When most of us in public relations began our careers, we were given “the talk.” You know, the one about how we must learn to steel ourselves against the routine and often ruthless rejection from journalists who won’t give us the time of day, or who just don’t have any time in their day to give us. “If you don’t have a thick skin, this job isn’t for you” is a common refrain.
There’s a lot of truth to that notion, and if a “no” from a reporter is enough to knock you off your game, then perhaps PR really isn’t a sustainable long-term career option. However, there is a certain kind of sensitivity that can be a tremendous asset when your job is to communicate on behalf of brands to the general public. Being attuned to what sounds right and feels right can make all the difference between developing resonant, meaningful messages and coming across as completely tone-deaf.
Sensitivity is too often misunderstood as frailty or timidity. But because sensitive people are so clued into the subtleties of life, they’re often the most outspoken when they perceive a problem. When I say sensitivity, I’m not referring to the characteristic that makes people fold at the first sign of critique. Instead, I’m talking about an innate attention to nuance. Sensitive people have an eye for detail, an emotional intuition and a sixth sense for the potential consequences of words and actions.
There’s a name for people with this quality: a highly sensitive person or HSP. Psychologist Elaine Aron, who quite literally wrote the book on such individuals, estimates that HSPs comprise some 15 to 20% of the population. Another psychologist, Sherrie Campbell, asserts that HSPs are “the world’s greatest innovators” and “the people you want running your businesses.”