Do You Notice Everything?
Are You a Highly Perceptive Individual? How to Deal with Exceptional Perception and Extraordinary Perspective
Dale Irvin, CPAE, gave his summary of the previous day’s activities, sending the luncheon crowd into fits of laughter while waving their napkins over their heads in glee. Known as “The Professional Summarizer,” Irvin often sits off to the side of the room alone, picking up on nuances, perceiving subtlety in his colleagues’ presentations, and then adding his own unique and hilarious twist.
Highly perceptive individuals, like Irvin, have an innate ability to detect tonal differences, voice inflection, body language and emotional nuances. They use their keen observational skills and can ingeniously share what they perceive.
High perception is an inherited trait of some 15 to 20 percent of the general population. The Highly Perceptive Individual (HPI) is highly aware of the environment and is sensitive to noise, lighting, medication, food additives, effluents in the air, and the moods of others. HPIs tend to deeply reflect on everything before acting and can become overwhelmed by stimuli. They tend to be empathic, intuitive, creative, cautious and conscientious. HPIs have special needs for sanctuary and solitude, adequate sleep and regeneration. By thoroughly understanding and appreciating their uniqueness, HPIs can benefit from their traits personally and professionally.
HPIs are self-managing, highly principled and want to do a good job. They dislike being evaluated, judged, teased or labeled. They are natural problem solvers who pause to consider before taking action. Occasionally, they may be a bit obsessive; for example, measuring five times before cutting once, and then second-guessing their decision, which can lead to a downward spiral.
Compelled to Share from the Inside Out
Many NSA members are HPIs. Many HPIs feel isolated and are unaware of their trait. It is important to know how it affects their work and how to cope effectively. Their more highly developed perception in one or more senses provides them with finely tuned and extraordinarily calibrated perspectives unique to them. This “gift” allows them to go deep and uncover exceptional detail.
So many NSA members differentiate themselves through this gift of high perception. Once they spot some injustice, need, suffering, cause, beauty, opportunity, purpose or experience to convey, they must express themselves. At first, they may wonder why no one else is responding to what they think everyone sees, and then they realize it is up to them. Being conscientious, they are compelled to find a way to share their perceptions through outlets such as speaking, writing, consulting and coaching. Their passion trumps their reticence. And that is how they bring their gift to us all.
Yet while HPIs may feel isolated and unsupported, they are surrounded by roughly 60+ million HPIs in the United States alone. However, the culture is populated by 80 to 85 percent of people who are not highly perceptive. HPIs are not “normal” compared to the majority, but they are normal among their 20 percent.
They may try to “party all night” like the 80 percent, but they will pay dearly for any excesses because they are more finely tuned. A higher degree of self-care is especially important for HPIs. Think Lamborghini, not Dodge Dart. An HPI requires more highly refined maintenance: sleep, hydration, meditation and exercise.
Certain associations, professions and industries are composed of more than 20 percent HPIs, a match between the work and their characteristics, such as pharmacists and musicians. When speakers are aware of this inherited trait, they can serve their clients through more comprehensive, accurate understanding, insight and appreciation.
HPIs and Introversion
You would never have suspected when she sat on stage and ran the panel like a pro that she, like 70 percent of HPIs, is an introvert. She is outgoing, articulate, even outspoken on occasion. Yet, when her active part of the program was completed, she was ready to go home or back to her hotel room and curl up in front of the TV, or read a book.
Meanwhile, 30 percent of HPIs are extroverts, who occasionally need to find a retreat, or seek solitude or sanctuary, when they would ordinarily seek out more company or external stimulus. The rigors, demands and expectations of a client engagement require all HPIs to manage their time and energy carefully. Roxanne Emmerich, CSP, CPAE, long ago recognized her need to lock down in her hotel room to re-energize on the road, in the press between family responsibility back home, the business, and her presentation. Don Cooper, a sales trainer, goes to his client’s reception early in the evening, mixing among the guests, visiting with the major players, and then beating a retreat to his room to decompress. Extremely articulate and well-spoken, with no hint of shyness or reticence, he needs time alone to collect himself and regenerate for the next day’s presentation.
Heightened Senses Take in More Stimuli
Limited research utilizing an MRI discovered the HPI brain has 30 percent more frontal lobe mass. So, when faced with an onslaught of stimuli, the HPI may require more undisturbed time to process. They are challenged to find quiet in an extroverted world that won’t quit talking. The audio HPI hears the buzzing of the condensers in older light fixtures, or family members chewing loudly at the dinner table. Wearing ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones provides some relief.
HPIs may practice rituals to reduce distraction. Take, for example, the traveling road show seminar presenter who changes hotels and cities every night. But when she returns home, she wants to go to her favorite restaurant for Saturday brunch, sit at the same table, and order the same dish. That way she can focus on her friends.
But other senses also can be problematic. The visual HPI may become uneasy when exposed to certain lighting. My HPI groups despise fluorescent lighting. Yet, how many meeting rooms have fluorescent fixtures?
HPIs have been reading and subtitling situations their entire lives. They pick up on patterns and tendencies in others, and occasionally, they seem capable of reading minds. They detect subtle cues in relationships, and kinesthetically sense and intuitively synthesize what is going on within a group.
