How to communicate with a highly sensitive person

By: Naveen B

If your partner, friend, or family member is highly sensitive, you may have noticed that they process everything deeply and intensely. But what does that mean exactly?

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are a unique subgroup of the human population. A third of us are HSPs; some estimate the number to be as high as 50%. They feel things strongly and pick up on subtleties in their environment.

Their brains are wired differently than non-HSPs: there’s greater connectivity between the amygdala (the brain’s emotional center) and other parts of the brain.

This also makes HSPs more prone to anxiety in certain situations. It’s estimated that one in five HSPs suffer from clinical anxiety (more than twice the rate of anxiety among non-HSPs), while others struggle with depression or loneliness.

In this article you will learn various strategies, techniques and tips to deal with highly sensitive people.

Related Resource: How to have difficult conversations?

How to communicate with a highly sensitive person?


How to communicate with a highly sensitive person?

As an HSP, I understand how hard it can be to communicate with others. Many people expect you to be more sensitive than the rest of them, and some people get offended when you’re not. The key is to remember that everyone has their own way of communicating. 

If someone’s tone is harsh or they don’t seem interested in your concerns, they may not be as sensitive as you think. 

They might also have different rules about what’s okay to talk about and what isn’t. As your friends and family learn to take a little time out before speaking with you, they will begin to understand that just because something makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s an insult or cruelty—especially if it doesn’t happen often.

The best thing to do is ask yourself these questions: 

What do I want my friends and family members to know? 

How do I want them treated? 

Is there a rule book for how people are supposed to act around me? If so, read it thoroughly (and maybe even memorize a few pages). 

Use this rule book when communicating with everyone in your life – whether something really bothers you or not – instead of letting minor things build up into major ones.

Remember: no one expects HSPs to be completely objective or rational all the time (we aren’t– we’re Highly Sensitive People!) A little knowledge goes a long way.

Here are some ways on how to communicate with a highly sensitive person:

9 Tips to communicate with a highly sensitive person.

1. Avoid being detail-oriented in communication.

When communicating with a highly sensitive person, focus on the big picture. 

Digressions that aren’t relevant to the main topic can be upsetting to them, and they may not understand why you’re sharing such details with them. Additionally, avoid sarcasm and jokes that are at their expense. 

The sensitivity of their nervous system makes it difficult for them to filter out criticism or harsh tones, so if you come across in this way, they may take offense or become upset when none was intended.

2. Avoid Being critical.

One of the main reasons communication can be difficult between highly sensitive people and others is due to the highly sensitive person’s tendency to take things personally. 

This means that criticizing them or pointing out a mistake can be misconstrued as judgment by a highly sensitive person. Since criticism isn’t received well in any relationship, it is especially important to avoid being critical when communicating with a highly sensitive person.

For example, if you are working on a project together with someone who identifies as being highly sensitive, make sure your communication regarding their work isn’t overly critical. 

Instead of pointing out what they did wrong and where they could improve their approach, try focusing on what they did well and how they could continue improving. The goal here is to prevent them from taking things personally and shutting down completely.

3. Avoid Overwhelming them.

Highly sensitive people are not only easily overwhelmed by loud noises and bright lights, but also your constant questions, texts, calls and social events. 

While it may seem like a highly sensitive person is trying to avoid you at times because they’re so quiet or don’t respond to your invitations or questions right away, this just isn’t the case.

Try to understand that they’re doing their best to make sure they can do the most important things on their agenda and often need time alone in order to recharge after being in large crowds or doing too many tasks.

4. Avoid giving unsolicited advice.

As a friend of a highly sensitive person (HSP), the desire to fix their problems can be strong. After all, you don’t want to see them hurting and overwhelmed by emotions. 

However, it’s important to remember that they’re not looking for someone who knows exactly how they feel or an answer to their problems––they’re looking for a supportive person who will listen to them without judgment or an expectation of change.

So, if your HSP friend comes to you with a problem, listen carefully and empathetically before responding. 

Asking questions and repeating back what they tell you shows that you’re paying attention and validates how they feel. This helps them feel heard, which is one of the most important things in any kind of relationship!

5. Give them enough time and space.

There are several important things to keep in mind when communicating with a highly sensitive person. First, they need time alone to recharge. 

Overwhelming them with too much contact can leave them feeling drained. When dealing with a highly sensitive person, you should always respect their need for space and allow them to seek solitude as necessary.

