Chapter 8: Interpersonal Skills

8.2 Adaptability

Change is hard and often it is totally out of your control. In the workplace, you will need to be ready for anything. This is especially important early in your work placement. You will still be getting used to working and to your workplace’s culture. This means you need to be adaptable. To be adaptable is to be able to respond appropriately to shifting demands and situations. This is easier said than done! Here are some ways you can cultivate adaptability as an interpersonal skill.

  • Observe your co-workers. If you don’t know what to do, you can always start by noticing what others are doing. How are they behaving? What does their writing look like? What are the norms or common behaviours at work that you can emulate?
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable. It is okay to tell your coworkers you don’t know how to do something or that you haven’t done it before. Don’t get others to do it for you. Try it out for yourself, as long as you have the supports you need to do it safely.
  • Ask questions. It is normal when you are working somewhere new to not understand processes or expectations. Clarify what your team needs you to do. If something changes and you are uncertain about how to proceed, ask! It is always better to ask than to find out later that you are doing it wrong or will need to redo something.
  • Use the resources available to you. Every workplace is different, but you can still consult employee handbooks, talk to your colleagues or boss, or engage in independent research. Sometimes a Google search is the best place to start!
  • Adopt a Growth Mindset.  Adaptability speaks to the growth mindset discussed in Chapter 1. A growth mindset means you will be flexible in your thinking and open to feedback.

Your personal approach to adaptability will guide how well you react and adjust when you confront change. This means that how you think shapes how you act. Your adaptability is hindered when your thinking is rigid. Approaching situations with rigidity speaks to a fixed mindset and can resemble unwillingness to acknowledge the ideas and suggestions of others.

Compare these two ways of thinking.

Rigid Thinking (Fixed Mindset) Flexible Thinking (Growth Mindset)
  • It’s my way or no way
  • There is no time
  • It can’t be done that way
  • We’ve already tried that
  • I want to learn from the experience of others
  • What can I shift to prioritize my time?
  • There are multiple ways to get it right
  • Could I try again?

Don’t forget to be positive!

When a situational shift is happening, approaching the situation with positivity can adjust your outlook to create optimistic responses towards new outcomes. Setting a positive mind frame and attitude is not always easy, especially during times of adversity. It requires mindful effort, attention, and willingness to learn. Developing a new skill takes practice. Journaling and reflective practices are great ways for you to track your goals and improvements. Remember that to cultivate positivity, you need to come from a place of curiosity, seek to understand your emotions, and be open to the ideas of others.

Take a moment to reflect..

  • Consider a situation that did not have an ideal outcome. Could your approach have affected the outcome?
  • Would taking an outside perspective to view the situation objectively provide you with the same information?

Strategies for Flexibility

Adapting to change can be difficult. If you find yourself resisting, this is normal and common. Preparing for adaptability can often be the best mechanism to eliminate the element of surprise. Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that “change is the only constant in life” (King, 2019). If change is the only constant you are best to prepare for adjustment rather than resist it. If you want to evaluate how you adapt to change, there are three elements of adaptability that can be practiced: cognitive flexibility, emotional flexibility, and dispositional flexibility (Calarco & Gurvis, 2006).

  • Cognitive flexibility for adaptability is to be nimble in your thinking and to anticipate multiple ideas and scenarios to shift and change for best outcomes (Calarco & Gurvis, 2006). This approach speaks to seeing opportunity where there is challenge and coming from a place of curiosity and inquiry.
  • Emotional flexibility for adaptability is to understand, be attentive, and flexible with your emotions and those of others (Calarco & Gurvis, 2006). This approach speaks to empathy and the ability to put yourself in others’ shoes to understand their perspective.
  • Dispositional flexibility for adaptability is to maintain a positive outlook and attitude (Calarco & Gurvis, 2006). This approach requires humility and the ability to be genuine, open, and honest in your interactions.


Using the information above, choose the correct answer for each multiple choice question.

  1. Cognitive Flexibility for adaptability is to:
    1. adapt to the situation and be positive.
    2. be nimble and see opportunity where there is challenge.
    3. outgoing and anticipate the ideas of others.
  2. Emotional Flexibility for adaptability is to:
    1. adapt to the situation and be positive.
    2. be empathetic and be flexible with our emotions.
    3. ensure our situation is understood no matter what it takes.
  3. Dispositional Flexibility for adaptability is to:
    1. maintain positivity and practice humility.
    2. practice assertiveness and how to change the situation.
    3. ensure our situation is understood no matter what it takes.

Take a moment to reflect..

  • Consider a situation that you handled well and what the outcome was. What was your attitude, mindset, and reaction in your approach?
  • From the following perspectives which speak to the situation and which could you see yourself exploring further?
    • I accept change as positive
    • I see change as an opportunity
    • I adapt plans as necessary
    • I listen and consider my response to proposed change
    • I engage others in conversations and implementation of change
    • I adopt new technology, vocabulary, and operating rules quickly

Calarco & Gurvis, 2006


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Getting Ready for Work-Integrated Learning Copyright © 2022 by Deb Nielsen; Emily Ballantyne; Faatimah Murad; and Melissa Fournier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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