Stay flexible at work?

Adaptability is considered a key qualification of the future. But how do you learn to deal with changes in your daily work? The expert gives directions.

Change is often difficult for us. Moreover, and especially at work, we like to stick to our beloved routines and wish everything to stay as it is. However, in the New Job era, it’s mostly wishful thinking.

Finally, during the crown pandemic, working people noticed that working conditions could change rapidly. Therefore, in his book Carl Naughton, business psychologist and author, describes adaptability as “the most important skill of the future.”

In the interview, he explains why skill is so important and how anyone can increase their adaptability.

Adaptability: what does it actually mean exactly?

Carl Naughton: I can give you an example. Companies now face the challenge of bringing back workers who worked mostly from home during the pandemic. But many do not want this.

Two things are at stake: First, enabling employees to actively shape their work processes on their own. Second, to give managers the ability to lead teams virtually or in a hybrid way. The skill behind both is the ability to adapt – namely, the ability to adapt one’s behavior to changing situations, to proactively move towards the changes that are on the horizon.

By analogy with IQ, you talk about the adjustment quotient (AQ) in your book. What exactly characterizes a high AQ?

Naughton: The ability to flexibly adapt to rapidly changing situations will become more and more important from now on. These often radical, unpredictable and complex changes require, above all, personal, social and methodical skills.

Our research shows that AQ has three clusters. Think, feel, act. In each of these dimensions, man has different strong qualities. In fact, there are people who are strong in all three dimensions.

The cognitive aspect is about thoughts and sensitization to the change that appears on the horizon.

The second is the emotional aspect. Here you have to ask yourself: Can I do this? Am I good enough for this? And the third aspect is behavior. It is about the question: How quickly can I adjust my behavior? How to design your environment in such a way as to optimally work and live in it?

The pandemic has made many people realize that it is important to get used to the new circumstances: do many still have a hard time adjusting?

Naughton: I think the pandemic has shown the need to adapt. People who are already more open to change had fewer problems with quickly setting up a home office. You are used to taking on challenges.

However, people who do not have this personality trait saw it all as a great challenge. They were caught right there with little mental resources at their disposal:

The structure of an office working day, an office as a logistics center, a canteen as a food structure, even the beginning and end of the working day disappeared. In many cases it has become clear how much adaptability still needs to be trained.

How does it work?

Naughton: Anyone can start training their own adaptability. There are various techniques in personality psychology that can help.

One technique, for example, is psychological distance. The idea has been around for several years. In fact, it is about two things: about us as a person and about our environment. Psychological distance affects the way we mentally represent things. Distant things are presented in a relatively abstract way, while psychologically close things seem more concrete.

Example: Imagine you can see the Earth from the Moon. The goal is to feel detached, to be far away. This fairly large psychological distance from your home, home office, business puts you in an abstract or psychologically distant state of mind that has a variety of effects on your perception of the world. It affects your perception of how difficult things are or how you see yourself.

As a professional, how can I convey that adaptability is one of my core competencies?

Naughton: Proactive communication is usually not necessary. Adaptive behavior manifests itself permanently. Managers notice it too. But what you can do as a unit: You can promote this skill. For example going up and saying: I want to be an ambassador of adaptability in our team.

Is the adaptability unlimited? In other words: do I have to agree to every change?

Naughton: I understand the question, but it’s not really about adaptability. It is similar to intelligence. There are also no limits in the sense of: I will stop thinking now.

Of course, the point is not to say, “Yes, every change or new situation awaits me,” but someone who does not have an adjustment quotient always says “no”. However, most are somewhere in the middle of the scale.

A position slightly to the right of center would be ideal so that you can start the reflection loop in difficult situations and make the most of the situation.


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