How To Live With A Risk Taker

How To Live With A Risk Taker

After we were married, we discovered that we were very different people.  I loved her and she loved me.  But she didn’t love all the things I did or the decisions I made.  I loathed being held back and blocked from things I “knew” to be the right things to do.  This has created stress on our marriage for almost forty years.  I’m not going to tell you that the stress has been eliminated, but I can tell you that things have gotten better.  In this article I want to share with you some secrets that we have learned that you may be able to use when you find yourself living with someone who is very different from you in taking risks.  I believe these principles also apply to people you work with because some of the same dynamics are at play.

This past week our financial adviser sent me and my wife a risk assessment tool to better understand how he should invest our retirement savings going forward as we approach our “golden” years.  He knows us very well so he sent each of us the assessment separately rather than having us do it together.  He said he would simply average them together, knowing we would approach the assessment very differently.  My wife would be happy with a 3 percent return with 95% certainty.  Why would anyone do that if they upside would be 16 percent with 80 percent certainty?  Well… that is why this article came to be!

Risk taking is a natural RED strength.  The old adage is true for them, “The fruit is always out on the edge of the branch”.  They believe that fruit is attainable even though there is some risk involved in climbing out on the limb.  The key here is that RED’s believe they can accomplish almost anything if they put their mind to it.  That has been their experience and they gain great satisfaction in bringing about that accomplishment, especially breaking through barriers to the goal.  They tend to be a glass half full rather than half empty kind of people.  They downplay the danger in favor of the potential benefit.

Those who place a high value on risk don’t like the predictable because it is boring.  Change is usually the solution to a problem.  If you keep doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result, you must be insane!  Change is not risky for a RED.  It is risky not to change.  Risk is what enables you to advance.  Can I hear an amen?

No!  For many they can’t understand the failure of a risk taker to fully evaluate and analyze all the data thoroughly and the impact of the downside if things don’t work out as expect.  Life has a way of going poorly so playing it safe makes more sense.  Why subject yourself to more stress?  Slow and steady is more reasonable.  All this change and risky behavior is not exciting and adventurous. It is foolish and off putting.  Don’t you realize what you are putting other people through when you do this?

There is a conflict in fundamental values taking place.  Being a winner is important to the risk taker.  Being safe and protecting people is important to those who have placed risk taking lower in the order of values.  They would rather never have to risk unless they have no other choice.  It is not an instinctive response.  It is a survival response.

For those who are risk adverse, risk actually is a trigger to stress.  Nothing creates more stress than uncertainty.  If they were on Let’s Make a Deal, they would almost always take the cash and forgo what is behind box number 3.  They don’t want to go home with a donkey dressed in a skirt.  Who could blame them.

The source of stress for a risk taker is just the opposite. It is anything that keeps them from exercising risk.  When someone raises an objection to the uncertain idea or decision, it feels like the person is being blocked from being a success.  Something inside of them wants to fight for their idea.  It is a mistake to assume the risk taker hasn’t considered the downside.  If that is your approach, you may stir up a hornet’s nest of objections.  The risk taker isn’t ignorant of the downside, they just don’t consider them worthy of abandoning the potential upside.  Risk takers are not dumb to the obstacles and downside, they just place more weight on the upside and the possibilities that exist if we would just step out on the branch.

So how do we deal with the reality that we live with and work with people who have very different approaches to risk? Here are some tips to navigate the labyrinth of risk management in your relationships.

For the Risk Taker:

Tip 1:  Connect your risk taking to your motive

Be self-aware about why you are driven to take risks.  Connecting the dots to your motives will enable you to gain perspective on your gut impulse.  Without understanding this connection, risk can be overdone and turn into gambling.  Remember times that you took risks and it didn’t pay off and failed.  This will give you perspective an enable you to weight the downside realistically.

Tip 2:  Chose a strength that would help the risk adverse to dialogue

In order to choose a strength that would help the risk adverse, you would need to have insight into the motivation of the risk adverse person.  Why is that person risk adverse?  What is the fear behind the aversion?    Is it because they are fearful of how it will impact people?  Is it because there is no data or facts that support the outcome desired?  Or is it because all the options haven’t been considered or you haven’t sought out input from others (including them)?  Understanding your partner’s underlying reasons for risk aversion and why they steer away from decisions like that is critical to relating in a positive manner.

Tip 3:  Avoid decisions that require immediate decisions

This is the tip that has helped me the most.  Stop and breathe.  The greatest problems in our marriage relationship have risen when a quick deadline is approaching and there is pressure to make a decision or miss the “opportunity”.  When decisions are made quickly that have risk.  You run the danger of not bringing people with you.  A good rule of thumb is to forgo decisions that have a quick time-table when you have risk adverse people from which you need their support.  This is true for a board, or for a spouse.  When you are under time restraint, you don’t have the time to satisfy the need of some for research, consideration of all the ramifications, getting input for a better decision, how it will impact other people, etc.  Your gut may be saying go and go now, but if you go, you risk going alone.  Or you may go and loose the confidence and affection of those who you care about.

For the Risk Adverse:

Tip 1:  Connect your risk adverse behavior to your motive

Risk adverse people also need to understand “why” they are being risk adverse.  Connect your behavior to the reason behind it.  Also understand that other people are not just gamblers, but value advancement which is not always certain.  Identify what you need to address to be on board.  Be able to express what is important to you and what is needed.

Tip 2:  Chose a strength that would help the risk taker to dialogue

Our natural tendency under stress is to go into our overdone strength rather than chose a strength that will engage with other people.  Rather than doing that, chose a strength that will engage the risk taker in dialogue.  Many risk adverse people feel that to engage in anyway in a positive way to a risky idea is to pour gasoline on the fire that may destroy them!  For instance, employing the strength HELPING seems counter intuitive.  But what if the risk adverse person said, “That is an interesting idea.  How can I help you process the how that idea might be implemented and identify things that need to be done?”  If you know the motivation of the risk taker, you can first acknowledge the value the hold of making progress, or winning, or advancing.  Once you have done that, they are more likely to engage with you and you will have a more productive result.

Tip 3:  Avoid behavior that can be viewed as blocking

As a RED risk taker, I can tell you that the worst thing you can do when a new idea that seems risky come up, is to give as many reasons you can not to support the idea.  Or even worse would be for you to dismiss the idea without engaging in serious conversation and consideration.  This is a sure-fire way of causing conflict, because you are trampling on their core motivation – to be a winner.  Ten reasons why this would be a bad idea may flood into your mind immediately but avoid the temptation to spit them out all at once.  You may feel like you are giving approval if you don’t jump in and block the idea, but resist.   Be inquisitive about why they want to do this.  Ask about how they came to this conclusion.   Instead, connect with the person’s desire for advancement and winning first.  Then employ strengths that will engage the best way forward.  For example, you could offer to analyze data that support their conclusions and get back to them.  Or you could offer to be systematic in developing a process of evaluating the merits of the idea.  You get the idea.

My wife and I are still married after 40 years.  The truth is that my greatest strengths are the very things she fears the most.  Risk taking is her lowest strength and it is in the top two for me.  I’ve learned to give my wife more time to digest ideas where earlier in our marriage I would press her to agree with me and move quickly.  It’s still hard for me because I am impatient and value movement.  But life is much better when we move together and in agreement.  She has learned to not react to every idea raised (reds have lots of ideas they don’t do them all or think them all through prior to voicing them). She doesn’t feel compelled to block me, at least most of the time.  Looking back over the years, I can see where my risk taking was tempered and we made better decisions because both our strengths were allowed to flourish.  That is what makes up a great team.   Keep growing in relational intelligence!

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.