The Power of Adaptability in Overcoming Workplace Challenges

Black woman with short white hair in a yoga outfit and prayer pose; Quote: Acceptance: A cornerstone of adaptability
Do you fight challenges or adapt to them? Our initial instinct is usually to fight, but that's not the best answer. Learn about how acceptance paves the way to adaptability and overcoming workplace challenges.

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The Power of Adaptability in Overcoming Workplace Challenges

Leaders who leave lasting legacies aren’t those who resist change, but those who embrace it with open arms and a willing heart.

In part 1 of The Art of Adaptation: Learning and Success in Leadership Transitions, I talked about strategies to overcome overwhelm and begin to embrace change.

Today, I’m going to tackle how to overcome challenges that crop up during periods of change with another component of adaptability: Acceptance.

Once you’ve managed your overwhelm (part 1), the next step in adapting to new or challenging circumstances is:

Accepting what is without judgment.

We often resist circumstances that we don’t like by immediately judging them as “bad” – which usually means that we want to fight them.

Fighting is not adapting. We’re taught that it is. We’re taught to “fight” for what we want, “fight” diseases, “fight” injustice, and so on.

But fighting puts us into the fear-based, survival part of our brain rather than using our wiser, sage brain. Fighting is another form of resistance.

Before we can begin to change a situation or circumstance, we need to accept it. Acceptance is simply acknowledging the situation for what it is. Observing with a calm, objective mind. It is what is. Period.

It’s not good or bad.

To be clear, acceptance doesn’t mean you can’t change things.

Acceptance is not being a doormat or tolerating unacceptable behavior or circumstances.

Acceptance is just looking at a situation without judgment, without negative emotions or fear.

For example, I had a client who had a job that was making her unhappy. She liked the people she was working with, but she felt that she had been passed over for a couple of promotions and wasn’t valued as much as she would have liked. She thought about leaving, but she had a financial incentive to stay and was hopeful that she’d eventually get the promotion she wanted. She felt tied to that job and unable to leave.

That’s resistance.

She was judging the situation as bad. She saw the financial incentive to stay as a handcuff, and she wanted to believe that eventually she’d get a promotion.

After we worked together for a short time, she shifted into acceptance. She let go of what she wanted the situation to be and accepted it for what it was. She saw that she was unlikely to get that promotion and realized that she could offset the financial incentive if she got another higher-paying job.

In other words, she started to see more possibilities than just that one job.

When we are in challenging situations, we often spend a lot of time and energy being upset about them, wishing they were different, and, yes, complaining about them.

It’s easy to do this, so please don’t judge yourself! It’s what we’re often socialized to do. Complain, blame someone else, be upset. And we’re totally justified in doing that.

The problem is that complaining keeps us in resistance and keeps us stuck in the problem or challenging situation. (Note: there’s a difference between complaining and talking through a situation with someone else to get a different perspective or support.)

When you can’t clearly see more than one solution, it’s usually because you’re too focused on what you don’t want than what you do want.

This is where acceptance becomes adaptability.

If we adapt to the situation (accept it without judgment), no matter how challenging it seems, we can start to work with the situation or challenge rather than against it.

We can use the energy to move forward rather than to fight.

A common and useful analogy for acceptance is the stream that flows around the boulder rather than trying to move it. By flowing around it, the water eventually wears that boulder away. In the meantime, it merely slows the stream down or makes it take a slightly different path. But the stream still gets to where it’s going – the ocean.

So, how are you going to get where you’re going? Probably not by trying to move the boulder.

The boulder (challenge) is there.

How can you flow around it? How can you accept it? Work with it? Use the energy in a positive way?

Here are the questions to ask yourself to strengthen your adaptability when faced with perceived challenges:

What am I judging as good or bad about the circumstances?
Am I seeing the situation as it is or as I want (or don’t want) it to be?
How can I make all or part of the situation work for me?
What do I want to be different?

How do I need to change to be most powerful in this situation?
What options do I have to change other things?

Adaptability is learning how to make circumstances work for you rather than against you. Acceptance is an important step in that process.

Next week, we’ll tackle another element of Adaptability – Trust!

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