The Case for Flight When Crisis Occurs

Published: October 10, 2023

When you consider the fight/flight/freeze options that our instincts select, remember that you don’t have a choice. When an emergency occurs, no one stops to consider their response options. Our next action (or inaction) is already wired into our neurology. You’ll either go toward, escape, or become a statue with all five senses consuming data. Look back on any crisis in your history and review your response if you are interested in learning how you are built.

Although my instinct is to go toward trouble, I wish I was wired for flight. Flight provides a chance to read the larger environment. Fleeing creates space between you and the event. You can evaluate options with greater objectivity. While perhaps not ‘Johnny-on-the-spot’ at the moment of greatest need and not the frozen recorder memorializing the event, the flight option enjoys the widest lens. Some might argue that the wider lens unleashes the best spectrum of options.

In a perfect world, you have a few fighters, a few fleers, and a few freezers on your team. All three natural skill sets are needed. Yet, each group tends to see the other two through negative mindsets. The fighter sees the fleers and the freezer as cowards. Not so. The fleers and freezers see the fighter as reckless. Not so. Every team needs someone to dive in, someone to step back, and someone to take in the big picture.

Get acquainted with your own wiring and embrace its benefits. More importantly, appreciate the value that other personalities bring to the table, especially during crisis. The introverted resource-finder is just as important as the adventurous risk-taker. The adaptable observer is just as valuable as the focused doer. The patient student brings as much to the team as the eager beaver.

You don’t get to choose your instinct. But you can be curious rather than judgmental when a teammate responds differently than you expect. Challenge the default mindsets that suggest that ‘different’ is less-than. Consider the possibility that ‘different’ augments the range of options. Imagine the advantage you might have if you could select your instinctive reaction based on the needs of the situation. That would be a superpower!

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.