4 ways to improve your adaptability

To be more change ready, focus on your adaptability skills. It could even position you better for your next job
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soft sklls

Hard skills will always be top-of-mind for employers making hiring decisions – think coding, data science, and AI. But soft skills, such as the ability to communicate clearly and show empathy, can be even more valuable to organizations, as they’re more difficult to instill in people. 

Adaptability – which includes the ability to deal with change, learn new skills, and work with a wide range of colleagues – is another key soft skill. Over 60 percent of employers acknowledge that it’s increased in importance over the last decade, and 20 percent of respondents say that recruits simply don’t possess it, according to a Barclays report. And with only eight percent of employers providing any specific learning so employees can address the problem, developing adaptability skills could make you a much more desirable candidate. 

[ How do your people skills measure up? Read our related article, 8 powerful phrases of emotionally intelligent leaders. ]

Here are four simple ways you can improve your adaptability and perhaps help you land that next great job.

1. Learn from others

Identify someone within your team or organization who stands out as being receptive to changes and challenges — look for the person who, when asked to embrace a new idea, reacts positively and is the first to step up when a new project needs people. Ask them questions, and try to understand their mindset.

Use them as a mentor — looking to another person’s strengths and learning from them is a strength in itself. One of the easiest ways to become more adaptable is to understand how adaptability works. That means finding out what someone else’s thought process is when they face challenges and analyzing how it’s different from your own. Putting your own weaknesses under the microscope may be daunting, but it’s the best way to learn.

2. Accept more challenges

Say yes more often, even if it means throwing yourself into unfamiliar territory. Next time your team is offered a project, don’t marry it up with your skillset or worry about your existing workload – instead, volunteer to take it on. You may need to learn new things and lean on others for support, but that’s what adaptable people do.

You may need to learn new things and lean on others for support, but that’s what adaptable people do.

They don’t put barriers in front of themselves, and that’s exactly what happens when you say no. It’s easy to bury your head when a group email arrives asking for help. Next time that happens, use the five-minute rule: If nobody has offered to assist within five minutes, immediately offer your services, no matter how difficult the task may seem.

3. Rewire your thought process

Self-doubt can be crippling when it comes to adaptability. When change comes, you might be unsure of how to cope with it: Do you have the hard skills to change the way you work? Do you agree that things will work out for the best? Being adaptable isn’t about validating why you can’t do something, it’s about immediately looking for ways that you can.

Being adaptable isn’t about validating why you can’t do something, it’s about immediately looking for ways that you can.

Next time something rings alarm bells in your head, list five reasons why you can deal with it. When you’re taking on what seems like a monumental task, detailing which tools you'll use to chip away at it can be a huge confidence-booster.

4. Don't dwell on the floor sandwiches

Have you ever prepared a sandwich and accidentally dropped it on the floor? How did you react to that situation — did you vow to never eat again, or did you simply start over?

We all make mistakes, but it’s important to realize that they are just mistakes. When you slip up,  don’t refuse to risk messing up again in the future. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

Rather than worrying about failure, treat it like that dropped sandwich: Don’t dwell on it, just start again. If you’re adapting to a new situation and you don’t nail it straight away, people will understand (and if they don’t, that’s not on you).

Use mistakes as an opportunity to learn and improve. And the next time you face change or a new challenge, don’t think about the consequences of failure. Focus on the potential for positive instead.

[ What skills should you look for when hiring in 2020 and beyond? Download the Harvard Business Review report: IT talent strategy: New tactics for a new era. ] 

Ian Clark is Head of Americas at Frank Recruitment Group, having first joined the industry as a trainee recruitment consultant. Having initially moved to the US in 2016 to oversee the launch of offices in Philadelphia and Tampa, he is now managing more than 600 employees across eight locations.