July 30, 2021

Opportunity in Adversity

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Adversity quotient, or AQ, has become a popular term over the last few years within hiring circles as people think about what they look for in candidates. Adversity is broadly defined as difficulties or misfortunes, so AQ is a measurement of how well people react to difficult situations. But why does this matter?

Knowing how people react in difficult times will tell you a lot about them at their core as individuals. There isn’t necessarily a right answer when you find yourself in those adverse times, but there do seem to be many wrong ones.

Approaching adversity in and outside of the workplace

Recently, I’ve found myself fairly comfortable, professionally speaking. I’ve been doing the same job for over seven years now, and I’ve gotten used to the twists and turns that the job has to offer. Lately, I focused on being a bystander in many moments, as I’ve been training a team of awesome people (P.S. they are MILES ahead of me already, but I’d like to think I’m still helpful).

I also recently suffered an injury that has left me unable to walk for over two months, and will recover back to my normal self in 6-12 months (had surgery on a ruptured Achilles tendon that I’m only 2 weeks into so this is still fresh and it’s why I wanted to write about adversity). Between my first few years, learning from my team and a personal injury, here are five things I like to think about or coach when dealing with adversity:

1. Attitude

Half of the battle when dealing with adversity lies in how you approach it mentally. Recognizing that you have approached a roadblock is the first step that can be greeted with negativity or positivity. This can also be thought of as a limiting or abundance mindset. Does your brain immediately go, “this is hard I won’t be able to do anything,” or “this is an opportunity for me to grow and learn?”

Think back to the last year and a half. It’s no question that we’ve experienced a lot of mental tests due to COVID, and approaching a new norm. Did you react by complaining about how challenging it is, or did you view it as an opportunity to make lemons out of lemonade (i.e. more family time, exercising or learning a new skill). Your attitude in your initial recognition and approach to adverse situations is the first step to achieving high AQ and mental fortitude.

2. Fall in love with the process

We have become increasingly focused on the outcome as a measure of success. That can be flawed for many reasons, but the most relevant ones are: 

1) Your outcome may not reflect the decision and process that led to that outcome (ala, accidents/luck happens) 

2) Outcomes can be delayed and we live in a world where we value instant gratification. 

So how do you account for not worrying about the outcome? Well...fall in love with the process. If you do the right things along the way to move towards the outcome, you are positioning yourself for success. While it won’t always work out that way, it's easier to live with poor outcomes if you did the right steps/process along the way. That will more often than not, lead you to successful outcomes. Take a look at some best practices from Headnote CEO Sarah Schaaf.

3. Avoid letting deadlines impact decision-making

We naturally feel pressure to rush when facing adversity. We can often find ourselves wondering what we can do right away to get out of a difficult situation. Instead of rushing through and taking an immediate course of action, take a deep breath and recognize that in most of our difficult situations, the world is not immediately coming to an end. 

So don’t make decisions or process through the next steps hastily. This is a moment to take your time, address what you need to do and make the right decision with the right timeline that fits your needs.

4. Plan for alternatives

When starting your process and coming to a decision, it’s helpful to ask yourself: “What are the alternative outcomes if we make this decision?” Sometimes that could reduce the pressure on the decision if the worst outcome isn’t that bad. 

Keep in mind, 90% of the decisions we make are reversible. It may send you further down the adversity curve than you’d like to be, but you can come out of it nevertheless. As you’re working your way through less-than-ideal outcomes, identify what the worst-case scenario would be and think through what you would do if that was your outcome. As we often like to say, “Prepare for the worst, plan for the best.”

5. Analyze the process, decision-making and outcomes for next time

Debrief in a post-mortem! We tend to have the habit of reviewing our work after the work isn’t immediately fresh. In the deal world, we typically give ourselves a week or two to allow wounds to heal a bit before coming back together as a team to review ourselves and see what went well vs. what didn’t go well. Being able to improve over time is how you get better at facing adversity, thus increasing your AQ.

If you perceive adversity as an opportunity, you may find that these difficult situations aren’t quite as challenging over time.

If you think the same way, leave a comment below for your tips. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.


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