Monday Mornings with Madison

Skills for Success – Part 3

Adaptability:  Go with the Flow

If you ask ten colleagues what is the most important skill a person needs to be successful, you will likely get ten different answers.  That’s neither unusual nor wrong.  There are a myriad of skills that contribute to success. Communication.  Teamwork and cooperation. Enthusiasm (for your work).  Strong work ethic.  Responsibility.  Efficient planning.  Positive Attitude.  These skills are generally considered by most people to be very important for success.

Indeed, The Career Center at the University of South Florida conducted a survey to determine the skills and abilities students need to succeed in the workplace of the 21st century so they could then infuse the teaching of these skills and abilities into the University’s classroom experience.  They surveyed 130 participants attending the USF Career Center’s Fall Job Fair.  Eighty-three recruiters responded, representing a 64.6 percent response rate.  Top-ranking skills were then grouped into three categories, according to the percentage of respondents that rated a particular skill as being “Extremely Important or Very Important” to success.  The results showed that many of the most important skills for success are not hard skills, such as the ability to do mathematical computations, but rather soft skills such as effective problem-solving or curiosity.  Interestingly, one skill that made the A list as considered “Extremely Important or Very Important” by over 90% of all respondents was the ability to adapt.  Adaptability, or the ability to adjust to new conditions, is a viewed by nine out of 10 people to be a key skill for success. Why is that skill so important to success?

Top Skills for Success

The Career Center at the University of South Florida Survey

*  A list (90% or more participants rated the skills as Extremely Important or Very Important):

* B list (80% to 89% participants rated the skills as Extremely Important or Very Important):

The other skills (79% or fewer participants rated the skills as Extremely Important or Very Important):.

These results show that 9 out of 10 people viewed adaptability as key to success.  According to a similar study by the University of Kent in the U.K., adaptability came in ninth out of the top 10 skills employers want.  So just what exactly is ‘adaptability’?

Adaptability is seen as a combination of two variables:  versatility and flexibility.  A person’s ability or aptitude for adapting is known as versatility. A person’s willingness to adapt is known as flexibility.  People with adaptability are both flexible and versatile.

Of course, a person’s level of adaptability can be stronger in some situations than others. For example, people tend to be more adaptable at work with people they know less, and less adaptable at home with people they know better. Also, research shows that people view themselves as more flexible and versatile than they actually are.

Characteristics of Adaptability

So what are the characteristics of adaptability?

  • Adapting successfully to changing situations and environments
  • Keeping calm in the face of difficulties
  • Planning ahead, but having alternative options in case things go wrong
  • Thinking quickly to respond to sudden changes in circumstances
  • Persisting in the face of unexpected difficulties
  • Anticipating and responding positively to changing environments
  • Ability to adapt to change positively in response to changing circumstances
  • Taking on new challenges at short notice.
  • Dealing with changing priorities/workloads


Given the important of adaptability, can someone become more adaptable?  There are five attributes related to being flexible, the first half of the adaptability equation.  Those are:

  • Confidence
  • Tolerance
  • Empathy
  • Positive attitude
  • Respect for others

The opposite side of the coin is that there are attributes that reduce flexibility.  Those include:

  • Rigidity
  • Competition with Others
  • Discontent
  • Unapproachable
  • Difficulty with Ambiguity


There are also five attributes related to being versatile, the other half of the adaptability equation.  The five high-versatility traits are:

  • Resilience
  • Vision
  • Attentiveness
  • Competence
  • Self-correction.

The flip side of the versatility coin are five negative attributes.

  • Subjectiveness
  • Bluntness
  • Resistance
  • Single-Mindedness
  • Unreasonable Risk-Taking

Given these traits, it is possible to increase one’s adaptability.  Here are some simple tips to help increase adaptability and be able to cope with change, the nemesis of adaptability..

1.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Instead of viewing change as a behemoth, look at it in smaller pieces or baby steps towards the final outcome. Don’t set unrealistic expectations.  Expecting things to turn out a certain way usually leads to certain disaster.  Instead, consider several possible outcomes. Everything doesn’t always go according to plan so it is imperative to leave time to come up with a Plan B if Plan A falls apart.

2. Focus on what is right.

While change is unsettling, it is necessary.  Things need to change in order to evolve as a person. But change has a great way of bringing greater opportunities for those that focus on the things that are going well.

3. Live for today, but plan for tomorrow.

Focus on doing something spectacular with your present moments and leave the past in the past.  Then plan for the future.

4. Ask for help.

There is no shame in asking for help. Sometimes we need to lean on colleague or friend when it all seems to be too much. These feelings are understandable.

5. Look at the big picture.

Step back out of the fray and take a good look at the big picture.  Realize that there’s much more to life.

6. Focus on what stayed the same.

Not everything changes at once. There will still be remnants of the “old ways” even when there are big changes.  By looking at the constants, it is easier to be calm and accept what is new.  That is adaptability in action.

Developing adaptability means adjusting one’s behavior to be more in line with another’s preferences. The effectively adaptable person meets the other person’s needs and his/her own as well. The adaptable person knows how to negotiate relationships in a way that allows everyone to win.  That is why adaptability is so invaluable to success.

Quote of the Week

“If something is not to your liking, change your liking.” Patricia Ryan Madson

© 2013, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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