In Episode 91, Melinda speaks with Matt Landsiedel, Life & Spiritual Coach at Inspired to Be Authentic, about how empathic and highly sensitive people (HSPs) can thrive in the workplace and become some of our strongest leaders. They explore what being “highly sensitive” means, how we can identify individuals with this personality trait, and where there are overlapping characteristics between HSPs and empaths. They also discuss ways for HSPs to support themselves through healing past trauma to become their most authentic selves, and they provide simple approaches for managers to support a highly sensitive team member’s valuable contributions and emotional well-being.
- Learn more about Matt Landsiedel
- Check out Dr. Elaine Aron’s website to know your Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) score
- Read the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
- Read the book, You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
- Subscribe to Matt’s podcast, “Inspired To Be Authentic”
- Subscribe to Matt’s podcast, “Gay Men’s Brotherhood,” and learn more about the GMB community
- Read Paul Ekman’s journal article, “Universal Facial Expressions of Emotions”
This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com.
- “When you’re highly sensitive, it means that you score high on a temperamental personality trait called Sensory Processing Sensitivity. And basically, what this means is that we have a different structured nervous system than non-sensitive people. Our nervous systems are… more perceptive, they’re highly attuned to ourselves in our environment. So, we’re really able to notice what’s going on in our own experience at a very deep level. And we’re also able to notice what’s going on in other people’s experiences on a deep level.”
- “Strong leaders need to have high empathy… When you move towards connecting with your empathy and understanding other people, that’s what I think makes a great leader… Leaders don’t make decisions for other people. They let other people inform them on the best decisions to make, and then they pull the trigger and they make the decision… That’s healthy leadership, in my opinion… Being managed by somebody versus being led by somebody, I think it’s a completely different experience.”
- “When working with anybody, you’re working with their nervous system… because we all have our past experiences stored in our nervous system. When you have conflict in the workplace, you’re working with two nervous systems that are activated… So with a highly sensitive person, you’re just working with a different structured nervous system. So practice curiosity with your employees as well, if you’re managing HSPs… Ask them questions; what is it like to be you? What gets you overstimulated? What areas do you thrive in? What’s your passion? There’s so much value to having an HSP on your team because… they pick up on things that others don’t. They process information very deep and with a lot of breadth.”
- “Most of us are living from our minds; we need to come downward into our body and connect with the wisdom of our body, which is the wisdom of our soul… We always just say, ‘Find some sort of practice that’s going to allow you to connect with your body,’ and a lot of people immediately attribute it to meditation or something where you have to be still. That’s not always true… There’s passive and there’s active meditation. You could do a walking meditation, where your goal is just to focus on your five senses while you’re walking and try your best to stay out of unconscious thought patterns. It could be Yoga Nidra. It could be just yoga in general. It could be stretching. It could be dancing, embodied dance, or embodied movement. I just think that’s a really big part of it because if you look at healing too… the things that get in the way of us being authentic, being happy, joyful, and peaceful are things like shame, trauma, grief, fear, and these things that live inside of our body… We really need to connect with our body to be able to release this stuff so we can therefore have more space to enjoy the things we want to enjoy.”
Life & Spiritual Coach at Inspired to Be Authentic
Matt Landsiedel is a transformative life coach, empathic healer, and spiritual teacher from Calgary, Canada.
Matt specializes in teaching people how to heal shame + trauma and embody their authentic selves so they can enjoy meaningful connections in their lives. His areas of expertise are working with highly sensitive people (HSP), empaths, and gay men to develop a stronger sense of self-worth.
MELINDA: Welcome to Leading With Empathy & Allyship, where we have deep real conversations to build empathy for one another, and to take action to be more inclusive, and to lead the change in our workplaces and communities.
I’m Melinda Briana Epler, founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How to Be an Ally. I’m a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion speaker, advocate, and advisor. You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc.
All right, let’s dive in.
MELINDA: Hello, everyone. Today, our guest is Matt Landsiedel, a life and spiritual coach at Inspired to Be Authentic. He is also one of the leaders at Gay Men’s Brotherhood, where he has a podcast as well, which our producer Renzo Santos loves. That’s actually how we found him. In addition, Matt has his own podcast Inspired to Be Authentic.
