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  • Writer's pictureAlicia Lerrigo

Sensitivity And EQ In Project Management; What's The Difference?

Updated: Sep 16

EQ (emotional quotient of human intelligence) and sensitivity are related but also different. Everyone talks about needing EQ in the workplace, but often, when applying to project management roles, I find hiring managers stating they want a strong PM who is not overly sensitive. So what's the difference and how do we achieve EQ without first understanding sensitivity?

It's the project managers' job to hold it all together...

How a project manager feels sometimes
Holding it all together

I believe we need to understand both Sensitivity and EQ (Emotional Quotient) to ensure business truly becomes a force for good. I'm a project manager, so I'll share my understanding of sensitivity from a PM perspective.

Let's start with the basics. What is the project manager's objective? We all have a job to do on the projects we are assigned to. But in order to produce high-quality work, we need the presence of mind to focus on our specialization.

It is the project manager's job to hold it all together and connect the dots so that specialists can receive the support they need to help the project succeed. The project manager ensures the stakeholders all buy in, the budget is adhered to, the reports are cohesive and delivered on time to the right people and at the right cadence. They make sure all the artifacts are produced, processed and archived correctly. They must be highly accessible to all team members and stakeholders as an important liaison and source of real time project status and information.

Because this is a lot to master, a project manager must focus on the art and science of project management. In order to do this they need to have a reasonable amount of EQ, as well as understand how to manage sensitivity. This is because a project manager has to navigate human dynamics constantly.

The project manager's objective is to set and hold the project framework together. If compared to clockworks, the PM ensures that all the cogs in the gears are in place and functioning.

In project management, all cogs of the gears have to be functioning
A project is like the gears of a clock

If a project is like the gears of a clock, every cog in every gear has an important role. Many riders, hardware, software, and professional services are required to keep it functioning.

It's important to have an inclusive and transparent mindset to avoid problems down the road. The tiniest issue left unresolved can potentially stop the whole clock.

Project issues can be caused by customer driven changes, environment related changes such as the economy, or severe weather. There could also be a shortage in the supply chain.

Whatever the situation, the project manager is expected to handle their projects with care, and that includes how they've handled relationships on the project. If not handled with care, their projects could end with a bad taste in the stakeholders' mouths.

The moral of the project team will be negatively affected if issues and challenges between the team members and/or leadership are not resolved. The "human" challenges on a project must be tended to throughout the project, with lot's of transparency and an inclusive attitude toward stakeholders. They are much harder to resolve if the issues have been building up.

At the end of the day, or the project, the leadership take-away will include whether or not the teams were communicating effectively with each other. When this question comes up, the project manager will be looked at and their PM skills assessed. Often the PM is the easy scapegoat for the things that failed because the PM is the spokesperson, or the "ambassador" for the overall effort.

Business needs to pay closer attention to the effect of employees feelings can have on their bottom line.
Sensitivity involves feelings, which are fluid, changing all the time...EQ has to do with how well you understand and navigate these feelings. But to gain EQ, you need to first understand the important role sensitivity plays in the equation. You need to tap into compassion.

I've learned to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and believe that everyone wants positive experiences and outcomes, even if we have repressed that desire. I find that when I remember to do this, it helps me step into compassion, which I can only do if I'm in touch with my sensitivity. If I've been injecting unresolved or out of balance emotions into my motivations and intentions, I now remember to step back into compassion. I can then quickly re-align with my highest self. From this point I can be a true servant leader.

...there is something more than EQ, there is sensitivity which is related, but is it's own thing.

All organizations need at least some team members, leaders, and project managers with a high emotional EQ. But there is something more than EQ, there is sensitivity which is related, but is it's own thing. Understanding this could be the missing link on our collective search for organizational health.

Most people who can work can also learn to keep their emotional lives in balance, if they are determined enough. And most people have a history of both good and bad experiences informing their EQ and sensitivity levels. Most (if not all) people also have at least some emotional "triggers". I think of sensitivity as the weights on the scale of humanity. A healthy balance allows for empathy, which makes it easier to interrelate from a place of compassion. We must not view sensitivity in business as a "bad" thing. If we do, we'll forget the finer details of why we are in business to begin with...we'll forget that "business must be a force for good".

I think of sensitivity as the weights on the scale of humanity. A healthy balance allows for empathy, which makes it easier to interrelate from a place of compassion.

Empathy however, is something we either have or don't have in the moment we may need it. We can train ourselves to become more sensitive, if we want to enough. And over time we'll be more empathetic.

Some people are born as "empaths", also known as "highly sensitive people". This describes a person whose experience of relating with the world is acute. Empaths feel everything going on around them, good and bad. So it's easy to become overwhelmed. However, an empath can also learn to balance their emotions and put up invisible boundaries.

There is always a middle ground and empaths can learn to use their ability to feel as an edge to help people who need more sensitivity.

But the empath's journey is not an easy one. They may have to learn most of their lessons by failing at a number of things before they finally figure out who they are. They may fall into addictive behaviors for periods as they are struggling to cope. In turn, the fall-out from this behavior can affect their self-esteem and motivation.

In reality an empath has a strong desire to be of service and add value.

In reality an empath has a strong desire to be of service and add value. Check out the ground-breaking documentary "Sensitive; The Untold Story" with Alanis Morissette which goes into this in detail.

When the empath is not appreciated in the workplace by at least their manager, their motivation will eventually suffer.

And motivation is what determines their strength as a PM.

So what does the "Highly Sensitive Project Manager" (HSPM) do if they are feeling stuck in a bad situation at work? They take a break, separate from the toxic environment, and consult with their higher selves. They may need to find a more compassionate work environment, until they've learned to become a leader in the role compassion plays at work.

Journaling or blogging is a fantastic start - speaking from experience. Going for walks, long hikes, runs, swims, or even fasting can help a person to access their higher self. When the mind and feelings can sort themselves out they must ask their higher self, "How has my attitude been about this situation and how might it be if I were honoring my higher self?".

Give yourself permission to respect yourself, not like an egoist would, but as a noble human being would. Your higher self and inner voice will not let you down. The only person who will let you down is your ego (or the egos of other people).

We need more empaths in the business world, and as such, more people need to understand and embrace sensitivity as energy that can be a powerful source for change. It is a vehicle with a special purpose to serve humanity. Giving sensitive moments respect, giving sensitive employees space and guidance, these are the things we need more of, if we are going to truly prosper as a society.


Have a constructive opinion, comment or question you'd like to share? Feel free to add it to the comment section of this blog.

And thanks for reading! My writing is based on my own experiences. I am not a psychologist. But I have had to wrestle with sensitivity my entire life and career. I am inclined toward behavioral sciences. I have taken a lot of mental notes and watched a wide variety of dynamics play out in my direct and indirect teams. I now feel moved to write about what I've learned.

I finally feel like I'm at a place where I am happy with who I am, and confident in my ability to access my place of compassion if I'm faced with an interpersonal challenge. I hope I will be able to live up to my own expectations in life, but if I don't, I will at least be able to say I tried.

Speaking from the heart,


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