How Your Instincts Interrupt Your Effectiveness

4 min read
Feb 3, 2022 12:00:00 AM

How Your Instincts Interrupt Your Effectiveness

leadership people Feb 03, 2022
Blog post shared and written by Chris White, Co-Founder & Head Coach at System & Soulᵀᴹ


“The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.” - Marcus Aurelius


This week I’ve been thinking about something destructive I’ve seen with executive leaders (and admittedly in myself) when stressful, high-stakes, or tense conversations are in play. I imagine you’ve seen it in yourself too.


When the conversation starts to get hot, people are disagreeing, and resolution is nowhere in sight, we fight, flee, or freeze.


  • Fight = getting louder, angry, more pointed, maybe even making accusations
  • Flee = shutting down, stonewalling, holding back, and more than likely building growing resentment for unresolved conflict
  • Freeze = feeling confused, stuck, defeated, and mentally scrambled


You’ve seen all of these, right? And giving into that instinctive impulse usually doesn't help solve the problem at hand.


The anger we see with the fight response usually leads to unnecessary escalation and chips away at trust.


The withdrawing or minimizing we see with fleeing usually leads to unhealthy resentment and again, loss of trust.


The paralysis we see with freezing, if not addressed and worked through, leads to drawn-out conflict and continual confusion, and you guessed it, losing trust.


Leading people in business can be frustrating because we run into these emotional challenges while we’re trying to do the work and solve the business issue in front of us. I know, you’re saying, “Tell me something I don’t know, Chris.”


So, how do we avoid letting our emotions get the better of us in key moments? How can we actually listen with the intent to understand and invite the people we lead to do the same? 


In his book, The Only Leaders Worth Following, Tim Spiker identifies the two attributes of great leaders: Inwardly Sound and Others Focused


Becoming inwardly sound helps us move out of our tendency to fight, flee, or freeze and approach the challenges in front of us with a sense of calm and clarity.


In the book, Tim names 5 Aspects of Being Inwardly Sound:

  • Secure & Settled
  • Self-Aware
  • Principled
  • Holistically Healthy
  • Purposeful


For me personally, fighting is my go-to mode when things are tough and frustrating. A proven practice as I’ve worked toward my own inner soundness and attaining these 5 aspects, is journaling.


Journaling has given me the space to clear my mind and connect my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It’s a great way to start listening to yourself and stop letting your emotions rule your actions. It also gives the gift of time.


  • Time to reflect on what’s working/not working. 
  • Time to think about the people I’m leading. 
  • Time to think about my mission, my roles, and my responsibilities. 
  • Or time to just clear my head and protect my confidence. 


“Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it’s the same thing. What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind.” - Natalie Goldberg


Of course, grabbing a pen and a blank piece of paper and writing in a way that helps you think more clearly, reflect deeply, and come out on the other side with inward soundness is really tough. 


I had a conversation with author Steven Pressfield, who wrote The War of Art, Gates of Fire, Man at Arms, and many other wonderful books, and I asked him why it’s so hard to practice journaling (or really any activity that helps us care for our inner soundness). He said, “It's Resistance with a capital R.” It’s that inner voice that tries to distract you and break your confidence.


Simply put, looking at a blank page is intimidating. Taking a walk every day or meeting with a counselor or coach on a regular basis or making healthy choices that help you gain clarity is intimidating, period. 


To combat and beat Resistance, he says to simply begin writing. Begin walking. Begin talking to a trusted advisor. Anything. Once you start, slowly, over time, taking these steps will shut down the voice of Resistance in your head. Think: “the obstacle in the path becomes the path.”


If journaling is where you want to start, my business partner Benj Miller and I wrote The Clarity Field Guide: The Answers No One Else Can Give You. The book is specifically designed to make getting started easier.


Becoming inwardly sound is a practice to learn and refine, but I guarantee it will elevate the conversations you have, create a healthier team dynamic, and strengthen your influence as a leader. I encourage you to give yourself permission to spend time in quiet solitude or do the activity that will lead you there. You will be amazed at the level of clarity you will attain.



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