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Adaptability: The Deep Dive

Thursday, March 3, 2022
Author: Business Consultants, Inc.

Adaptability: The Deep Dive

Different Types of Adaptability Skills1

According to the Center of Creative Leadership, you need to work over three aspects to enhance your adaptability skills:

Emotional Flexibility

Dealing with our own and other people's feelings. Handline one's and other's grieving, whining, anxiety, and resistance are all normal emotions that might require handling for an emotionally flexible individual.

Cognitive Flexibility

People with cognitive flexibility can use various thinking processes and conceptual frameworks in their day-to-day work planning, decision-making, and management.

Dispositional Flexibility

People that demonstrate dispositional flexibility (or personality-related flexibility) have a positive outlook based on realism and openness. They will accept an adverse condition while also envisioning a brighter future. They aren't mindlessly optimistic, nor are they negative and defeatist. Ambiguity is tolerated well.

Adaptability: The Deep Dive

If we look at the three adaptability skills: cognitive, emotional, and disposition, we might get confused. However, according to Emotional Intelligence science, we realize that we actually develop feelings towards the situation before our cognitive part takes place whenever we go through a situation. We start thinking about solutions or responses. We perceive the situation, develop emotions, then think and act accordingly. Therefore we need to work on our feelings first.

According to: The Human Element, our feelings are triggered through three dimensions that might limit our adaptability cognitive flexibility.

  • Self-Significance
  • Self-Competence
  • Self-Like

Why those emotions in particular? Because they have a broad impact on our self-esteem.

"Self-esteem refers to how we regard and appreciate ourselves. It's founded on our perceptions and assumptions about ourselves, which might be tough to change at times. "2

Hence, those emotions are triggered depending on how we perceive ourselves. If we have high self-esteem, the trigger will be in our favor, enhancing our adaptability and vice versa.

Brenda looked sharply towards Olga. It was the third time she highlighted that Brenda needed to work on her teamwork skills. Brenda thought she was a good team player. She was always with her colleagues. She stayed late when work required her to do so. Moreover, she always out team members who were stuck with a task. It was only during outings that Brenda always declined such invitations. She didn't see any point in hanging out with her colleagues. In addition, she never mingled with them during lunch hours and avoided any conversations that were not work-related. Brenda didn't also have friends out of work. To her, friends and outings were a huge waste of time.

Brenda won't be able to flex her behavior as per Olga's comments, and she will probably be accused of lack of flexibility, which is true. Brenda does lack flexibility. However, taking a deeper look , it is not about lack of flexibility. It's a much deeper issue. Brenda has low self-esteem as her behavior stems from feeling low self-significance. She doesn't feel she matters to the group, friends, and team. Therefore, to avoid the pain of rejection or inattention, she decides to pull herself out of outings and gatherings that might trigger those feelings. She uses this self-defensive mechanism to shield herself temporarily from her feelings of insignificance, which are triggered due to her low self-esteem, as she doesn't see nor acknowledge her self-worth.

Andrew had a long experience working in sales. He was well known for his negotiation skills. For years, Andrew has never missed a target. His colleagues looked up to him as a source of learning. Andrew's long and diverse experience and his helpful and supportive attitude made him the most suitable candidate to fill in as sales manager, especially after his manager has been promoted to director of sales. Robin, Andrew's manager, called him in. He discussed the opportunity with Andrew. Robin was very excited. For him, it was finally the time for Andrew to take the position he truly deserves and for the team to make use of all his skills. However, Andrew didn't show the same excitement. For the rest of the day, he seemed distant. His colleagues were surprised. They didn't know what was going on, but it was the first time seeing Andrew in such a state. Andrew excused for the rest of the day. He could not get up the next day and head to work as he didn't sleep at all. He called in sick. After a couple of days, he decided to meet up with Robin, who was shocked to hear Andrew as he declined the offer for promotion.

Does Andrew's mindset seem familiar? Have you or anyone you know been through something similar? If your answer is yes, then maybe we can offer some sort of explanation. Having experience and skills is one thing, yet, having the mindset that allows you to see and acknowledge this experience and those skills is something else. It all boils down to the feeling and believing that. It's again about "self-esteem." This time it's acknowledging and believing you're competent enough. It's about self-competence. If you don't have self-competence, no matter how many times people tell you you're good enough, you will not believe them. Their words will slide off without sinking in. This is because you don't believe you are competent. Therefore, you might seem inflexible because you refuse to leave a job you've been doing for years. Yes, you might be inflexible. But not because you're bad, it's because you don't believe in yourself. You lack self-competence. Hence, you're scared of accepting a responsibility that you think you are not up to.

Karen sat at her desk with tears filling her eyes. It was not the first time for Stephanie to call her in for feedback. It was always the same old story. Stephanie always highlighted that Karen was harsh with her colleagues. According to her manager, Karen was not friendly enough around them. Karen sat there furious. Her eyes welled with tears. How can she be friendly with those who do not like her? She couldn't voice this to Stephanie. Karen doesn't want to seem weak, nevertheless, in front of Stephanie! Being unlikeable was the source of Karen's heartache as she always felt outcasted.

On the other hand, Stephanie tried to coach Karen on being flexible, as she helped her adopt a new friendly behavior. However, nothing seemed to work. She was surprised. What's the problem with smiling and being friendly. Stephanie was confused. 

You might ask how Karen would be friendly with her colleagues when they don't really like her? They might not truly like her. However, the real problem stems from Karen. Again, it's the same concept, "self-esteem." Karen suffers a distorted self-image. She does not like herself. Hence, this is stopping her from liking others. She projects the way she sees herself on others. Therefore, she thinks her colleagues don't like her because she doesn't like herself.

Consequently, it's not about flexing her behavior as Stephanie thinks. Karen's rigidity stems from her distorted self-image. How she dislikes herself is projected on everyone around her.

Adaptability 101

1. Enhancing Self-Esteem: as we discussed above, sometimes the root problem of not being adaptable enough is a problem of self-esteem. We are scared that we will hurt and expose ourselves. Maybe we are afraid of not being liked, important, or competent. Hence, we stick to our positions.

We seem rigid, yet, we are scared. We need to work on our deep issues of self-image and esteem. The Human Element is a tool that offers a comprehensive assessment followed by necessary tools that will help you enhance your self-esteem. It will impact all areas of your life, as the way you see yourself impacts your relationships, your work, and all your interactions.

2 Questioning: Hold an inquisitive, curious mind. Ask questions. Asking for clarification during transitions or seeking extra information or resources for a new and unfamiliar project. Adopt the mindset of a three-year-old who conquers the world trying to understand things

3. Seek Adventures: Armed with your mind and backpack, don't fear the new. Instead, approach new ideas and thoughts with an adventurous mindset. There's always something new to do.

4. Optimism: Looking at the bright side will help you stay resilient and calm.

Building adaptability and flexibility has become a mandatory in today’s fast changing pace world. It is no longer a luxury. The more adaptability people we build, the more they are able to cope, thus take chances and opportunities that come their way. It might not be easy, yet, it’s a long self-discovery journey, that’s surely worth it.


1Center for Creative Leadership, 24 Nov 2020, Adapting to Change requires flexibility, Accessed 12 Dec 2021,
2 Accessed 12 Dec 2021,


For more about this topic, download our latest book " Adaptability Vignettes " for FREE:

E-Book: Adaptability Vignettes

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