Today, I’m going to be talking about what it means to be empathic and what it means to be highly sensitive, which are related, but not necessarily the same. We’ll talk about how you can support yourself if you’re a highly sensitive person, and how allies and colleagues and managers can best support empathic and highly sensitive people on their teams. So, welcome, Matt.
MATT: Thank you. Yeah, I’m honored to be here. I love what you guys are about. So, I couldn’t say no to this opportunity.
MELINDA: Awesome. Likewise. Likewise. To start, could you tell us a bit about your own story? Who are you? Where did you grow up? How did you end up doing the work that you do now?
MATT: I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and that’s where I currently am living. I struggled with addiction throughout my teenage years and into my early 20s. That brought me into rehab. I got sober. I decided I wanted to go into that profession. So, I went to school at the University of Lethbridge. My undergraduate was addiction counseling, and I did that work for about 10 years.
And then, I morphed into doing more traditional coaching work. I did fitness and nutrition coaching and weight loss coaching as a bit of a reprieve from that work, and really enjoyed that. But I felt like in the last few years my calling was really to get back into doing my counseling and my healing work and working with psychology and spirituality. So, just in the last few years, I’ve gotten back into doing this work.
Recently, within the last two years, I discovered that I’m highly sensitive. I always knew I was sensitive, but I didn’t realize there was a term for it and like a scientific trait. And, you know, really exploring my being an empath and these sorts of things. I figured I would get back into doing this type of work, but instead of focusing on addiction, focusing more on helping people become more authentic.
I see like the biggest barriers, and they were for me, was trauma and shame. A lot of the work I do is helping highly sensitive people, gay men, and empaths heal shame and trauma and move more towards their authentic self. I absolutely love it. I feel like I’m really aligned to my soul’s purpose and what I’m meant to be doing in this life. So yeah, it’s great.
It’s great to be able to be on these, you know, more public podcasts where I can share and educate people on some of these things that are a little bit more hidden, and people don’t talk about them very much.
MELINDA: Yeah, and I will say that I didn’t really know the term before talking with you either. I then took the test. According to the test, I’m very highly sensitive. Yeah. And so, maybe we could get into that a little bit more in a bit, but let’s define it first. What does it mean to be an empath, first? And then secondly, we can talk about being highly sensitive.
MATT: Yeah, most definitely. I kind of view the word sensitivity as the broad umbrella, and then underneath that you have sensory processing sensitivity, you have empathy, people with high empathy. So, to define what an empath is, basically, empathy means to be able to understand and feel one’s emotions, your own and other people’s emotions.
Being an empath is a little different in the sense that when you’re highly empathic, it means you’re able to feel people’s emotions, but you’re also able to transmute and heal emotions. I believe that the transmutation is really connecting into somebody’s emotional world feeling what they’re feeling and helping them move that emotional energy.
So essentially, you can equate being an empath with being a healer. We heal on the emotional level. We deeply connect with people on an emotional level.
MELINDA: My own thoughts come through when you say that many people can have empathy. The next step is to really understand not only what somebody is feeling, but how to get to the next stage, that healing stage is kind of next level.
MATT: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. I think when you look at people with high empathy that would be more on the highly sensitive spectrum. That’s one of the traits of being highly sensitive is having high empathy, and then what differentiates somebody with high empathy and being an empath is that transmutability that we can help heal and we can help the person move through that experience.
MELINDA: So, when we’re talking about allyship, of course, that’s a great quality to have if you’re an ally because you have a good sense of how you might be able to support somebody.
MELINDA: Yeah, interesting. Okay. so, let’s talk a little bit more about what it means to be sensitive and as a highly sensitive person in specific, what is that trait?
MATT: I have my own definition for sensitivity. I define it as a gift that allows us to be highly attuned and perceptive to ourselves and our environment. Because I went looking for definitions of sensitivity and you can imagine what I found. It was all this stigma around what being sensitive means and how it means, you know that we’re delicate, and weak, and fragile, and hurt easily emotionally, and these sorts of things.
