Let’s Talk About…Flexibility

We boast of our own flexibility, but are we just talking or truly acting, wonders Davina Greene.

I’m great. I’ve read all about leadership and human traits, so I’m very flexible now – I understand people and I can adapt to pretty much every interpersonal situation imaginable. Hell, from five hundred paces I can spot whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, a leader or a follower, a giver or a taker, an empath or a sociopath. Sometimes, I almost think I’m psychic.

But that guy I work with, if only he could be a little more empathetic. I mean, he let me work from home for a week when my dog died and I was inconsolable. He gave me an under-the-radar half-day one Friday when I was particularly exhausted, and he really helped me sort out that problem with Anna the other day when we were both so irritated we couldn’t even listen to each other anymore (really, how did he get to the crux of the problem so quickly and so nicely?). But, when I was tired yesterday and snapped at someone, he took me aside and told me it “wasn’t a great approach”. I mean, the nerve! If he could just be a little bit more understanding, I could say he was a Very Good Manager.

The above is an amalgam of so many real conversations about Very Good Managers, Very Good Partners, Very Good Children…anything with a pulse, really. Something has gone a bit wrong, I fear. The positive act of people becoming more aware of behavioural vocabulary, and of themselves, seems to have shifted many people away from flexibility and understanding. “I now have the knowledge to tweak other people into a state of perfection” becomes the mindset (but never to even temporarily tweak ourselves, of course, because we’re already perfect – just misunderstood).

The guy described in the above example is a dream – assuming he can get the tasks done, too. It sounds like he has a really good grasp of the human angle and can apply responsibly creative thinking to people deserving of his flexibility. But, during my coaching conversations, this guy is almost never appreciated. Only the thing he didn’t do gets remembered. In short: does anyone stand a chance anymore?

How quickly do you decide that someone is sub-par? How well do you live by the universal Golden Rule, mainly communicated in our culture as ‘Do Unto Others’? Think how you’d feel if, despite your general best efforts and broad flexibility, you were picked and picked and picked at because someone deems you not-quite-perfect – probably behind your back.

Now, consider if you are doing just that to anyone right now. Silently, every day, in your own head, how many points do you award to people for (what you’d consider) the right behaviour? One per act? OK. And when they annoy you, how many do you deduct – also just one? Or every single goodwill point they have built up with you since time began? Does your approach seem fair?

Behavioural flexibility means the ability to change as needed, not “to become perfect”. In business, managers aim to master Situational Leadership or Situational Management. Daft, isn’t it, considering we’re all supposed to be adults who hold, and respect, differences throughout the entirety of our lives, not just in work? Surely, as adults, we should know – and be implementing – such practices already. But no.

Behavioural flexibility means knowing how to take a deep breath when someone acts, or reacts, in a way that doesn’t necessarily match your choices – and not bitching about it to someone else afterwards, either. People have their default behaviours; if nobody is getting hurt, leave it be. Work with it: adapt, adjust, be flexible. Apply what you’ve read!

There comes a point when a person is actually doing OK and doesn’t need to be endlessly, mercilessly, unforgivingly tweaked. That includes you, too.

Key Points

It’s nobody’s job to adapt to suit you 100%, to ‘perform’ for you – and vice versa.

Flexibility means actual, situation-specific change by you; not you pointing out inflexibilities in others.

That someone doesn’t continuously ‘roll over’ for you doesn’t mean they are inflexible.

Set a perspective-shift in motion: learn to truly enjoy the differences in people.


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