Posted: 04 May 2015 5 min. read

Stuck in the status quo? Why Guardians are 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 mechanism.1 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 extroverts.2 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?



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

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Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Research Lead | Deloitte LLP

Dr. Suz is a social-personality psychologist and a leading practitioner of Deloitte’s Business Chemistry, which she uses to guide clients as they explore how their work is shaped by the mix of individuals who make up a team. Previously serving in Deloitte’s Talent organization, since 2014 she’s been coaching leaders and teams in creating cultures that enable each member to thrive and make their best contribution. Along with her Deloitte Greenhouse colleague Kim Christfort, Suzanne co-authored the book Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships as well as a Harvard Business Review cover feature on the same topic. She also leads the Deloitte Greenhouse research program focused on Business Chemistry and is the primary author of the Business Chemistry blog. An “unapologetic introvert” and Business Chemistry Guardian-Dreamer, you will never-the-less often find her in front of a room, a camera, or a podcast microphone speaking about Business Chemistry. Suzanne is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate with an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a doctorate in Social-Personality Psychology from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. She has lectured at Rutgers Business School and several colleges in the CUNY system, and before joining Deloitte in 2009, she gained experience in the health care and consulting fields. A mom of two teenagers, she maintains her native Minnesota roots and currently resides in New Jersey, where she volunteers for several local organizations with a focus on hunger relief.