• Michael Stern

Uncertainty Requires Adaptability

Updated: Jan 10


Photo by David Clode


This article was originally published in the West End News


Like millions of parents around the country, I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed by the changes we are currently navigating in light of the ongoing pandemic and the start of a new school year. Since schools closed last spring, the world has changed irrevocably. The complexity and disruption continue unrelentingly and there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight. In the context of such profound uncertainty one of the most essential emotional intelligence skills we can practice is adaptability.


According to Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of the groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence, adaptability means “having flexibility in handling change, being able to juggle multiple demands, and adapting to new situations with fresh ideas and innovative approaches.”


Adaptability helps you to avoid getting stuck when difficult challenges arise. Adaptable people stay focused on what matters most and look for solutions by communicating with key stakeholders, developing a strategy, and taking effective action.


How To Develop Adaptability


Underlying adaptability are the skills of self-awareness (which helps us recognize how our emotions affect our behaviors) and emotional balance (which allows us to stay calm and effective even in the moments when we experience disturbing emotions). By developing these foundational skills, we support and enhance our capacity to be adaptable.


Most of us seek a sense of control because it helps us feel safe. With the world changing so quickly and dramatically, our sense of control (which is often an illusion anyway) is easily lost. We then resist change because we are afraid of the unknown and of what else we might lose.


We can counter this tendency by practicing curiosity, openness, and acceptance, and by focusing on the benefits that change can bring. Developing this type of flexible and resilient mindset can help us see problems as opportunities for learning and growth.


Neuroscience research indicates adaptability can also be improved through regular aerobic exercise(1). Also consider prioritizing stress-reduction activities, such as walking in nature, extending kindness or compassion to others, and meditation.


Questions For Self-Reflection

  • Are there any challenges or situations where you are feeling stuck or rigid in your response? How might you handle things differently if you were more adaptable?

  • Next time you notice resistance or conflict in a conversation, pause and ask yourself: Is there another way I could approach this conversation? What questions can I ask that might help me better understand the other person’s position and/or needs?

  • Think about other people in your life who always find ways to move forward when obstacles come along – friends, family, coworkers, etc. – what can you learn from them?

You can deliberately practice emotional intelligence skills by taking small steps on a regular basis. These questions can help you increase your adaptability by raising your self-awareness and prompting you to think about what other options might be available in various challenging situations. This will also give you a great starting point to engage in open communication with others who are invested in supporting your learning and growth.

1. Goleman et al. (2017). “Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence: Adaptability: A Primer.” More Than Sound, LLC.

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