Highly Sensitive Refuge
A woman listens to another woman

Why HSPs Tend to Be Exceptional Listeners

When an HSP is listening to someone talking, they can feel what the speaker is feeling, which makes for a meaningful exchange.

Many highly sensitive people (HSPs) are used to being told things like “You’re such a good listener” or “I feel like I can tell you anything.” That’s because — in a world where there are endless distractions and non-personal forms of communication — HSPs can make their friends and family members feel heard and understood.

High sensitivity comes with many positive traits, and one of those tends to be above-average listening skills: There’s something precious about knowing another person took the time to hear you out. Here are some of the reasons why we HSPs are such excellent listeners. 

8 Reasons Why HSPs Tend to Be Exceptional Listeners

1. Active listening comes naturally to them. 

Not all listening is created equal. There’s active and passive listening:

  • Active listening means you’re paying attention to the speaker’s words, asking questions, or giving feedback — and showing that you understand what the speaker is saying.
  • Passive listening is hearing what the speaker is saying, but not responding or offering any feedback. It’s one-way communication.

HSPs spend a lot of time processing the world around them. They understand the value of working through thoughts before saying them and the importance of an active listening ear. And because HSPs are hyperaware of others’ needs, they will often go out of their way to help others feel understood.

An HSP who listens actively will provide affirmative nods or sounds, maintain direct eye contact, and show that they are interested in what you’re saying. These are all actions that make someone a great listener.

2. They pick up on communication cues that others don’t.

Here’s one reason HSPs are easily overwhelmed with social interaction — they notice everything and are the best at reading body language: strong emotion or tiredness in your eyes, nervous hand gestures, a tone in your voice that says more than your words..

At a recent family get-together, a family member who is really into mindfulness kept downplaying herself and using an apologetic tone when talking about the meditation retreats she does. I noticed this, and I later pointed it out to her when we were talking alone. I mentioned that I’m sure it’s hard to talk about something that others aren’t as passionate about, but she should be proud of the difference she’s making. She later thanked me for bringing that up because she hadn’t realized it, and she was going to make more of an effort not to apologize for speaking on topics she cares about.

Of course, anyone can sharpen their observational listening skills, but HSPs tend to have a natural knack for noticing what others don’t. This can make them go-to confidants in close relationships. A good listener can provide an outside perspective based on observations the other person might not pick up on.

3. They are less likely to interrupt or make a conversation all about them.

It’s human nature to insert your own story or experience in the middle of someone else’s. For example, a friend might say they have been extra anxious lately. The other friend interjects, “I know what you mean! I’ve been anxious too, because…” Although the second friend is just trying to show they relate, they’ve now made the conversation about them instead of hearing what the first friend was saying.

HSPs are often super aware of people’s feelings and reactions during a conversation. They’ll notice if they interject too soon and if the other person feels put out, even if they don’t say it. HSPs are more likely to listen until the other person is finished before adding anything themselves, making the other person feel heard.

4. Listening is less stimulating than leading the conversation.

When I’m entirely focused on listening to someone else, I worry less about how I come across to them or what I will say in response. Listening is cathartic for me as an HSP because I can let someone express themselves and feel heard without the energy it takes to insert myself into the conversation. And we sensitive types need to protect our energy as much as we can!

5. They prefer deep, one-on-one talks over group conversations.

Highly sensitive people rarely enjoy large parties or noisy get-togethers for long periods. They prefer social interactions with meaningful conversations about deeper topics. It’s why people feel comfortable opening up to sensitive people about personal or controversial subjects — the HSP will likely listen empathetically and provide carefully-thought-out input.  

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6. When HSPs do contribute to the conversation, they do so cautiously.

Verbal communication can be difficult for HSPs. Have you ever had an experience where you think about everything “right” to say after a conversation is already over? This happens to me often, and it’s because I need extra time to process a thought before speaking it. During a conversation, I’ll also usually ask clarifying questions to make sure I understand what the speaker is saying before responding. Sometimes, I will even text or message someone a response later, after having had time to think about a conversation we had.

HSPs know that words are powerful, so they will choose what they say delicately, especially when they can tell the topic is important to the speaker. These careful responses can make HSPs great listeners since they try to respond only when it adds to the conversation — they don’t talk just for the sake of talking.

7. Helping others feel heard is a joy for HSPs.

HSPs are often drawn to careers that require active listening – like nursing, academia, and or becoming entrepreneurs — because it’s a strength of theirs, and they genuinely want to help other people. They’re not listening to you just because of social etiquette; they get fulfillment from knowing they are providing some benefit. 

HSPs recognize that many people don’t get a chance to talk about some things running through their minds, and they often enjoy being another person’s sounding board. They also enjoy helping someone work through their thoughts (if that’s what the person needs). 

8. HSPs feel other people’s emotions during conversations. 

Empathy is one of the traits that makes someone an HSP, and many HSPs also identify as empaths. They have the unique ability to absorb others’ emotions and take those emotions on as their own. 

When two people are having a conversation and the listener can feel what the speaker is feeling, it makes for an impactful exchange. The HSP might say something like, “It seems as if you feel like…” or “I noticed you get excited when…,” giving the speaker a chance to affirm their feelings or provide extra context. 

Everyone — Including HSPs — Needs An Opportunity to Be Heard

HSPs tend to be great listeners because they read people well, providing the attention and care we all desire when expressing ourselves. However, listening can become too much if it’s all one-sided.

If you are an HSP, or have an HSP in your life who is an exceptional listener, just remember that no one should play the “listener” role all of the time. HSPs do a lot of processing alone, but they still need people they can turn to for a listening ear, trusted input, or even a good cry. Both HSPs and non-HSPs can benefit from being extra mindful of what others need and what we need to maintain healthy relationships.

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