I wanted to define it in my own way that is more empowering, and really, truly grasps the notion of what it means to be a sensitive person. So, the term highly sensitive person was coined by Dr. Elaine Aaron, who’s a psychologist who has been studying the trait for many decades now. And really, what it means is, when you’re highly sensitive, it means that you score high on a temperamental personality trait called sensory processing sensitivity.
And basically, what this means is that we have a different structured nervous system than non-sensitive people. Our nervous systems are just like I said, in the definition, they’re more perceptive, they’re highly attuned to ourselves in our environment. So, we’re really, really able to notice what’s going on in our own experience at a very deep level. And we’re also able to notice what’s going on in other people’s experiences on a deep level.
There’s actually an acronym called DOEES to help people understand what sensory processing sensitivity is. The D stands for depth of processing. It means that we process information, cognitive information stimuli in our environment, we process it very deeply. Oftentimes, people experienced that as deep thinkers, right? Highly sensitive people tend to be deep thinkers and deep feelers. So, that’s the first one.
The O stands for overstimulation. If you think about somebody who’s constantly processing information on a very deep level, depth, and breadth of information, we’re taking in a lot so we become overstimulated easily. This one tends to be the one that most highly sensitive people categorize as a negative trait. One of the only negative traits about being sensitive is that we get overstimulated and it’s really hard to regulate our nervous system when we’re in a state of over stimulation.
And then, that leads to the E, which is emotional reactivity and empathy. People that score high on the trait tend to be more emotionally reactive. You’re processing a ton of information. You’re overstimulated. And then, your emotional stimuli is also high. Right? So, it’s easier for people to become emotionally reactive. And that’s for both. That’s not just for, say, like the negatively framed emotions. It’s also for positively framed emotions. We feel pain and sadness on a very deep level but we also feel love and joy on a very deep level. So, it is kind of that double edged sword.
And then the other E is empathy. People that are highly sensitive, there’s been scientific research done on them having more activity in the insula region of the brain, which is in charge of the mirror neuron. So, for example, when I am sitting with a client and they become emotional, my mirror neurons are firing based off of what the expressions are going on in their face. I’m able to feel what they’re feeling. So, people that score high on sensory processing sensitivity, have high empathy, and are able to feel what other people are feeling.
And then, the S stands for a strong ability to notice subtleties in their environment. So, because we’re processing information on such a deep level, we’re able to notice patterns, we’re able to notice when things change. An example of this would be, you know, if I met with you last week, and if you were to come in today with black hair, I would very, very much notice that. Right? So, we just noticed things when they change over time, which is a really great thing for workplaces and working on teams is we’re able to pick up on the things that that traditionally non-sensitive people won’t pick up on.
Some other important things to share with you guys about the trait is that about 20% of people on the planet score high on this trait, which is extremely high. That’s one in five people that you come across is going to be highly sensitive and because sensitivity has a lot of stigma around it.
A lot of people deny this part of themselves or they shut this part of themselves off because it’s viewed as a weakness in the traditional ways that we have defined sensitivity. It is an inherited trait. So, it’s genetic. It is passed down. So, if you have it, likely your mother or father has it, and you also can pass it on to your children.
And then across gender, it’s equal. Oftentimes, people think that women are more sensitive than men but this is absolutely not true. It’s scored equally across gender. There are about 200 species that exhibit this as well. This is not just within the human species. This is exhibited across most species.
Scientific research shows that it’s more about adaptation and longevity of the survival of the species because, you know, if a highly sensitive person notices something before everyone else does, in other species, they might be able to feel when the tsunami is coming so they can let everybody else know to get up on the higher ground. So, it’s just this real strong ability to be perceptive so we can adapt and survive.
MELINDA: I saw in a video of a recent earthquake. It was a Cat Sanctuary. It showed on video that the cats are sensitive before you could perceive an earthquake.
MATT: Isn’t that amazing?
MELINDA: Yeah. Yeah. Amazing. There’s so many things that you said that call different ideas to mind. One is that overstimulation and the over processing, I have always thought of that as being an introvert. I suspect there’s a lot of introverts who are highly sensitive people, as well. I think Susan Cain mentions being sensitive in her book Quiet too. Is there anything more that you want to add around the interrelatedness between highly sensitive people and introverts?
