British business magnate Richard Branson doesn’t believe that it’s necessarily his ambition or his intellect that helps him stand out from all the rest of the highly successful people out there.
He thinks it’s actually his listening skills that set him apart, because it makes him sensitive to his team’s needs, allowing him to be highly responsive.
Similarly, Oprah Winfrey credits her ability to be hyper-aware for her success because it helps her to really “see” into people.
Experts say that the power of perception is vastly underrated and underestimated.
“Perceptive people are insightful..and able to see what others cannot,” says Amy Blaschka from Forbes.
“They envision possibilities,‘embracing what could be, rather than being satisfied with the status quo of what is.”
Highly perceptive people are also good at understanding things or figuring things out.
Some people are fortunate to be born with the gift of perception, but Blaschka says that others “can employ their soft skills to help them become perceptive like the leaders they admire.”
But how do you know if you’re truly a perceptive person—psychologically speaking?
Here’s what the science says.
1) You live life in high definition
Imagine walking around noticing every little detail in your environment.
That plant that looks ever-so-slightly droopy. The faded not-so-new look of your velvet sofa. Maybe the new strands of white in your husband’s hair.
It reminds me of that episode on Everybody Loves Raymond where Marie finally gets glasses at the urging of her family, but then when she does, she suddenly sees—and relentlessly points out—everybody’s physical “flaws”. Flaws that they didn’t even know they had themselves.
Highly perceptive people have a heightened sensitivity to details, says psychotherapist Marianna Jakucska, LFMT.
“They may be highly sensitive to sounds, lights, tastes, smells, and touch; even a little of these stimuli is enough to raise alerts in their minds.”
2) You also suffer from sensory overload
It can be a bit of a burden to be highly perceptive.
The air can be too stuffy, the restaurant too smelly, the classroom too noisy, etc.
As a matter of fact, being highly perceptive often goes hand in hand with being highly sensitive.
A highly sensitive person, whether they are a child or an adult, processes sensory stimuli and information more strongly and deeply than most other people, says Bianca Acevedo, PhD.
“[They have] deeper cognitive processing, more attention to subtleties, greater emotional reactivity, and greater awareness of environmental and social stimuli.”
Acevedo also says that a highly perceptive—and sensitive person—will often pause before acting because they need time to process all of the information their senses are communicating to them.
Autistic people tend to be highly perceptive and have heightened sensory perception.
You may have seen the 1988 film Rain Man with Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman exquisitely plays the 44-year-old autistic and highly intelligent Raymond “Ray” Babbitt.
There’s one scene in the movie that particularly stands out to me. Charlie (Tom Cruise) and Ray are in a restaurant about to order breakfast. Ray sees the waitress’ name tag and recites her phone number to her.
Shocked, the waitress asks how he knew that. Ray says that he read the phone book last night and he remembers seeing her name and number.
Charlie responds with: “He remembers stuff.”
Autistic people have a heightened sense of perception, says Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht, ND, RP.
“One example of heightened sensory perception is being able to read tiny text—like the small print on the back of products—from across the room.”
3) You pick up on subtle changes in someone’s behavior
Perceptive people are very good at reading the room and reading between the lines.
I think journalists, in particular, have to especially hone in their perceptive abilities.
Interviewing, after all, is actually a game of perception.
“You use all of your investigative and interpersonal talents (asking, listening, analyzing) to engage another person in conversation, mine that interaction for useful information to create or augment a compelling story,” says J. Maureen Henderson from Forbes.
“You need to be perceptive, inquisitive, adaptable, and more than a little bit crafty.”
Highly perceptive people notice micro changes in other people’s expressions, says Jakucska.
“They immediately register emotional flips in others and their minds go crazy trying to interpret those changes.”.
Perceptive people are especially empathetic.
“They are the ones who have difficulty not to give or not to be there for others; the pain of other beings, animals, and plants included, they perceive as their own and feel compelled to do something about it.”
Perceptive people are highly attuned to others’ likes, dislikes, and preferences, says Wilding.
