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Some of us have recurring nightmares. When I was little, I used to be tormented by a dream that the Jolly Green Giant was chasing me past my swing set. Maybe it was my then-aversion to eating vegetables, but it was scary enough.

Our five-year-old son has a recurring nightmare about a monster in his closet. He’s a little vague on exactly what the monster looks like, but he’s sure it’s in there and it certainly frightens him. Usually, we can comfort him by opening the closet door, turning on the light and admonishing the monster to leave. We tell our son that it can be scary but it’s always better to look the monster in the eye. Let that scary thing, whatever it is, know you’re in charge and that you mean business.

Organizations everywhere have fears – let’s call them downside risks – that can seem very much like that monster in the closet. The risks that all of us tend to worry about most are the ones that seem nearest. It’s human nature. Our son’s closet door is next to his bed, so a monster lurking in there seems even scarier than the thought of a monster in the basement or down the street. Remoteness is a small comfort, though, and it doesn’t make a risk less real; it just casts a smaller shadow.

Ignoring a fear doesn’t make it go away, either. Sometimes our coping strategy is to pretend a frightening or unpleasant thing doesn’t exist. However unwelcome it might be, risk often visits us unannounced. If you weren’t expecting this visitor, you could be ill-prepared to receive it, send it away or recover after it leaves.

That’s why businesses – and people – should confront their monsters, of whatever form, and look those beasts in the eye. If you can envision a bad thing happening, you have a greater opportunity to prevent, mitigate or possibly avoid it. But it takes courage and a will to do so.

If you can envision a bad thing happening, you have a greater opportunity to prevent, mitigate or possibly avoid it. But it takes courage and a will to do so.

Sometimes risks look less scary when we scrutinize them. Human imagination tends to want to run wild, and it often makes things seem lesser or greater than they really are. At other times, risks can appear even more serious when analyzed. That’s especially true when a business identifies an exposure it wasn’t aware it had.

For example, a cyber attack that exposes millions of customer records and causes significant loss of trust is a very scary risk for a business. The data-breach nightmare is visiting people with greater frequency. Just so far in 2014, breach incidents have occurred at eBay, The Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase and, recently announced, Dairy Queen. Businesses need help to analyze and remedy their weak spots when it comes to protecting sensitive data – or any exposure, really.

A fire protection engineer once told me about an executive who attended a demonstration of the flammability of certain types of pallets, common equipment in virtually every warehouse. When the executive witnessed how quickly one type ignited, he dialed his operations staff and ordered them to replace that type of pallet immediately. He simply wasn’t aware of the danger. Had a fire occurred in that executive’s warehouse, his company and insurers would have faced a large property loss.

It’s OK to be afraid. As the above lesson of the warehouse shows, fear can be a significant motivator – that’s a positive. When the source of fear is not addressed, however, fear can be paralyzing. That’s a big negative. We should give ourselves permission to be afraid, but we then need to use that as motivation to open our eyes and look at our fears. Once we face our fears, it becomes easier to size them up, see what’s causing them and take steps to conquer them. If you’re not managing risk, then risk is managing you.

Have you ever looked closely at what scares you most? How did you make it less scary?

About the Author:Regis Coccia is an insurance journalist and content strategist. His columns on insurance and risk topics appear periodically on Fast Fast Forward.

The views expressed in this column are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of XL Group.

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