MATT: Yes, very much so. So, about 70% of HSPs score high on introversion, and 30% score high on extraversion. It is a misconception that all sensitive people are going to be introverts, but it’s actually not true. That’s why Dr. Elaine Aaron was able to extrapolate the data between sensory processing sensitivity and introversion, because what she was seeing in her research was that teachers and parents were saying, “My son is shy. He’s introverted.” but really, there’s also children who score high on the trait that are extroverted.
Introversion and sensory processing sensitivity were not actually the same thing. That’s when the research started to really shine through that this is a really unique trait. And also, ADHD was something that was also misdiagnosed for sensory processing sensitivity. So, to be able to kind of have the discernment between these three categories, I think is really powerful. It’s really life changing for parents and children that are HSP.
MELINDA: It also makes me think that because people can be highly sensitive and introverts that they can be misperceived as extroverts, as well. I’ll just take myself as an example. When I was on an executive team, we all took the Myers Briggs test. I scored pretty high on the I, introverts, right. And so many people were surprised at that. I think it’s because I actually have a lot of social cues and a lot of energy when I’m in crowds. It’s just that afterwards I’m dead, right. I have to recover. I have to recover from it.
MATT: Are you INFJ?
MELINDA: I am INFP.
MATT: Okay. So, close. Close.
MELINDA: Yeah. I have changed. I used to be an IMTJ. I mean, it’s a big percentage of the population. Twenty percent is a big percentage of the population.
MELINDA: A lot of your work is around shame and self-healing. Can you talk about how that relates with empathy and being highly sensitive? Shame in particular, I guess.
MATT: Yeah. Shame. Yeah, that’s the biggest one. Well, I shouldn’t say that because shame and trauma are pretty equal but people who have experienced trauma tend to have shame around their trauma. So, it just always seems kind of like really interrelated. But any sort of minority, I feel like there’s going to be an element of shame, because we feel different.
We have been marginalized or oppressed in some way. It makes the road towards authenticity a little bit more challenging. That’s why I see kind of shame and authenticity, as you know, you need to move through shame and do kind of shadow work and do your healing around this before you can move towards your authenticity. Because shame tells us there’s something wrong with me. That’s the mantra of shame, right?
If shame could say something, it would say there’s something wrong with you. We internalize that, and then we don’t want to share ourselves with the world. We are afraid of rejection and judgment so we hide ourselves behind masks and personas.
I just think that the work that I do with my clients is liberation work, really liberating them from the confines of their mask or the boxes that they’ve put themselves in or within identifying with their self-concept and really breaking free of that and connecting to the infiniteness of their soul energy that we’re all made of energy and that we don’t have to be attaching to these labels as much. Although the labels can be helpful to help people understand who we are. I think that is important too. So, it’s kind of like being balanced in that space.
MELINDA: If I could just interject for a minute. I think what you said earlier is really important to restate here, which is that there’s a stigma against being sensitive, right, that sensitivity. And especially, I would say that you said that it’s across all genders, right? And then there is definitely a stigma against men who are highly sensitive as well. So, I suspect there’s quite a bit of masking that’s happening. You mentioned shadow work. Can you say what that means for anybody who doesn’t know?
MATT: Yeah, definitely. Shadow Work is essentially, you could also frame it as like self-acceptance work, right? Because we all have these shadow aspects of our nature that it tends to be in our psyche. It’s subconscious. We’re not really aware of these aspects of ourselves that we’ve split from, and we’ve rejected ourselves.
A good example of this was my sensitivity growing up. I put that in the closet, and I didn’t want to talk about it. I was very calloused. I was hyper masculine so that people wouldn’t see this part of me. A lot of the shadow work that I had to do to learn to accept my sensitivity was to integrate my feminine, because I grew up with messages around masculinity and how you can’t be feminine. You can’t. If you were feminine, you were weak, these sorts of things.
So, a lot of my integration was around embracing my feminine qualities and embracing the feminine qualities in others. I don’t just mean that from a gender perspective. I mean that from an energy perspective. I think we all have masculine and feminine energies. I was denying mine on the feminine side.
And so, yeah, Shadow Work is a process that you can go through to learn to love all the parts of you and make peace with them so they can exist within your experience without you becoming constantly triggered by people who may embody those traits that you have rejected about yourself.
