Benjamin Franklin once said, “Distrust and caution are parents of security.” However, when cautious behavior is taken too far, you are prone to magnifying risks and believing them as being stronger than they actually are. If you are overly cautious, you may also be perceived as elusive, protective, defensive and self-serving. When approached to help with a specific work project or meet a deadline, the cautious thinker’s instinct is to scrutinize, prioritize, negotiate and even critique. Being risk-averse can be a double-edged sword. Although it protects you from being taken advantage of, it may also cause others to avoid you completely.
Cautious personality types are characterized by possessing a low degree of trust and will often demand proof of something. It is a “I will believe it when I see it” type of attitude. Yet, someone with a more balanced or healthy perspective of caution will use this trait to receive information carefully and methodically. In this instance you are exercising caution to ensure objectivity, limiting vulnerability, and perhaps constraining excitement in order to maintain realistic expectations.
Cautious personalities also tend to “under-promise and over-deliver” on matters that are most important to them. This mindset can lead to undue stress, ongoing disagreements and burnout.
The following three personality development exercises have a proven track record to help break the bonds of overly cautious behavior.
1. Create two lists: people and situations.
On the first list, think of all the people you have interacted with in the last two months that may have prompted a “guarded” response or reaction from you. People can read your hesitation, caution, lack of trust, or even skepticism in your body language and your voice.
For the second list, brainstorm all topics, situations, issues, or other triggers that lead to the feelings associated with this highly protective and careful inner voice. You often have good reasons to feel this way, but maybe there is a common thread. Learning to recognize your own patterns and trigger points is an important first step in addressing a more balanced approach related to ascertaining risk and trusting others.
2. Practice leaps of faith.
This exercise is akin to playing a mental game with yourself. The next time someone engages you in a way that typically triggers a cautious response — such as posing questions and asking for clarification — try shifting your tone to one of optimism and enthusiasm. You can ask the same questions you normally would (i.e. “How did you come to this conclusion?”) but with eagerness and curiosity in your voice rather than skepticism or with emotional distance. Other questions cautious people often ask prior to commitment such as “How could my involvement help?” are literally transformed by adopting a different tone of voice and more approachable body language.
3. Openly communicate positive reasons for hesitation and caution.
If you are the cautious type, you often have wise reasons for desiring to avoid high risk, low reward situations or to steer clear of issues (and people) that you don’t yet trust. The problem is that the common social moods behind this personality style (disregard, skepticism, defensiveness, and even anxiety) can cause you to retreat and disengage too quickly. The concerns and protective instincts you have are valuable to others in addition to being valuable to yourself, so take an extra minute to share your concerns openly. You might be surprised to learn that others will respond with gratitude, as it gives them time to address, and possibly alleviate your concerns. This is something you would not have accomplished if you had remained guarded, and kept your thoughts to yourself.