“That perceptiveness can win you friends and allies right off the bat.”
Perceptive people are able to pick up on the specifics of situations and notice the tiniest changes, says Melody Wilding, LMSW.
“This detail orientation is a positive in many scenarios.”
For example, they might sense that their boss is softening in his stance on a promotion and that now is a good time to just go for it.
Or they might sense that their partner has subtly checked out of the relationship even though there is no tangible evidence of it in the 3D.
4) You’re ingrained with an insatiable curiosity
Speaking of journalists—since their job is to literally be highly perceptive—I recently interviewed CNN primetime actor Kaitlan Collins (“The Source”).
Before she hosted her own news show where she’s known for holding powerful political people to account, Collins was CNN Chief White House correspondent.
She started her political career at a conservative news outlet covering the Trump administration and asked very tough questions of then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
She flew to South Korea as part of President Trump’s press corps when he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
She was also in Helsinki to cover Trump’s sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Just two weeks before Hamas’ attack on Israel, Collins had sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lauded for being a very perceptive journalist, I asked Collins where she got her nerves of steel and interview style from.
She said her insatiable curiosity comes from her southern roots (she’s from Alabama).
“[From an early age], I was never too timid or afraid to call someone I didn’t know or stop somebody on the street and introduce myself.”
When she interviewed Prime Minister Netanyahu, the experienced politician had a way of dodging her questions.
Most interviewers would move on, or politely try to get an answer to the question another way. Not Collins.
She firmly (but respectfully) called him out, informing him that he had answered her question. The Prime Minister gave another “non-answer.”
Collins called him out again. She told me she isn’t afraid of awkward pauses and is never in a rush to fill the silence despite the rolling of the cameras.
When politicians continually evade giving satisfactory responses, Collins will finally move on by saying something like, “I want to note for the people watching that you decided not to answer my question.”
She says her loyalty is to the public not the people in public office, no matter how powerful they may be.
The woman is fearless and no wonder some people call her a “bulldog”—a compliment if you’re a journalist.
Perceptive people are curious about the world and they will pursue their interests no matter what the dangers, says Jakucska.
“[They] work hard to integrate the tiny details into one big, coherent picture to make sense of it all…They explain their findings in unconventional manners. Unquestionable authority does not exist for them.”
5) You’re prone to perfectionism
Because meticulous people have a penchant for detail and are meticulous in all that they do, they can be especially prone to perfectionism.
While their attention to detail is commendable, it can sometimes be a curse.
I think of what making movies must be like for a director. On the one hand, they are masterful and perceptive at portraying nuances that they know will transfix their audience.
On the other hand, they’re also obsessed with the details and on making sure that every part is played to perfection.
It’s no wonder that many directors have a reputation for being relentless and overbearing in their pursuit of making a movie.
“On the flip side, your meticulousness can turn into perfectionism if you don’t manage it carefully,” says Wilding.
“Remember, sometimes done is better than perfect.”
Being highly perceptive is both a blessing and a curse
Having high perception has positive and negative consequences, says Flavia Krogh from Alpstein Clinic in Gais, Switzerland.
“Not only for feeling and thinking, but also on a physical level. That is why knowledge and careful handling of it are critical,” she says. “Finding the balance between the positive and negative aspects of this perceptual gift [can be] exhausting.”
Since high perception and sensitivity are similar in nature, it is also associated with stress for many people, Krogh says.
“However it is not something that can be turned off; it can only be suppressed. [However] this usually results in even more stress and strain.”
Some strategies might be to give your senses a rest by meditating, for example.
All make sure to give yourself at least eight hours of sleep every night. Put your phone away by a certain time in the evening so that you aren’t susceptible to becoming overly-stimulated.
Also consider decreasing your caffeine consumption. Switch over to water and herbal teas after your morning fix.
The wheels are always turning in the ever-perceptive mind, but it’s important to switch off the senses as much as possible to rejuvenate the brain.
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