MELINDA: Yeah, I grew up in a family that did not show empathy and where emotions were expected to be covered. And so, I also had to do a lot of work. When I was in college, I left my family and realized that’s not how I want to show up in the world. And so, I did a lot of work to learn how to build empathy to understand.
I’ve said this before in a couple of different podcast episodes but it happened upon a work study. I worked throughout college and did work studies as well as other jobs. One of the work studies that I did was on a psychology study using Paul Ekman’s work around facial expressions. And so, Paul Ekman has this amazing body of research on facial expressions and the different muscles in your faces that convey different expressions, and also how you use different muscles in your face when you’re covering, when you’re masking as well.
So, this study was actually looking at not just the facial expressions that people genuinely and authentically convey, but also looking at what’s different about masking is how I learned empathy through basically understanding the different facial expressions that made up emotions, or didn’t, or mask emotions.
MATT: Yeah. Isn’t that amazing? It’s so funny because the body can’t lie. Most people don’t realize it but the body can’t lie. That’s kind of one of my gifts is I’m able to notice these things in my sessions with clients. I can feel the emotions they’re feeling just based off of, like it might be just a mild twitch in their face. I’m like, okay, and then I can feel in my body, what they’re feeling in theirs.
That’s the gift of high empathy is we’re able to kind of notice these things. We all try so hard, like with our ego or our mind to hide these parts of us because we don’t want to be expressive emotionally. But when you’re trained, and you know this stuff like Paul has taught you that you’re really able to tune into somebody’s world when you can see their body language and the way their body is expressing itself even though they might not be aware of it. That’s powerful.
MELINDA: It also makes me think about highly sensitive people who may have underrepresented identities in the workplace and experience biases and microaggressions and how might affect them differently. Just kind of thinking about this out loud is that highly sensitive people experience trauma differently and workplace trauma differently? I would say that microaggressions can be traumatic.
MATT: Yeah, very much so. There’s a term in the literature around sensitivity called differential susceptibility. Basically, you could have two people. Let’s say they’re twins, and one of them is HSP and the other one isn’t, and they have the exact same experience that there is a stronger likelihood that the highly sensitive person will experience impact from that. So, that might be a trauma.
My theory is that we are processing so deep. When something happens, let’s say you have a conflict with somebody at work and you’re having a hard time because you’re ruminating. That’s what depth of processing could look like. It could look like deep thinking which could lead to rumination. And then, we’re just becoming emotionally activated because we’re ruminating so much. That can lead to perseverating on something and just not being able to let it go.
A lot of the work I do with my clients is teaching them how to process their emotions. I always say you learn to embrace your sensitivity when you learn how to feel your emotions because most of us are so shut off from our emotions, just human beings in general. But when we are sensitive and we feel so deeply, we learn to shut our emotions off quite quickly when we’re younger or at least numb them out or dissociate or we do something to cope with it because it just is way too intense and we haven’t learned the skills to cope with our emotions.
The work I do is bringing people back online from things like dissociation, repression, numbing, distracting from their emotions, like any sort of avoidance. Really, when you look at it, authenticity is connected. You need to connect with your emotions to be authentic because your emotions are really guiding you. They’re your compass that are pointing you in the direction of what your needs are. And then, your needs are pointing you in the direction of what your boundaries are. Right? Emotional intelligence is just such an important part of the healing journey and of life in general.
MELINDA: Yeah. For people who are listening or watching who are highly sensitive people, what are some ways that they might start to think about that healing, think about that internal work to be more authentic? I think one of the things that comes to mind is boundaries. I know some of the work that you do, so maybe you could talk about that a little bit too.
MATT: Well, I’ll first start off by saying that on my Instagram, Inspired to Be Authentic, I have a ton because that’s basically all I do is I just educate on that channel on how to work with your emotions, how to set boundaries, how to live your most authentic self, but it always comes back to embodiment, which is connecting with your body, having a relationship with your body, right? The emotions live in the body, the thoughts live in the mind. They’re both very important.
