On September 27th, I had a fun talk with Winnie Dunn, PdD, OTR, FAOTA, the leading authority on sensory processing, on how differently we each experience the world based on our sensory traits.
Winnie is an internationally recognized researcher on how people respond to sensory experiences in their everyday lives. She's also a graduate of the Certified Positive Psychology Coach Program here at SCM and knew I had done a series on Sensory Processing Sensitivity, a common trait among coaches. She generously she sent me a copy of her book, Living Sensationally.
Once I read Winnie's book, I knew this was a topic coaches need to understand! Your sensory processing is determined by how your nervous system is wired and to you, it represents reality. But everybody else is wired differently so their reality, and their behavior, may sometimes clash intensely with yours. The solutions to these challenges can be quite simple, but first you must understand what is going on.
Read further to learn about the Four Major Sensory Patterns, how they show up, and some simple ways to manage them. You may recognize yourself and others you know! Get answers to questions such as:
- Why doesn't my spouse ever notice the laundry is piling up?
- Why does my date always want to leave a party just when it starts to get good?
- Why does my office mate HUM when I'm trying to work??
Also learn a bit more about Winnie and her incredible career as a Distinguished Professor in the field of Occupational Therapy. And learn about her current successful career as a strengths-based coach and coaching researcher along with her business partner, Ellen Pope, PhD, another coach who has been certified by us.
According to Living Sensationally, there are four major Sensory Patterns.
These are based on two factors. The first is neurological thresholds. How much sensory input does it take for your brain to notice? If it doesn't take much, you have a low threshold. If it takes a lot, your threshold is high. The other factor is how you self-regulate sensory input: Are you active or passive about it?
- The Seeker has a high-threshold and actively seeks more sensation. They are likely to be the adventurers and partiers you know. They are fun and exciting but may be too much sometimes for some people.
- The Bystander has a high-threshold and is passive about experiencing sensation. It can take a lot to get their attention because they don't notice sensory inputs that may be obvious to others. That can be frustrating and exasperating for other people.
- The Sensor is low-threshold and active about managing their sensory input. They can be easily overwhelmed by sensory overload so they manage situations and communicate to others what they need. They set boundaries, but if they don't do it with finesse, people may find them stifling or controlling.
- The Avoider has a low-threshold and is passive about managing sensory input. They also can be easily overwhelmed but may not speak up about it. They just avoid people, activities, and situations that are too much, when they can, which can confuse and even hurt other people. If they cannot avoid overload, they may have trouble managing their emotions, because too much sensory input can eventually make anyone lose control and it happens faster when a person has a low threshold.
Read Living Sensationally to learn details on how to manage conflicts between different sensory types. The first step is to recognize that people's sensory patterns aren't chosen. We cannot rewire ourselves to please others, but we can learn to respect, negotiate, and compromise. Winnie offers some dead-easy workarounds to resolve problems that I thought might be impossible to solve.
This information might help one of your clients save their marriage or job. It might even help you save your own!
Here's a sensory example you may find amusing. I am a Sensor with some Avoider habits. If I buy lotions or other personal products, I like mild scents, no dyes, organic ingredients. If they are sold in a spa-like or Zen-like environment, so much the better. But I have relatives that love products from Bath & Body Works, which sells personal products with strong scents, that may have beads and grit that offer sensory stimulation, plus bright colors. If I enter their stores to buy gifts for others, it is like a cacophony of scents, sights, and sounds. I get in and out as quickly as I can. These stores and products were clearly designed for Seekers and Bystanders. In fact, Bath & Body Works posts salespersons outside their stories who pounce on passersby and tell them all their special offers. Clearly, they are not going to let a Bystander get past without noticing this store that was designed especially for them! Me? My inner Avoider doesn't even want to walk past that store when I'm not buying gifts! (If you are a coach who is learning about marketing, this is a perfect example of a company identifying its target market and desiging everything around them!)
Learn more about this fun topic by watching the FREE Living Sensationally Video with Winnie Dunn: