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  • Writer's pictureFarah Rani

R for Risk: Taking Risks in the Face of Uncertainty

Have you ever wanted to ask a question but stopped yourself because you were unsure of how your questions would be received? Maybe you feared looking ignorant or being judged, maybe you were afraid to offend someone.  You likely hesitated because you were afraid to take a risk.

Yet, risk is an essential part of growth and learning. When we step out of our comfort zones, we  allow ourselves to experience, learn, and ultimately grow. Taking risks is also about accepting to be vulnerable.

When we don't, we tend to remain stagnant, missing out on the opportunity to expand our horizons and reach our full potential.  Taking measured risks at a team or organisation level is also what will drive performance. 

When we think of risk, we often think of financial risk (when we invest in a startup for example) or physical risk (when we engage in extreme sports). However most of the potential risks that we face daily are interpersonal risks: how we interact with others can be a minefield!

So how do we reap the benefits of a risk taking approach while minimising the potential negative impacts? 

Embracing Cultural Differences: Caution Oriented Cultures Vs  Risk-Taking Culture 

Let us first examine  the impact of culture on risk taking. Our willingness to take risks is closely connected to how we manage uncertainty. Cautious cultures tend to stick to established patterns of behaviour, avoiding change for the sake of predictability. In contrast, risk-taking cultures embrace innovation and are comfortable with uncertainty. 

The 20 Cultural Dimensions developed by Dr. Asma Abdullah, PhD

Being aware of your own cultural orientation regarding risk-taking is the first step. In the CIS lingo, you may want to aim to become a Cautious-RiskTaking Ambivert: someone who strikes a balance between embracing challenges and maintaining a measured approach to decision-making. You want to make prudent yet swift decisions,  balancing thorough consideration with agility. This means being open to new ideas and innovation while ensuring well-informed choices and the impact your actions will have on people around you. 

An aspect that some individuals may find risky is engaging with people from different cultures. The fear of being seen as intolerant or disrespectful can prevent genuine connections. People often avoid expressing their true thoughts about different cultures to avoid offending others. This keeps interactions at a surface level, preventing deep, meaningful connections. It’s important to create a space where people can respectfully express their discomfort or preferences, leading to more honest and productive dialogues.

When referring to different cultures, it is okay to acknowledge that you respect and accept certain practices even if they are not to your liking or comfort. The objective of being open-minded is to foster an environment where risky statements are taken positively. Instead of finding fault or placing blame, we should seek to understand and learn from each other.

The Importance of Team Psychological Safety (TPS)

The next important element is to create an environment of trust and psychological safety, so it becomes easier to take those necessary risks. The ultimate objective is to create spaces where stepping out of comfort zones is not just encouraged but seen as a vital part of the learning process.

Team Psychological Safety (TPS) is crucial in fostering such an environment where it is safe to take interpersonal risks in small groups. TPS means having a shared understanding that it is okay to take interpersonal risks: this includes, asking questions, and making mistakes without fear of negative consequences. It is the first step towards building a culture that values learning and growth.

TPS aims to eliminate these fears by promoting a culture where questions are welcome, support and appreciation are given and curiosity is encouraged. It's not about challenging authority but about developing a learning mindset, being genuinely curious and clarifying understanding in order to enhance collaboration and outcome. 

Often, we avoid conversations because we don’t want to face the potential risks they bring. Whether it’s a difficult topic or a challenging question, the fear of negative outcomes can hold us back. However, taking the risk to open these conversations can lead to deeper connections and a better understanding of each other.

Risks in Exchange Theatre and Action Learning

Managing the uncertainty of taking risks requires practice. Before it becomes second nature it is useful to create opportunities for people to step out of their comfort zones. 

The very nature of Action Learning demands questions—questions that bring the group together swiftly and dismantle hierarchical barriers. By encouraging and requiring everyone to ask questions, Action Learning creates an environment where it’s safe to take interpersonal risks. This approach not only focuses on solving the problem at hand but also fosters an atmosphere where participants feel empowered to make the risky choice to contribute, regardless of their expertise.

The risk lies in the vulnerability of asking questions that may expose blind spots or challenge established norms. However, these very risks are what lead to innovative solutions. By daring to ask the most powerful and probing questions, participants shed light on hidden issues and discover creative paths forward. In Action Learning, the courage to take the risk to speak up is what drives progress and fosters a collaborative spirit.

Risks play a pivotal role in the process of exploration and understanding in Exchange Theatre as well. It is only in taking the risk to share one’s views or even to go up on stage to try out an idea that makes Exchange Theatre work. Participants are encouraged to take the risk of challenging assumptions and stepping into each other’s shoes. This can be daunting, as it requires confronting deeply held beliefs and biases.

Yet, it is through these risks that diverse perspectives are unearthed, fostering empathy and a deeper understanding among participants. 

The risk in Exchange Theatre lies in the potential for discomfort and misunderstanding. However, by embracing this risk, participants engage in richer, more authentic conversations that lead to a deeper understanding of the issues at hand. It is through these courageous dialogues that real connection and change occur.

Pushing Boundaries

Taking risks often involves pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo. For example, working as a foreigner in a Malaysian institution can present limits on what can be done. Embracing these challenges, like Marie did, involves understanding why these limits exist and engaging in meaningful conversations to challenge them. This is how progress is made—by taking risks, questioning norms, and striving to go a little bit further each time.

Risk is an integral part of personal and collective growth. By fostering environments of psychological safety, encouraging open conversations, and embracing cultural differences, we can create spaces where taking risks is not just safe but celebrated. Let’s push boundaries, challenge the status quo, and take those necessary risks to learn and grow together.

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