Most of us are living from our minds. We need to come downward into our body and connect with the wisdom of our body, which is the wisdom of our soul, right? It lives in our body. We always just say, “Find some sort of practice that’s going to allow you to connect with your body.” and a lot of people immediately attribute it to meditation or something where you have to be still. That’s not always true, right?
There’s passive and there’s active meditation. You could do a walking meditation, where your goal is just to focus on your five senses while you’re walking and try your best to stay out of unconscious thought patterns. It could be Yoga Nidra. It could be just yoga in general. It could be stretching. It could be dancing, embodied dance, or embodied movement.
I just think that’s a really big part of it because if you look at healing too, you know, the things that get in the way of us being authentic, and being happy, and joyful, and peaceful is things like shame, and trauma, and grief, and fear, and these things that live inside of our body. I think we really need to connect with our body to be able to release this stuff so we can therefore have more space to enjoy the things we want to enjoy.
MELINDA: Some people use exercise in the same way. That kind of gets some of the energy out of your body as well.
MATT: Yeah. Yeah. I think anything is great. I would just say monitor the intention behind it because if you’re going to the gym and you’re kicking butt, and that’s great, but you’re mostly just going to be working on building your body. If you want to start to connect with the emotional stuff, then I would say maybe it needs to be a bit slower because the mind operates at a pace and so does the body and the body is a lot slower.
We live in a world where everything’s about instant gratification. We are all moving at paces that are really quick. And you know, just the simple act of slowing down is probably one of the biggest things that you can do to start to move towards healing because we heal at a pace that slow, not at a pace that’s fast. Yeah.
MELINDA: There’s something else that came to mind when you were talking about living in the body is that seeing an acupuncturist for some hormone related stuff. I went in about a month and a half ago. She looked at my shoulders and said, “What’s going on with your shoulders? What are you holding in your shoulders?” You’re holding a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. Let’s see what’s up with that. So, we do. We hold this in different places in our bodies.
MATT: Luis does great work around that. If you’re interested, she has a book called You Can Heal Yourself. At the back of the book, there’s corresponding illnesses or body parts with certain things. Shoulders is about responsibility and putting too much pressure on ourselves and taking on the weight of the world. And a lot of people carry tension in their shoulders and their neck. Right? A lot of us work really hard on ourselves, and we’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. So, it makes sense. Yeah.
MELINDA: Yeah. It comes out in all kinds of ways, from headaches to lots of different back problems because you’re not holding your neck right and all of that stuff. There’s a lot of things that come out from that. I want to get to allyship as well. When you work with or manage highly sensitive people, how can you be a good ally for them and really help them thrive? What are some things to look out for? How can you support them?
MATT: A lot of the people that I work with, and I run courses as well, a lot of the people that are in my courses, some of them are in corporate. It’s a very, very stressful environment for highly sensitive people because we don’t really work well with being rushed. We tend to be more deliberate. We like to make the right decision. We like to move a bit slower. Multitasking leads to over stimulation, right. And so, these sorts of things.
I would say if you have a highly sensitive person on your team, it’s really important to nurture their gift and understand their gift and slot them into roles that are going to allow them to thrive, which is not going to be high pressure, your multitasking do-do-do work 12 hours a day on no sleep. That just isn’t going to really work for a highly sensitive person.
They’re not aware that they’re HSP, and they’re doing it anyway, then they’re going to experience significant burnout. They’ll probably have a lot of physical health related issues, emotional health related issues because of it. Yeah, I would say just give them a lot of space. Give them a lot of space to be able to work at a pace that’s going to work for their nervous system. Because really, that’s what you’re working with. When you’re working with a highly sensitive person, you’re working with their nervous system.
I would even go a step further and say, when you’re working with anybody, you’re working with their nervous system, right? Because we all have our past experiences stored in our nervous system. When you have conflict in the workplace, you’re working with two nervous systems that are activated, right? So, with a highly sensitive person, you’re just working with a different structured nervous system.
So, practice curiosity with your employees as well if you’re managing HSPs. Practice curiosity. Ask them questions. What is it like to be you? What gets you overstimulated? What areas do you thrive in? What’s your passion? Because there’s so much value to having an HSP on your team because of what I said earlier, they pick up on things that others don’t, they process information very deep and with a lot of breadth as well. So, they’re just able to really add a lot of value.
