Stuck in the status quo? Why Guardians are risk averse…

Why are Guardians Risk Averse?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Guardians lately. In particular, I’ve been wondering why they sometimes seem a bit stuck in the status quo, preferring to do things the same way they’ve always done them rather than experiment with new approaches. Have you ever noticed that?

As I thought about it I realized that actually, research has shown that it’s not just Guardians–there’s a general tendency for people to make decisions that maintain the status quo. There’s even a name for it—the status quo bias—and psychologists have hypothesized that it’s a self-protective mechanism1. In order to break from the status quo we need to take action, and doing so requires accepting responsibility and opening ourselves up for criticism. Since most of us don’t particularly like to be criticized, keeping things as they are is a much safer choice.

So fine, maybe we all do it to some extent, but still, it seems that with their risk-averse natures, Guardians are even more loath to embrace change than the other Business Chemistry types. Why is that?

Well, we know that Guardians are the most internally-focused of the Business Chemistry types. And I recently read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in World That Can’t Stop Talking, in which she suggests that introverts are also likely to be highly sensitive. In other words, introverts react more strongly to things (sounds, sensations, emotions) because they actually experience them more intensely than extroverts2. So, if going against the status quo requires us to take responsibility and risk being criticized, and Guardians experience things, including criticism, more intensely than others, they’d be particularly unlikely to want to open themselves to that possibility. As a result, Guardians would be more likely to stick with what’s known and what’s safe.

Suppose you want to encourage a Guardian to go out on a limb. What might you do? For one thing, it’s important to create a culture where mistakes are okay and good faith efforts are celebrated even when they fail. And because Guardians tend to be somewhat hierarchical, the higher up this expectation is set, the better. If you can remove the threat of criticism a Guardian may be able to get comfortable with accepting responsibility for taking a risk. Second, respect the Guardian’s methodical nature and give them time for conducting due diligence. Guardians can and do change, but they’re likely to do so only after they determine the change is worth the risk. Even once the fear of criticism is gone, a Guardian needs information, time, and space to consider what else is at stake. Deliver on these things and you’ll likely find a Guardian can be more flexible than you ever thought possible.

Guardians, what do you think? What makes you proceed with caution when change is afoot?

Dr. Suz

Suzanne Vickberg, PhD (aka Dr. Suz)
Dr. Suz is the LCC’s very own social-personality psychologist, which means she studies how people’s thoughts, behaviors and preferences are influenced by both who they are and the situations they’re in. She uses Business Chemistry to help teams explore how the mix of perspectives brought by their individual members influences their work together. Follow her on Twitter @DrSuzBizChem

1 Hammond, J.S., Keeney, R.L. and Raiffa, H. (1998). The hidden traps in decision making. Harvard Business Review.
2 Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Random House, Inc.

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