespect, control and abandonment.

These sensitivities come from two main sources – our life experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Adult survivors of child abuse, for example, often respond very badly to behaviour they believe is disrespectful or controlling. Sensitivities also arise from psychological needs that are very important to us. One theory of human behaviour, Choice Theory, says that each of us is born with needs for connection and respect, but for some individuals, these needs are especially important.

The trouble with sensitivities is that they can easily colour our perceptions, leading us to mis-read and often over-react. What many people tend to do in return is to react to others reactions and become stuck in a pattern of reciprocal button-pushing.

Of course we are all responsible for own behaviour, including those people who with sensitivities.  They can learn to double-check their perceptions and find a kinder perspective if possible. They can learn to control their emotions even if they feel others are behaving badly. They can also work at becoming less sensitive over time.

But in the meantime, we can at least take responsibility for our part and make sure we are not pushing other people’s buttons by accident.

For people who are sensitive to disrespect, we can be especially careful to sound and look respectful when we are speaking with them. We can choose to give more positive feedback rather than constructive comments. We can seek out and value their opinions.

People who are sensitive to being controlled, tend to respond better to requests than directives. We can give them choice wherever possible. We can allow them to make decisions and be in charge when we can live with this.

Those who are sensitive to abandonment tend to respond better to being heard, being kept in the loop, being included in social groups, and in love relationships appreciate closeness and affection.

Of course, there is still a chance that others may still mis-read our behaviour and over-react. Here it is important to have a back-up plan, perhaps apologizing for how we may have come across, giving reassurance of what we really meant, and gaining some joint understanding for the future. 

These things can be hard to do especially when we believe we are doing nothing wrong. While there is no guarantee that if you adjust yourself to take into account a person’s sensitivities that they will respond well in return. I can guarantee that if you don’t, your inadvertent button-pushing will get more of the behaviour you do not want to see. 


Subscribe to our FREE newsletter

and we will send you 3 bonus e-books on building stronger teams and a happier workplace