MELINDA: That kind of brings to mind for me also so many companies are now either remote or hybrid. I have noticed that, for example, I was leading a workshop the other day, and the workplace culture of that company is to turn off their video so I was leading a workshop and I couldn’t see anybody’s faces. I couldn’t see anybody’s energy. What’s going on?
I think more processing happened in my brain because I was like, “Is this landing right? What is happening?” I couldn’t perceive that which I think is an interesting issue that we don’t really talk about as a result of remote workplaces for highly sensitive people. And so, any other thoughts that come to mind of how we can support highly sensitive people within that remote environment?
MATT: I don’t know about supporting people, but I would say one of the biggest things is supporting yourself. A lot of highly sensitive people have a hard time speaking up because there is shame around being different and they don’t know how to educate their colleagues or their management on their traits, right? And most of them, to be honest, aren’t even aware of their traits.
I just learned about my trade two years ago, and I completely transformed my business. I transformed my life all because of this little piece of information that came into my life. It was the missing piece. Everything started to make sense. HSPs really need to learn how to advocate for themselves and educate.
I always say this whenever I’m working with people within minority groups: we can’t wait for the world to change for us. Right? We have to make our voices louder. We have to be heard. We have to be seen. I think the work you’re doing and the work I’m doing is we’re being the voice for people that haven’t found their voice yet.
As a gay man, it was like, am I going to wait for the world to give me permission to love myself? No. I have to do that job. That’s an inside job. And then, once I get my power back, I can start to empower other people around me. I just think that’s kind of what this work is about. So yeah, this is a play on advocating. Advocate for yourself. Trust yourself.
A lot of HSP struggle with trusting themselves because they’ve been told their whole life that they’re wrong, or they’re needy, or they’re too emotional, or whatever it is. They’ve internalized these messages. That’s the social conditioning that we need to unpack in this arena and learn how to change how we view two things, sensitivity and emotionality. Right?
I don’t use those in the same way. They’re not interchangeable for me. Sensitivity is not emotionality. It can be. It’s a piece of it. Because I think our culture views both of those things as weak, especially for men, I’ll say. There are people who identify as a man.
MELINDA: I would say because our workplace systems kind of revolve around men too that as you grow up in leadership in an organization, for women as well and people who are non-binary, also, we have to fall into those same constructs, right? That perception that you’re sensitive is something that I was certainly taught as a leader as well. To be a leader, you have to do that.
And so, I think it’s even beyond men because our workplace cultures often revolve around men. We have this culture that affects a lot of us as a result, and that masking. So, let’s talk a little bit about how highly sensitive people can become the best managers and leaders and really thrive in leadership as well. Any thoughts there?
MATT: Well, one word empathy, right? We have high empathy. I think strong leaders need to have high empathy. It’s lacking in such a big way in corporations and in politics. We don’t see a lot of empathy in the corporate world or the political world. It’s very cutthroat. I feel like when you move towards connecting with your empathy and understanding other people, that’s what I think makes a great leader, right?
Leaders don’t make decisions for other people. They let other people inform them on the best decisions to make, and then they pull the trigger and they make the decision. I think that that’s healthy leadership, in my opinion. That’s the difference between leadership and management. Being managed by somebody versus being led by somebody, I think it’s a completely different experience.
I feel like we do pay fine attention to detail as well. We pick up on the little thing. So, we’ll notice the little things in our environment that need to change in order to make things feel good for people. I always say highly sensitive people are really good at finding comfort. We can walk into a room and we can look around and be like, “Wow, these lights are really bright.”
And, you know, so let’s dim those a little bit. Let’s make the ambiance a little nicer. These chairs are as comfortable as they could be, let’s do this. We were really good at making spaces feel very welcoming and inviting. I think that, you know, if you have a highly sensitive person that’s leading a team, I feel like they’ll be really good at creating comfort, safety, security, within that team dynamic.
MELINDA: I can see how that could be taken into creating a sense of belonging in addition to the lights, really thinking about how you can help somebody feel like they belong in that space, in that environment on that team.
