Sensitivity may be our secret advantage in business. But for some, it can be debilitating both personally and professionally. Learn how to negotiate sensitivity in business so that you and your business thrives.

Sensitivity and empathy

Empathy is the cornerstone of effective marketing. Without empathy, our marketing blunders through cultural sensitivities, offends, patronises and alienates people. Without the insights we gain through empathy, we risk being irrelevant to our audience, which makes us invisible.

Sensitive people are often more empathetic to others. When we’re able to pinpoint the particular psychology of our ideal clients, we can make our message sharper and more powerful by utilising our empathy. We know what people want and can better cater to them.

Sensitivity and market trends

Being highly sensitive can make us very well placed to spot a market trend or notice a shifting tide earlier than others. Taking cues from conversations and comments, broadcast and print media, social media, and broader trends, sensitive folk often have an instinct for changes that will affect our business.

With enough courage, we can take advantage of this by evolving our business ahead of others. By the time mainstream media has officially named a trend, it’s normally too late for a small or micro business to really capitalise from it.

Sensitivity and enthusiasm

Oftentimes, being sensitive means being passionate, which results in enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a massive asset in business (and in life) that tends to wane as we age.

Most clients value a competent business owner who demonstrates enthusiasm and passion for what they do more than business who is competent but not enthusiastic. Your enthusiasm is a business asset that should be protected, not only from people who drain your energy, but from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that are a natural consequence of experience. The turbulence, oftentimes long hours, steep learning curves, uncertainty and insecurities of self-employment will take a toll on your enthusiasm and passion if you’re not vigilant.

Sensitivity and creativity

Sensitive people tend to be creative. Creativity is a massive plus in business: it keeps us finding new and better ways to do things; it makes our marketing far more effective; it means we’re naturally good at problem-solving; it keeps our business evolving, fresh and relevant.

Creativity is the secret superpower of many sole traders and micro-business owners and enables you to do far more with far less. You can’t buy creativity – there are countless examples of massive marketing budgets that have produced woefully dismal marketing campaigns. Creativity does more with less.

Taking business too personally

The flip-side of sensitivity in business is that we risk taking things too personally. When we’re doing what you love for a living, any feedback that could potentially be perceived as personal can be badly received. Clients and prospects with poor manners, unreasonable expectations, who don’t respond the way we expect or don’t respond at all, can send sensitive types into a spin.

When we view your work as a vocation more than a job and are overly invested in our business, we feel every perceived slight very keenly.

How to know if you’re too sensitive in business

Sensitivity is not a bad attribute in business, but it can become a huge problem without adequate safeguards. To find out whether you’re too sensitive in business, ask yourself the following:

  1. Do I regularly take time out of my business of at least a day or more, because I feel overwhelmed, stressed or depressed about it?
  2. Do I find making decisions in my business extremely hard, and either canvas a lot of opinions and take a lot of time, or postpone decisions indefinitely?
  3. Do I find myself regularly feeling annoyed, angry or otherwise provoked by email exchanges or conversations with clients or prospects?
  4. Do I regularly experience wildly high highs and super low lows working in my business?
  5. Do I sometimes wait some days before responding to clients emails or avoid their calls because I don’t know what to say?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above, then being sensitive is likely taking a toll on you – not only emotionally, but to your business’s bottom line.

But rest assured, you can keep your sensitivity intact while safeguarding your health and improving your profitability.

How to better manage your sensitivity in business

To better manage our sensitivity in business, start with boundaries. How can we create better boundaries between ourselves and our clients, and ourselves and our business, so that we can utilise our natural strengths without paying for it later?

More obvious boundaries include our terms and conditions, the hours and times of the day in which we work, keeping admin under control, minimising distractions and interruptions, and taking regular holidays.

One of the exercises I take business coaching clients through is defining their own conditions for greatness. We each have different conditions because we’re all different – for example, some people get their best work done in the morning and others, like me, get a roll on in the afternoons.

As boss of our businesses, we set your own terms. Of course, we want to make the process of doing business with us as easy and appealing as possible, but equally, we don’t need to follow the herd or pander to every client request to be well-respected.

Writing our own conditions for greatness minimises emotional pain and heightens our chances that we’ll do your best work.

The martyr complex

Oftentimes we struggle to say no to our clients or take on particular clients who we know aren’t a great fit because we struggle with the martyr complex. People who are naturally generous-spirited and kind, who may also be working as healers or helpers, oftentimes suffer from the martyr complex of wanting to help, serve or save everyone.

This rarely ends well. First, because clients who are attracted to those with a martyr complex are oftentimes in the grips of an emergency or panic. They are not able to help themselves and so reach out to others to save them. Unless we work in emergency health or other emergency services, we aren’t helping them by stepping in to save the day.

We are teaching people that being in emergency will get you attention and that your time and boundaries aren’t worth much. We know that real, enduring change isn’t possible until we’re ready for it, not just paying lip service. Clients in the grips of a crisis are rarely ready to make change and so won’t experience the full benefits of what you offer.

Sometimes, we experience an adrenalin rush lurching from emergency to emergency, sweeping in to ‘save’ clients from themselves. If that’s you, then I’m afraid this article won’t help. You need to know – through consistent bouts of illness, an empty bank account, or constant anxiety or depression – that you can’t continue in the manner in which you’ve been going, and want to change more than you want to experience the rush of emergency.

Sensitivity in business is not a dirty word. It can be your secret advantage. It can give you an advantage in spotting market trends, creating relevant, powerful and creative marketing materials, crafting spot-on products and services that your clients love to buy, and inspiring passion and enthusiasm that puts you ahead of the rest.

But, like all things, there’s a shadow side to these strengths. We don’t need to suffer the repercussions of our sensitive natures if we don’t want to. We need to safeguard our strengths and give ourselves the best possible chance of doing exceptional work.