HPIs pick up on the moods of others, and are sensitive to their suffering or distress. They want to create a world that is easier on them, less boisterous, slow to change—unless it is one of their causes. Their tendency toward perfection may drive HPIs to correct situations that others think things are just fi ne as they are. The resisters quickly alter their attitudes once the HPI’s changes are made.
Working with a resistant or hostile group can leave the HPI presenter feeling beaten with a rolling pin. Getting on an elevator where the atmosphere is thick with tension may be unbearable. So, while this awareness works to their benefit, they may occasionally prefer to anticipate, avoid or protect themselves from being overwhelmed.
An HPI may appear “fussy,” but no one else has such a sensitive sense of smell. The fragrance of yesterday’s fruit plate ground into the carpeting of a fast food restaurant is enough for the HPI to lose her appetite.
Until they hear it from someone other than their spouse, the non-HPI spouse will not believe anyone can really be “that sensitive.” However, when they complain that you are “too sensitive,” the HPI needs to inform the critic specifically how he is benefiting from the HPI’s sensitivity, including something as simple as when to call a break during a seminar or meeting.
Rich Inner Lives
The HPI has a rich internal life, which may mean he or she is more mentally prepared to anticipate challenges long before they arise. A prime example is Terry Paulson, PhD, CSP, CPAE, when his mike went dead.
HPIs can be very self-aware with so much going on inside of the time. Rich imagination translates into great storytelling, drama or soap opera. While one person talks of stubbing his toe, the HPI can break down that experience and make an entire comedy routine out of it.
HPIs may retreat into a more controllable inner reality or even a virtual reality, especially when short on social contact or voltage. Their ripe imagination for writing a novel can also crash a relationship when the HPI becomes adamant that only his perception trumps reality. Empirical reality checks overcome the seclusion and unconnected reality of an overly abundant inner retreat. Humor and humility are required for these reality checks.
Maintaining Your Nervous System
When she presented, she physically revved herself up by speed walking around the corridors of the hotel early in the morning or doing “breath of fire” yoga exercises in her room. Then, when she was exposed to the onslaught of stimuli that is an audience, she was ready for anything.
When the calendar is empty and speeches infrequent, the professional speaker goes from working alone in a home office one day to suddenly being in front of an audience of hundreds or thousands the next day. That can be a shock, or overwhelming if the speaker fails to maintain sufficient social contact, physical conditioning, or warm-up dates on the calendar, to keep the nervous system in shape to present.
HPIs are subject to “flooding and freezing,” in contrast to the majority who experience “fight or flight” as stress responses. Once your voltage or carrying capacity dwindles, you can become a “deer in the headlights.” Adequate preparation helps, as does rehearsal, exercise and especially sufficient social contact to keep your nervous system charged.
The unexpected can arise and overwhelm during a presentation. Like a short blackout, one moment you are lucid; the next, momentarily out cold on your feet. Lack of sleep takes a toll on the HPI presenter. Too much caffeine makes your pulse race and puts you off balance. If you lose your place, simply relax and allow time to recover.
The “Extroverted Ideal”
You would never know it to observe him. Every time you see him out in public, he is “on,” whether at his local Lions club cracking jokes or delivering a session to C-level executives. But he is really an introvert, and his home is his sanctuary. There he is more of a recluse.
If a seasoned NSA veteran presents this persona to the public, how would a new member assess his chances of being accepted for who he truly is, meeting the challenge to be authentic and the “same person on and off the stage”?
A newbie visiting an NSA chapter meeting for the first time quickly reads the vibe and knows that the norm for the group is bright, alert, perky, outspoken, self-assured, articulate and “aggressive love.”
This observation becomes the behavioral standard one expects to act out at all events. New NSA members emulate their peers to fit in and reinforce the predominant extrovert culture.
Access to Depth
On the surface, HPIs can appear to be in harmony with the speaker “extroverted ideal.” But this level of extroverted focus impedes, if not precludes, getting down to deeper levels, the more meaningful, the spiritual.
At her first Convention, when she approached a table holding a deeper discussion, a newbie, now a CSP, CPAE, said, “Oh, can we talk about this in NSA?”
NSA’s early influences were sales rallies and motivational speeches, even evangelism, all of which tends to the “extroverted ideal” described by Susan Cain in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. In practice, NSA seems to require this “extroverted ideal” to be outgoing, self-promoting and highly sociable, which is challenging for an introverted HPI speaker.
An HPI attending an NSA Convention feels overwhelmed by the energy and noise level of the group. She has to adjust quickly and come up to speed. It might take her as a full day or more to reach the energy level of the gathering. During that time, she will take frequent breaks away from the din, meditate in her hotel room, walk outside, work out or retire early. She would only discuss it with one or two close friends, lest she break the group norm. She will find her most meaningful new colleague out in the hall, rather than in the ballroom reception.
A great number of HPIs are NSA members, who form an organizational subculture. Most are unaware of this contingency. Discover your HPI colleagues through their basic demeanor, insights and conversational tone.
The late Bill McGrane, CPAE, modeled and advocated for a grounded, focused culture of authentic presence within NSA. We are each responsible to find ways to be more fully present in NSA with each other, and with clients.