The most important soft skill – adaptability

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It’s 9 a.m. on a busy Saturday morning. You are scheduled to run an in-store event with fifty attendees expected. You and your team have been preparing for weeks, and everyone is aware of their roles and targets for the day.

Then, you find out two of your team members are sick, bringing your staff down to half capacity, and the Event Coordinator has decided to add an extra activity. Did I mention your manager has decided to accommodate ten more for the event?


Sound familiar? Whether you work in retail, in an office, or anywhere in between, you have probably faced a similar situation to varying degrees. You go from knowing more or less how your day will go to being completely surprised, and at a momentary loss for what to do next.

The fact is, no matter how predictable your job, something will always come up that you did not plan for. I am sure that when faced with the unexpected, you have been told to stay calm and keep a clear head. This is important in order to think through your next course of action. But then what?

Adaptability is the new IQ

Let us go back to the earlier scenario. Things have now changed. You will be able to continue with most of your plan, but modifications need to be made in order to satisfy the attendees, the Event Coordinator and your manager. This is where being adaptable comes into play. Adaptability in the workplace is when an employee can be flexible and can adapt to changing work conditions, whether or not that change happens quickly, as is the case above, or slowly, as with the introduction of new processes or technology.

How well you respond to constantly changing circumstances is key. More and more employers are starting to see adaptability as an essential skill in the workplace and many already consider it highly valuable. It is predicted that the Adaptability Quotient (AQ) will soon be the primary predictor of success over IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Quotient), which means that the time to develop this skill is now.

In the example above, you are lucky enough to have managers that encourage you to take responsibility for your own work and success. You have been working on this event for weeks, so you have a clear understanding of the end goals and intended results. You have worked with the company for a while so you know its culture. This gives you enough information to regroup and reorganize the event so you and your team can better manage the attendees, without compromising their experience.

For some of you this is a “no-brainer”. For others, you may be asking, “How can I learn to think on my feet like that?”

Here are some ways you can start to develop this skill:

Get comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

Change is always coming. No matter how seasoned you are, how established your role or company or organization is, the only way to stay on top and get ahead is to innovate (a fancy word for “change”). Successful people and companies know this, which is why new processes and technologies get introduced. The sooner you accept that you will not always be able to rely on the same assumptions and strategies, the easier this will be.

Stay alert.

Know what is going on within your company or organization. It is hard to be adaptable when you only keep to yourself. Be involved in what your company or organization is doing, ask questions, and then ask yourself what you can do in your role to move in that direction.

Get learning.

Stay relevant by seeking new skills and knowledge. In addition to upgrading skills for your job, read about and develop skills outside of your role or industry. These will become invaluable in our ever changing world. Read as much as you can, whenever you can and seek advice from those around you who are doing what you do and more.

Get creative.

You have a lot of transferable skills and knowledge. Be open to incorporating those experiences in the workplace. The more you learn and the more people you learn from, the more you realize there are a lot of different ways to get to where you are going. Being adaptable is staying flexible both in your approach and execution.

Ask to fail.

The only way to get better is to do. Talk to your managers and leaders about trying new ideas. You are now responsible for those ideas and seeing them through. Some of them will not work, and some of them will. Either way you will have gained valuable knowledge, and as you continue to try and fail and succeed, you will become a little more comfortable with staying uncomfortable.

Author: Nelsa Limuaco, Employment Coach at OFE

Works Cited

Gonda, Rob. “Adaptability Is Key To Survival In The Age Of Digital Darwinism.” Forbes. 24 May 2018.

Waugh, Rob. “Why adaptability is key to success.” The Telegraph. 10 Dec. 2018.

Adaptability Skills.” Cleverism.Accessed 12 July 2019.

Tan, Shirley. “How Well Do You Handle Change? The Benefits of Being Adaptable.Business. 20 June 2016.

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