Do you ever wish for stability in an impermanent world? I know I do!
But the reality of life is that things are always changing, in ways that we don’t expect. Being adaptable makes our lives flow with greater ease and gives us an air of poise in an often hectic world.
Let’s learn from the actions and habits of adaptable people so that we can reap the benefits.
1) Takes control of the situation when needed
Have you ever been in a group situation where a leader needs to step up? Perhaps you are doing a group project for work or school. Or maybe it’s simply a case of being out with a group and no one can decide where to go, or what hang out to visit and when.
Adaptable people will notice when there is a void and a need for decision-making, and are happy to step up to the task. They assess the needs and desires of the group, and the realities of the practical situation (eg, “Can we all make it to the steakhouse?”
Or “Is this project headed in the right direction considering the task?”). Then they make a choice and gently but firmly lead people in that direction.
However, not all leaders are adaptable, as some like to be in control all the time. Whereas the adaptable person…
2) Will let others lead when this is best
Being adaptable means being flexible and recognizing what’s really going on.
While a power-hungry person wants to lead all the time, an adaptable person is quite happy to step back and let someone else take the reigns, if they see that they are doing a great job.
But what if the self-appointed leader isn’t doing a good job? In this case, (assuming that our adaptable person possesses emotional intelligence), they may diplomatically assist the leader in making good choices.
Or they might encourage others to speak up, creating space for less confident people to share their ideas.
If a resolution is impossible, they may propose an alternative solution.
For instance, I was once in a TEFL class (learning to be an English language teacher), and I was part of a group project. We just could not agree on the best way to do a presentation, due to the very stubborn approach of one of the participants, Arnold.
Arnold staunchly wanted things done his way but the rest of us didn’t. We squabbled and wasted time and I realized that we needed to fix it asap. Time was running short!
I proposed to Arnold that he do the project his way, and the rest of the group do it another way. I spoke (tactfully) to the course teacher, asking her if it was okay to do this. She said yes, everybody was happy, and we were all able to make a presentation that we felt good about.
The capability to switch fluidly between leading and assisting is key. This is true adaptability!
3) Doesn’t make a fuss when things don’t go their way
Remember unadaptable Arnold? He couldn’t accept that the presentation wasn’t going to go his way. Which caused disharmony and issues. This translates into many areas of life.
Perhaps you are traveling and the bungalow you have booked has one big bed instead of two, or the train you were supposed to catch is no longer running.
Or you are making a special recipe to impress your partner’s parents, and you discover that the shop is all out of that important ingredient.
You have a choice here, you can fuss and moan and complain, and that might work, at least sometimes. But there is another way and that is…
4) Make the best of things with creative solutions
The adaptable person knows that there is more than one way of achieving things. And so they solve their problems creatively and with understanding.
If you discover there isn’t two beds in your hotel room and there isn’t another room free, what can you do? You ask the manager for a spare bed, or perhaps an extra blanket, so that you and your friend can enjoy a good night’s sleep, regardless.
You can’t get on your train? No problem, you search for an alternative method of transport, and if there really isn’t one, you book a hotel room for the night and enjoy the opportunity to see something new where you are.
The key ingredient for your recipe is missing? You search on the internet and find a good alternative. Or you ring up a friend who loves to cook and get that special spice from them!
The expression “Necessity is the mother of invention’, is an old one but a good one. And it’s something that the adaptable person knows all too well! There are so many ways to solve a problem if we just put our creative hats on!
5) They embrace change and see possibilities
This creative adaptability is important because life is always moving, nothing stays still. Adaptable people can roll with changes and focus on the opportunities within them rather than getting stuck.
When plans fall through or new circumstances arise, the adaptable person sees potential rather than problems. They ask themselves, “What can I learn here?” and “How can I make this work?”. Even unwelcome changes can be viewed as chances for self-growth and creativity.
This mentality allows them to thrive amidst the flux of life. While resistance to change triggers stress, embracing change builds resilience. By staying open and flexible, adaptable people are able to reinvent themselves time and again.
6) Change their conversation and style to suit their audience
Being adaptable does seem to require a level of emotional intelligence and here’s another reason. It requires you to carefully adapt your conversation or approach to the needs of your audience.
This can be as simple as being a good dinner party guest. You read the person or people you are talking to, and then choose a conversation that will likely interest them.
And there’s more.
If, for example, you are giving a presentation to a group of academics about an obscure Anthropological text, you would use very different language than if you are presenting the topic to beginners in high school.
The adaptable person is inherently aware of this and makes all the changes needed to best appeal to and engage with their audience.
7) Listens closely to understand others’ needs
Sometimes we need to adapt to circumstances, and sometimes we need to adapt to people. If people are involved then it’s really important to be a good listener.
Why is that?
Well to truly understand how and what we need to adapt to, we must understand the needs and requirements of the other. Which is similar to how the smart speaker adapts their tone and language to their audience.
Truly listening means not just hearing words, but connecting with the emotions and priorities behind them. Adaptable people tune into others’ verbal and nonverbal cues. They ask thoughtful questions to learn more. If uncertainties remain, they seek clarification.
This active listening and desire to comprehend another’s perspective comes from a place of empathy. Adaptable people recognize that we all have different needs shaped by our experiences.
By taking the time to understand where someone is coming from, we gain insight into how best to communicate and interact with them.
Listening in this spirit of openness and compassion unlocks our greatest human potential. When we make adapting to others’ needs a priority, we build mutual understanding and deepen relationships.
8) Take constructive criticism and improve from it
Another way that we might have to adapt ourselves, is in response to feedback from another. As a writer, I know how difficult it can be to receive constructive criticism about a book I’m writing, but I also know that it’s for the best.
Many of us might find ourselves on the receiving end of an insightful but sometimes unpalatable piece of feedback, at work or in relationships.
Rather than getting all het up, (remember how adaptable people tend not to make a fuss), we can spend some time focusing on the feedback. And then seeing how we can integrate that to make us better at what we are doing.
Not only that, the adaptable and emotionally intelligent person will take time to thank the person who gave them feedback, realizing that it’s a gift of the other person’s time and energy.
And this kind of mentality leads to…
9) Cultivating a growth mindset
Adaptable individuals tend to have a growth mindset. This is the belief that abilities are developed rather than fixed. Setbacks and criticism are seen as chances to improve rather than personal failings.
They invest time in building skills, expanding knowledge, and listening to others. Every interaction is a chance to grow wiser. When plans need changing, they say “I am still learning” rather than “I have failed”.
This growth mindset is the engine that drives continual adaptation and improvement. It gives them the motivation to change course, pick up new abilities, and optimize themselves in any situation. They know the path never ends, and that there are always new ways to enhance themselves.