We all have skills.  

Maybe you can solve complex mathematical equations.  
Maybe you can fix a leaky drain pipe.  
Maybe you can cut quite the rug on the dance floor.

Maybe some of these skills have even gotten you hired at some point or another.  But while these skills may be vital to your job (or your job's annual Christmas party), people generally aren't fired because of deficiencies in these highly specific skills.  When things go wrong on the job, it's generally because of problems in a person's adaptive skill set. 

Our skills, in all their variety, can pretty much be categorized into 3 different types:


These skills pertain primarily to the very specific talents and abilities your job requires: A lawyer's ability to write a brief, a nurse's ability to give an IV to a patient, a programer's ability to write code for a website or a performer's ability to play the piano.

These are skills you can take you with you to many different occupations:  General management skills, the ability to delegate, the ability to use a computer keyboard, public speaking skills, etc.

This group of skills is basically a cross-section of all the emotional and social competencies that you learned by the time you were around 15 years old and that you brought with you into adulthood.  They include:  

  • How you relate to others and make people feel
  • How you understand and express yourself 
  • How you react and respond
  • How you receive feedback (do you punish people by being defensive?)
  • How you deal with anxiety
  • How you handle change

It's THESE skills that studies show tend to make or break our success in the workplace.  

As I said above, most people aren't let go from a job because of a problem with their job-specific skills (e.g. a pianist being fired because she woke up one day and forgot how to play the piano).  Most people are fired because of their adaptive skills (i.e. said pianist constantly berates the composer, freaks out when given feedback, or throws fits when the music for the concert is modified at the last minute).



If an employee has strong adaptive skills, transferable and job-specific skills can always be taught.  But if an employee has significant weaknesses in their adaptive skills (like being unteachable or unable to handle stress), they are less able to continue growing and/or learn new things.

Promotions are often based on an employee's job-specific skills, with less attention being paid to their adaptive skills.  But managing others requires a distinctly different skills set than the positions being managed, and if someone is promoted to a managerial position who doesn't have a strong adaptive skill set, that disconnect can produce a lot of frustration for employees and organizations.

Helping to solve the gaps and weaknesses in a work group's collective adaptive skills set is often the first step toward improving job success and workplace health.  So, while you may have highly specific job skills, it's worth asking yourself: do you have the foundational adaptive skills necessary to manage a healthy and effective team of employees?  



Yes, we brought our adaptive skills with us from childhood.  However, there is good news!  Our adaptive skills CAN change and improve.   Stay tuned for our next post.