Taking the Plunge: Your Guide to Negotiating Career Risks Smartly

Taking the Plunge: Your Guide to Negotiating Career Risks Smartly


When was the last time you made a risky career move?


Most of us have relatively poor risk appetites when it comes to our careers. We shy away from taking chances – be it pitching our ideas at team meetings or leaving a well-paying job for a less lucrative but more satisfying career option. But before you take comfort in the fact that you have made sensible, safe and conservative choices, there is one important question you must ask yourself – what are you missing out on by playing it safe?


Businessman jumping over the mountains. concept of ambition in business


Levels of Risk


We are confronted with situations that need us to step out of our comfort zone almost on a daily basis. Taking on new assignments, trying out roles that we haven’t reprised before, making unconventional decisions – these are all situations that might be perceived as ‘risky’, meaning, we stand to lose something if things don’t go our way. Based upon what we stand to lose or gain in the situation, risks can be of varying magnitudes:

Low Risk Initiatives: These are situations where the payoff or setback is not very high. Take speaking up in front of your bosses about a new, highly unorthodox idea, for instance: if they approve, you are a hero, not only in their eyes, but also your own. On the other hand, if it is met with scornful disapproval, you risk ridicule and humiliation. Either ways, the risk is not too high, and damages if any can be repaired over the next few days.

Medium Risk Initiatives: Some situations come with higher accountability and correspondingly higher risk margins. Consider this example: you are responsible for some crucial decision making in your department, and you pick an unconventional route. If it fails, it could have some serious ramifications for your career (like missing out on a promotion, or losing some credibility as a dependable decision maker), but if it works, you could get equally meaningful rewards (think more key assignments and high visibility positions).

High Risk Initiatives: These are decisions that can be career altering at the very least and life altering at the most. Quitting your 9-6 desk job to freelance full, for example. Or starting your very own business. Or switching careers in the prime of your life and starting all over again. In these instances, if things don’t go to plan, you stand to lose a lot.

We balk the most when the stakes are high. And that is understandable, even sensible in most instances. As  Warren Buffet sagely advises, testing the depth of a river with both feet is never a smart idea, not even if you know how to swim. And yet, climbing great heights means there is a risk of falling involved. Success is impossible without some amount of risk taking.

Shying away from risks altogether is hardly an option if you want to have a fulfilling and rewarding career. You might however want to re-evaluate how you do it – when your decisions are well-informed and strategic, they are less likely to blow up in your face.


Educate yourself


The key to smart risk taking is to analyse the situation thoroughly. Understand what your options are, what you stand to gain or lose and what the long term ramifications of your decisions are likely to be. Forecasting decision outcomes with certainty is impossible, but by researching your past experiences and those of others will give you a good idea of which risks are worth taking.


Risk the small-ticket decisions


Take a chance on the small things, the low risk initiatives when you can. If the worst that can happen is your ego getting bruised or you being ridiculed by others, risk it. These outcomes are usually temporary and in your control – you can overcome them by upping your game in subsequent situations. Next time you want to pitch an idea at a meeting but are second-guessing yourself, do it anyway. Think it over, word it well, but voice it.



The other DUI –Deciding Under Influence


Intense emotions, whether positive or negative, make you rash. Don’t make crucial decisions when you are riding on the highs of your past successes or when you are smarting from a recent failure. Happiness will magnify your chances of success and feeling low will make failure seem more probable. Wait until you are sober and grounded before you sign on those papers.


Taking the road less travelled


Making an unconventional choice or doing something most wouldn’t is always a risk. Having said that, the road less traveled also often leads to new and exciting places. Don’t fall in line with others’ choices just because that is how it is always done, but do your groundwork before you choose to take a different path. Want to venture into a hitherto unexplored market with your product? Do your research thoroughly before you take the leap.


Give up on gambles and stick with educated guesses


There are situations where the chances of success are evidently bleak. Stay away from risks that seem more like a gamble than like an informed choice. Go with ideas that have true potential and a reasonable chance rather than taking blind swipes at success. Experts believe that we often overestimate our chances of success – they call this ‘optimistic bias’. Take off those rose tinted glasses and get a reality check from yourself, and if helps, those around you.


Question your motives. Constantly.


Smart decision makers are those who know where their decisions are coming from. Understand why you want to take a particular risk, what the payoff means to you, what the process entails and how it aligns with your end goals.


Be prepared to fail


By definition, risk comes with a chance of failure. Build your resilience, understand that failure is never final, until you choose to give up. Knowing that you will get back on your feet if you do fail will help you find the courage to take the risk in the first place. After all, risks seem less risky, when you are willing to fail, but aiming to succeed.


Know that all decisions come with risks


Motivational speaker and author Denis Waitley says, “Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk that you should avoid at all costs and that is the risk of doing nothing.” Sure there are ‘safer’ options, but none of them are fool proof. When you are afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone, reminding yourself that your comfort zone comes with its own risks helps putting things in perspective. Staying on in a job that you dislike could eventually lead to an early burnout, poor performance or at the very least, a heavy dose of regret for not exploring ‘what could have been’.

As the popular adage goes, “Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it.”






Ramya Navin

Ramya Navin

I am a consulting psychologist, research enthusiast and freelance writer based out of Bangalore, India. I have a certification in marketing research and a keen interest in consumer behavior. My writings are based on both my experience as a psychologist and extensive research and reading. I am also a hands-on mom to a two year old - a job that is rewarding and challenging in equal measure.
Ramya Navin