What is Mental Flexibility and Why Does It Matter?

When you’re looking for potential employees to hire or growing current ones, looking for certain future-ready abilities is a must. Mental flexibility is one of these essential abilities.

Mental flexibility isn’t just helpful in our personal lives, though. Increasingly, it is a sought-after trait in the workplace.

What exactly is mental flexibility, and how can you tell if a prospective employee has it?

Let’s take a look at everything you need to know.


What Is Mental Flexibility?

Have you ever caught yourself viewing a situation with a very rigid viewpoint, unwilling or unable to see things from a different point of view? If you have, this is an example of being mentally inflexible.

Mental flexibility is the ability to change your thinking based on shifting demands or expectations. It also refers to the ability to think about multiple things, even contradictory perspectives, simultaneously. In more casual nomenclature, you might think of someone who is mentally flexible as good at “seeing both sides.”

Here’s an example. It’s unquestionable that we live in politically polarizing times. Friendships have been lost and families broken by a lack of mental flexibility. Trust gets based on binary choices: you’re with me or against me. But what if you could listen to CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News and not pick sides but listen and make sense about what all sides were saying. That’s mental flexibility.

Some people might be naturally mentally flexible, while others might have to work at loosening up their mental structures. When you’re more flexible in your thinking, it can help you better deal with the inevitability of change in life. Practicing mental flexibility can lead you to adapt more easily to new challenges and circumstances that come up.

Being mentally flexible might be easier said than done for a lot of people. Many of us end up “getting stuck” in certain behavior patterns and on certain thoughts.

When a person is mentally flexible, it means that they are connected with the present moment. They are able to be self-aware of their thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they occur.

This means that they are able to roll with the punches better. Without mental flexibility, they might rigidly reject any potential change because it is counter to their expectation.


How is Mental Flexibility Measured?

Mental flexibility is one key ability of something called an “adaptability quotient.” AQ, as adaptability quotient is often called, is a tool to measure an individual’s ability to:

  • Overcome challenges
  • Unlearn obsolete knowledge
  • Make real-time adjustments to change

People with a high adaptability quotient are open-minded, prioritize developing new skills, invest in their own learning, and actively seek to look at situations from other peoples’ perspectives.

Interested in boosting your team’s adaptability? You can learn more about AQ testing here.


Why Is Mental Flexibility Useful In an Employee?

When you’re hiring employees, you’re looking for people that will be able to perform the necessary tasks of the role. However, there are also some psychological traits and “soft skills” that can make them more or less suitable as workers.

Up until recently, communication skills were seen as the most important soft skill in recruiting. These days, flexibility has taken over as the most sought-after trait.

The need for flexibility was made incredibly obvious by the recent shift many companies have made from in-office work to remote work. For individuals, including managers and executives, who are very set in their ways, this change could be disruptive to the company’s productivity and mood. For those who are mentally flexible, they were much more able to keep up their pace of work as well as morale.

When you’re running a business, things aren’t always predictable. This means that even if you hired a person to fill one role, you might have to ask them to do something outside of their normal tasks on some occasions. If an employee is mentally flexible, they will be willing, able, and maybe even excited by the prospects of a new challenge.


Mental Flexibility Is Beneficial to Both Employees and Employers

Being mentally flexible as an employee actually gives you an edge over your peers. When you face challenges more easily, adapt to your surroundings with ease, and act more effectively in the face of change, you are setting yourself up for a great chance of overall success.

When seeking employment, displaying the ability to be mentally flexible can go a long way. It is considered a valuable asset among employers to take on people who can adapt to shifting priorities. When employees are able to go with the flow when organizational dynamics change, it can help the whole company run more smoothly.

As an employer, it’s also important to demonstrate what it means to be mentally flexible. There will always be weeks when there’s more work than you expected, employees that have significant personal issues, and other unexpected and human challenges.

What can acting flexibly as an employer achieve in your business? It helps to create an environment where everyone in the office can feel comfortable approaching both their work and home lives in a balanced way.

Even your employees who are more mentally rigid might learn from your example when you display traits of cognitive flexibility. It’s good for business when you’re flexible when your employees, as it builds employee commitment and trust. It also helps to build a better culture, which can help you find and keep high-quality talent.


Hiring and Growing Employees With Mental Flexibility: What Should You Look For?

When you are hiring employees, mental flexibility is a key soft skill you will want to keep an eye out for. You can ask those people seeking employment from you a series of questions that can help you understand how they adapt to a change in plans.

People are always trying to make themselves as appealing as possible when applying as a candidate for an open position. This means that the answers you get from them during the interview process in regards to how they deal with change might not actually reflect what they will be like as employees.

How can you overcome this challenge?

One of the best ways is by including an assessment of adaptability quotient in your hiring and development practices. AQ includes five abilities including mental flexibility. The other abilities are grit, resilience, mindset, and unlearning. For obvious reasons, as important as mental flexibility is, without at least some level of proficiency in the other abilities. employees may know what they need to do but don’t have the capacity to do it.

Isn’t it time to start assessing adaptability quotient and mental flexibility? Contact Ira S Wolfe at AQPlus or schedule a free consult by clicking the link below.

Please fill out the form below to receive a free consultation.

First things first: what does grit even mean? You’ve probably heard the advice “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” attributed to coach Kunte Rockne. That quote captures the essence of grit.  The character trait of grit often refers to passion, the consistency of interest, and perseverance, the ability to endure tough times.

For instance, we’ve all experienced setbacks. They could range from struggling to learn a new skill, recovering from an injury, losing a job, or even bankruptcy.

What Does Grit Look Like?

People with high levels of Grit are confident in achieving long-term goals. They are often described as ‘determined’ and ‘hard workers’. No-pain-no-gain might be the grit motto. Gritty people tend to keep going until the work is done. They take pride in finishing what they start. Their mental focus and emotional stamina are very high. They don’t let short-term gains, negative feedback, or hectic schedules deter them. People with high grit are not discouraged easily; they see setbacks and obstacles as challenges that can be overcome with commitment and hard work. Grit, however, is not always a good thing. Gritty people are often so focused on their goals that they get blinded-sided by outside influences and have blind spots when it comes to alternative ideas. 

People with low levels of grit give up quickly. Setbacks and obstacles easily discourage them. When change happens they can find it difficult to stay on course with long-term goals. They flee at the first sign of trouble and often blame others. They start a lot of projects but get discouraged easily. 

How Grit Can Help Your Business

Why is grit something you need to look for when hiring and developing employees? The future of work is full of opportunity but the journey will be anything but certain. Perseverance and passion will be needed in abundance. These are some scenarios where employees with grit become a beneficial trait for your company.

They Understand That Good Things Take Time

Millennials have often been criticized for their need for instant gratification. While it might be true for some of them, grit had to be part of this generation’s makeup. Now in their 30s and 40s, they have endured school shootings, 9/11 terrorism, and the Great Recession…and they are now growing and thriving. It’s only human to get frustrated when we don’t see the instant rewards from our work. Contributing to a project day in and day out, and not getting recognition or confronting bureaucratic idiocy, is disheartening. Many employees may be tempted to just quit.

If your employee has grit, however, they know good things take time. Setbacks are not failures, but part of the journey.  When personal interests align with goals, it’s easier to persevere and feel that your efforts will be rewarded. People with grit stay and push through.