MATT: I think that’s a big thing because a lot of HSPs have a core wound around belonging because we are different. We feel we are different. In some cases, we’ve been shamed for being different. That fear of rejection runs really deep for HSP. I think that’s one of the things that we’re all really yearning for.
That’s what I noticed as a theme throughout all my courses and my clients is we’re all just wanting to be seen and heard and feel like a sense of belonging. So, usually what we yearn for from others is what we’re able to really readily give to others. Right? We want that back, so that we can really build beautiful communities and inclusive spaces when we lead with that part of us that knows what it’s like to not feel included. Right? That’s the benefit of empathy.
MELINDA: One final question. We always end with a call to action. So, given our conversation today, what action would you like our listeners and viewers to take following this conversation?
MATT: Oh, so many things. The first would be to take the test. If you guys can put the link to the test in there so people can understand. If they do score high on the sensory processing sensitivity, learn about it. You can go to my page at @InspiredToBeAuthentic on Instagram. Or if you don’t have Instagram, you can go to my website at MattLandsiedel.com and just start to learn about the trait and what it means because for me, it was the missing piece to the puzzle.
It really helped me understand myself. It helped me understand my parents, because my parents are both highly sensitive as well. It really allowed me to move towards a sense of forgiveness towards myself and towards others because I really realized that oh, this is why my life has been more challenging because I had a trait that I wasn’t even aware of. I would say, that’s probably the biggest thing.
For people that aren’t highly sensitive, I really hope that this episode was an opportunity for you to be able to recognize in others what sensitivity actually means and how it can be a gift. I’ll leave off with a few things that you can use to identify people that are highly sensitive. Highly sensitive people tend to really be finicky with things in their environment because they need to accommodate their traits. These can be seen sometimes as being high maintenance. But really, it’s just somebody respecting their needs and respecting the boundaries of their body and their mind so they can feel calm and relaxed.
Things like being really sensitive to bright lights would be visual sensitivity, auditory sensitivity or people that really are loud sounds can be really activating for them. It can set their nervous system off like dogs barking loud music, sirens from police or ambulances, things like that. Itchy and scratchy fabrics. We don’t like those at all. We like soft fabrics. So, you won’t see a highly sensitive person wearing wool. At least not with something underneath. I’m trying to think of some other things that are important.
MELINDA: My skin is sensitive as well. I’m allergic to wool because my skin breaks out as a result.
MATT: That makes perfect sense, right? I’m very sensitive to foods, and more specifically stimulant foods. Anything like sugar, caffeine, alcohol, these sorts of things. My body just rejects them. You’ll see that a lot with a lot of food sensitivities for highly sensitive people. Yeah, you know, you can go to Elaine Aaron’s website as well, HSPerson.com and take the self-test and see where you score and then go from there. That’s my call to action. Learn about the trait. If you are, then start to understand it because it will probably be what sets you free.
MELINDA: Awesome. We’ve mentioned several different links and websites and also books in this episode so we’ll put all those in the show notes for everyone. Great. Thank you, Matt. Appreciate this.
MATT: Yeah, it’s been nice connecting with you guys. You have a great team here. Everybody’s so welcoming.
MELINDA: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve learned more about myself as a result of meeting you and taking the test. And so, I appreciate that as well.
MATT: Yeah, cool. I want to also mention it, too. On September 13th I’m going to be running a course called Authentic Relating and Empowerment for Highly Sensitive People. So, me and a psychologist out of Australia have built a program, an eight-week program that encompasses authentic relating practices, which is learning how to show up as your most authentic self and set boundaries and communicate what your needs are.
And then, empowerment is the emotion regulation. So, learning how to work with your emotions, learning how to process your emotions in a healthy way. We run this workshop every quarter. And so, the next one is September 13th. If anybody finds out that they’re HSP and they want to work within a group of people who also score on this trait and learn about the trait together, then that would be a great opportunity.
MELINDA: Fantastic. Great. Thank you all for listening. Please take action as a result of our conversation today. We will see you next week.
MELINDA: To learn more about this episode’s topic, visit ally.cc
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Leading With Empathy & Allyship is an original show by Change Catalyst, where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. Appreciate you listening to our show and taking action as an ally. See you next week.
Host: Melinda Briana Epler
Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.
As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.
Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.
Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.
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