In our work last year with a security company, the Director of Engineering told us, “I eagerly looked forward to having the extra workforce from an acquisition to bring our next software release out in less than two more months. This was our opportunity to impact the way corporations use the Internet. With the combination of our new resources, both in engineering tools and emerging technology specialists, we will be able to secure sensitive communications more completely for the future. But, now I’m gloomier over my former expectations.”

This phenomenon includes what psychologists’ term as, Highly Sensitive Persons, or HSPs, a term coined by psychologist Elaine Aron. According to Aron’s theory, HSPs are a subset of the population who demonstrate personality traits known as sensory-processing sensitivity, or HSP. Those with high levels of HSP display increased emotional sensitivity, stronger reactivity to both external and internal stimuli—pain, hunger, light, and noise—and a complex inner life.

“It seems to me that the engineering people we have brought on appear highly engaged, possibly even anxious. Alone, I don’t have the skill to create a new equitable culture, much less, encourage them to achieve exceptional results.”

This is not an uncommon challenge from an acquisition or merger. Factors that influence the mood, the culture, and the long-term success of HSP personnel can be:

  • Incoming employee loyalties may still exist with the departed senior staff, many hired by specific executives. What appears to be overachieving may be uncertainty over the process of transferring comprehensive knowledge from one group to another; and the rapidness of how to integrate into another culture.
  • In the new workplace, the terms of accountability can dramatically impact the productivity of the workforce in every department. Eagerness to be accountable is a core value for each person; and should be a fundamental pillar of a company’s culture. New personnel may not know who they can trust and who they can confide in when they are feeling their accountability challenged.
Traits of Highly Sensitive Persons in Leadership