Survival Skills in a VUCA World

As we soon enter our seventh month living in a new reality, we continue to struggle with multiple viruses—health, economic, and socio-cultural—that are testing even the strongest and most resilient person’s limits. We are truly living in a VUCA world rife with Volatility, Unpredictability, Complexity and Ambiguity. For two decades, Intercultural Alliances has supported clients worldwide who often live and work in VUCA environments. Whether it is a family leaving the comfort of their home to relocate to a new country where they don’t speak the language or have any social contacts, to a leader managing a global team, uncertain how to build rapport and credibility in a virtual environment and ensure that work progresses, they have all cultivated survival skills to overcome obstacles and thrive. Below are just a few of these skills that we can apply to our current situation to transform VUCA positively by embracing Vulnerability, increasing our Understanding, being Compassionate towards ourselves and others, and becoming Agile in how we adapt to new circumstances.

  1. Vulnerability – This word often evokes discomfort as it exposes our true feelings, weaknesses and insecurities. To protect ourselves, many people put on a mask and suffer in silence. Yet, when we make ourselves vulnerable and honestly share what is going on for us, we find that others may be more willing to open themselves, be authentic and disclose similar feelings, fostering a deeper sense of connection and support with tremendous benefits to our mental health. Making ourselves vulnerable reminds us that we are not walking this path alone.
  2. Understanding – In our work preparing people for the rigors of living and working across cultures, we stress the importance of cultivating awareness and understanding  differences to help us adapt to the new environment. We can practice this skill by pausing to reflect on the multiple factors that caused us to be in the current situation and what we can do work collectively to defeat the viruses inflicted upon us. Today, many Americans grapple with questions, such as how to stay healthy and pay their bills and ways they may have unintentionally contributed to systemic racism. Increasing understanding of our own worldview and choices, as well as seeking to explore others’ subjective experiences provide us with a wider lens, which may foster positive change.
  3. Compassion – This deeper sense of awareness and understanding leads to compassion and allows us to cultivate stronger connections with others. While many of us suffer the lack of physical contact with extended family and friends due to the need to socially distance, there are many big and small ways that we can show compassion towards others. Whether it is listening to a friend who has lost a loved one from Covid-19 to lending financial support to a neighbor—or a stranger—who has lost her job due to the pandemic, we are able to strengthen bonds that this virus has brutally forced us to forego physically.
  4. Agility – One of the most important skills we have been compelled to learn these past few months is how to become flexible with how we live. Nobody could have predicted at the dawn of 2020 that our lives would be upended so quickly. And yet, humans are adaptable. We have learned to don masks and keep several feet apart when communicating with others. We have become resourceful as we simplify our lives, turning inwards and slowing down the pace. Many of those fortunate enough to continue working are conducting meetings and other tasks through a screen. We have developed new ways of being and relating that may usher in a new, more creative, sustainable and empathic ways of living.

Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl once said “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” So, while we are still unclear what the next six months will bring us, we can choose to step into that space where we embrace the gray of life and the life skills we have and continue to develop to help us cope with the current crises. Stay safe, stay healthy and stay connected.


Intercultural Alliances, LLC