Second, they need time to think before responding to your questions or requests. 

A highly sensitive person will not respond well if they are caught off guard by a request or question that requires an immediate answer. It takes them time to process their thoughts, feelings, and emotions before speaking up. 

Giving a highly sensitive person space and support so that they can feel comfortable sharing their thoughts is essential for effective communication that results in positive outcomes for both parties involved.

6. Be empathetic and sensitive to their feelings:

When communicating effectively with any highly sensitive person, it’s important not to invalidate their feelings by being critical or dismissive. “You’re overreacting”, “you’re too emotional”, and “it’s fine” are all red flags that will most likely shut down the conversation and make them feel even worse about themselves.

Instead, ask open ended questions about how they are feeling or what is bothering them. Open ended questions cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. 

These types of questions should begin with words like: What, Why, or How. Try asking them how you can help in a way that doesn’t put them on the spot to fix things for themselves immediately because highly sensitive people often need space to process their emotions before fully engaging in problem solving mode.

Remember to avoid comparing your experiences to theirs when trying to provide empathy if they are sharing something upsetting with you. 

We all experience and cope with things differently so don’t say things like “I’ve been through this before and I got over it quickly so you should be able to get over it too.” 

This undermines their feelings and may cause an eruption of frustrations rather than making them feel better as was intended.

  • Ask open-ended questions about their feelings
  • Ask how you can help
  • Don’t try to fix their feelings or tell them how they should feel
  • Don’t compare your partner’s feelings to yours

7. Be Gentle, kind and patient with them.

In order to support and care for a highly sensitive person, you must be gentle, kind and patient with them. Keep in mind that they are more affected by small details than most others would be. 

This also applies to verbal communication. Be mindful of the way you speak with them. Don’t rush them or lose patience if it takes longer for them to make decisions or explain themselves. 

It is important to not expect the highly sensitive person in your life to change who they are in order to suit what is convenient for you because this will only constrain their ability to feel comfortable and express themselves freely.

8. Be willing to listen to how they feel, even if it’s different than how you feel in the same situation.

Show that you care. HSPs value quality time. Use words and actions to express your love and caring.

Be willing to listen to how they feel, even if it’s different than how you feel in the same situation.

Ask them how you can be supportive, so that you don’t guess wrong.

Let them know that you’ll be there for them no matter what, and give examples of times when you’ve been there for them in the past.

9. Set an example by showing how you process your own emotions in a healthy way, but don’t force them to talk about their feelings before they’re ready. 

The best way to support a highly sensitive person is to be open-minded, aware and empathetic. You can show them how you process your own emotions in a healthy way, but don’t force them to talk about their feelings before they’re ready.

  • Be aware of your own emotions and how they impact your behavior. If you’re upset or frustrated with the situation at hand, take a deep breath and try to take a step back so that you can focus on being supportive of the other person. 

Be aware that if you’re angry or upset, it may drive the highly sensitive person away from wanting to talk openly with you.

  • Don’t minimize their feelings or tell them they are overreacting. It’s important not to downplay what a highly sensitive person is going through by saying things like “it’s not that big of a deal” or “I’m sure things aren’t really as bad as you think.”

They are likely experiencing very strong emotions and it’s not helpful for them if someone tells them their feelings are invalid.

  • Don’t tell them to stop feeling what they feel. This is another version of minimizing their emotions and can cause an HSP to feel ashamed for feeling this way because someone else told them that it’s wrong for them to feel sad, angry or hurt in this situation.

Takeaway: You can be supportive of a highly sensitive person when you’re open minded, aware and empathetic

Final thoughts:

It is important to remember that highly sensitive people are different from you, and they’re not trying to be difficult or make things hard for you. 

They simply see the world differently and have a different way of processing information. Oftentimes, these differences can manifest in ways that seem like the HSP is being stubborn or argumentative, but really it’s just because of the way their brain works.

Highly sensitive people are beautiful and wonderful creatures who deserve respect, love and compassion. 

When you put yourself in their shoes and try to understand where they’re coming from, you greatly increase your chances of having positive interactions with them—and be honest with yourself: doesn’t everyone deserve a chance at happiness?

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Experienced Psychology and philosophy Writer, self-help and relationship Coach and thought influencer. He has 7 years of experience in Personal development industry. His expertise as a self-help and relationship Coach has been highlighted through his articles in medium and substack to name a few. To be updated with his latest work, connect with him by following his social media accounts.

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