You're asked to speak at an event, but you hate being in front of crowds. Do you make up an excuse and politely decline, or recognize there's a reason behind the invitation, rise to the occasion, and start thinking about how you'll prepare? How you respond says a lot about your overall success in business and life. That's according to Jason Hanold, CEO of greater-Chicago-based executive search firm Hanold Associates. As someone who finds and counsels HR leaders for companies such as Amazon and Nike, Hanold says there are several key differences between people who are risk-averse and those who have a higher tolerance for taking chances.

Risk takers climb the company ladder faster and make more money.

You may get points for loyalty if you remain in a position for years, but you're never going to rise to the top that way. Yes, it may be scary to think about volunteering to head a new office in an emerging market. What if your cushy job at home isn't here when you come back? And how will your family adjust to living abroad? These are real concerns, but the people who see a chance to prove their mettle by reaching for such an opportunity are the ones who will stand out to company leadership. "With each one of those moves you have an opportunity for accelerated learning, accelerated compensation, versus someone who finds a place they're comfortable and sets and perches right there," Hanold says.

Risk takers are early adopters of technology.

Risk-averse people don't like change and may hold on to fading technology longer than they should. So if you're still using a flip phone instead of the latest smartphone or tablet, it may communicate the wrong kind of message. "As executive recruiters we tend to look for just the little nuances ... sometimes, literally what [people are] bringing to the table, and you can get a sense for their [comfort with] risk," Hanold says.

People who are risk-averse may have a warped perception of self.

Hanold says people who play it safe tend to describe themselves as responsible, thoughtful, deliberate, and cautious. Others, however, may see these individuals as lacking courage, being reserved, and less than inspirational. They might even call them boring. "The reason that matters is if you're a risk-averse person working for a risk taker, they may view you with more negative connotations than if you work for a more risk-averse person, [who may] view you as more responsible and measured, and they might embrace your risk-averseness," he says.

You can become more comfortable with risk.

But it involves practice and developing new habits. It doesn't mean you need to suddenly become a base jumper, but merely someone who's continually stretching yourself, even in small ways. "Understand where you're comfortable and where you're not comfortable, and continue to push your own boundaries into an area that's less comfortable," Hanold says.

Risk-averse people may be overly fearful of what others think.

The truth is, human beings are remarkably self-centered, and most people don't give a whit about what you do or how you may fumble in the event you try something new. "It's more interesting for other people to be around people who are comfortable in their own skin," Hanold says. "And it's up to each of us to get there."