That’s probably a tough question without some sort of context around it. After all, if the question related to jumping out of a plane without a parachute, none of us would be prepared to take the risk.
What about when it comes to making career choices and seizing new opportunities? Do you leap at the chance or hesitate and wait to see the outcome for those who took the leap?
There’s no right or wrong answer. The point of the question is to make you reflect on your own decision making processes. What you find might have an impact on the choices you make from here on, and on your ability to influence people around you.
Risk vs loss.
First let’s take a look at what we mean by risk taking.
Daniel Kahneman has written, “For most people, the fear of losing $100 is more intense than the hope of gaining $150”. Most people are risk averse because they don’t want to be worse off than they are.
Professor Tory Higgins at Columbia University says that people who avoid risk have a prevention focus. They prefer to make the safe choices, looking for reliability and regularity, and deeply consider the consequences of their decisions before making a choice.
People who are happy to take risks have a promotion focus. That means they are ready and willing to embrace change and “give it a go”. They are always on the lookout for ways to improve their circumstances. They see risk in terms of potential gain rather than potential loss.
What happens when the two collide?
The cautious person might be annoyed by what seems to be a willingness on the part of the other person to jeopardise the team and the work they’ve done to date. The daring person will be frustrated by the other person’s inability to see the possibilities, and annoyed that they are holding the team back.
In reality we need both types – one to spot the opportunities and one to weigh up the potential downside and avoid a loss.
Risk and gain at work.
This is where your preference becomes really interesting. What happens if you have discovered that you are a risk taker but you lead a team of risk avoiders? It’s human nature to avoid anything that might put us in danger or jeopardy – fight or flight – so how can you find a balance you’ll all be comfortable with?
As part of a team, understanding what drives both preferences makes it much easier to meet each other’s needs in a constructive way.
Remember that risk avoiders have a prevention focus. They see the risks much more clearly than they see the potential upside. They aren’t saying no to everything; instead they are urging caution. Your solution lies in minimising the risk and emphasising the positive. Show how the change will prevent further problems.
And if you’re the risk avoider in a team full of daredevils? Yours is the voice of reason but remember that no one (not even your team) takes risks if they can’t cope with the consequences. Perhaps they aren’t as crazy as you think they are. Perhaps the question you need to consider is how much might you lose by not taking any action at all?
So what about you?
So, which are you? A risk taker or a risk avoider?
When you understand your own preference, it’s easy to work out whether you’re looking after yourself or holding yourself back.