This article is excerpted from our new book, “Instinctual Leadership: Working with the 27 Subtypes of the Awareness to Action Enneagram,” which is available via Rather than using the traditional “self-preservation,” “social,” and “sexual” terminology, we prefer the terms “Preserving,” “Navigating,” and “Transmitting.” We also avoid the term “instinct” and prefer to talk about domains of evolutionary adaptations. As we will see, each of the three domains can be subdivided into three subdomains, each of which can be further delineated into three groups.


We divide each of the three instinctual domains into three subdomains of behaviors and focuses of attention, with the understanding that the categories are not rigidly fixed and the same behavior may satisfy different adaptive needs. (A love of cooking, for example, is something that could satisfy needs in each of the three domains in different ways—it can give us a feeling of nurturing ourselves, it can help us satisfy a need for community by cooking for others, it can help us attract a mate, etc.) Each of these subdomains is divided further by identifying three additional refinements of clusters of adaptations.

In the Preserving domain, our behaviors and attention are focused on:

  • Security—attempts to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our resources safe from harm. This includes safety, supportive relationships, and risk-avoidance.
  • Well-being/Resources—attempts to be comfortable and healthy and to acquire “enough” resources without risking those we already have. This includes comfort, supply, and health.
  • Maintenance—attempts to fix and improve those things which make the first two possible. This includes feathering the nest, traditions, and repair.

The Preserving Domain and Subdomains


Well-Being/ Resources 


Tending to the Nest 








Risk Avoidance 

In the Navigating domain, our behaviors and attention are focused on:

  • Trust/Reciprocity—attempts to understand who is trustworthy and can be safely transacted with. This includes information exchange, group coherence, and trade.
  • Status/Identity—attempts to understand where everyone (especially oneself) fits into the social order. This includes pecking order, role clarity, and reputation management.
  • Power/Influence Dynamics—attempts to understand who has power and who can be used to promote your agenda. This includes group politics, social intelligence, and hierarchy management.

The Navigating Domain and Subdomains  

Trust and Reciprocity 


Power/Influence Dynamics 

Information Exchange 

Pecking Orders 

Group Politics 

Group Coherence 

Role Clarity 

Social Intelligence 




Hierarchy Management 

In the Transmitting domain, our behaviors and attention are focused on:

Broadcasting/Narrowcasting—attempts to send attention-getting signals to the broadest group; once a signal is received by someone the attention goes specifically to that individual. This includes signaling, seduction, and intense “one-to-one” relationships.

Asserting—attempts to get what one wants, often with little inhibition. This includes satisfying desires, low-inhibition, and ambition.

Impressing—attempts to “leave one’s mark” so one is remembered or leaves a legacy. This includes legacy, charm, and impact.

 The Transmitting Domain and Subdomains 

Broadcasting/ Narrowcasting 



Signaling “fitness” 

Satisfying Desires 



Low Inhibition 


Intense Relationships 




Patterns of Expression 

We all are affected by adaptations from all three domains—no one is only Preserving, only Navigating, or only Transmitting. Each of us expresses the adaptations of each domain to varying degrees, although one is dominating. We have found, in working with clients individually, in teams, or at an enterprise level, that there are particular patterns of expression of the domains that seem relatively consistent.

That pattern looks like this:

One domain is dominant. It contains the adaptations that we are most driven by, and aspects of life that we inherently think are most important. It relates to activities that we enjoy the most and we are tempted to spend most of our time attending to these needs, to the point where we can easily fall into the trap of overdoing behaviors related to this topic. We often have a lot of anxiety in this domain early in life, but normally-functioning adults are quite comfortable in this space and it feels like “home base” to them. We refer to this as “Zone of Enthusiasm” because it is where we feel most alive and engaged.

We are conflicted in a second domain. We do behaviors in this domain more than we realize (it can be a blind spot for us), but we also feel some insecurity related to this area, as if we don’t focus enough on it or are sometimes unskilled in activities related to it. In reality, we tend to be better at it than we realize and it can be an area where we can demonstrate a lot of personal growth because it is not as foreign to us as we might believe. We refer to this as the “Zone of Inner Conflict” because it is an area where we often feel uncomfortable and uncertain. It is almost as if it is an area of extended adolescence—we are drawn to it, but fear we won’t do it well and tend to have some unresolved issues.

We are generally indifferent to the third domain. This domain holds little interest to us. We don’t talk about it or pay attention to it unless we need to or decide to force ourselves to. It puzzles us that others would find the activities related to this domain to be of any interest at all, let alone enjoyable. We tend not to be skillful in activities related to this domain (unless forced to due to job expectations or some other external factor), but we generally display little anxiety or concern about it. We don’t feel competent in this area, but we usually don’t care because we think it is unimportant. Sometimes, however, our incompetence can lead to feelings of anxiety when we are forced to confront the aspects of life in this domain for which we have not developed any skills. We refer to this domain as the “Zone of Indifference.”

It is important to note that even though, in general, we show little interest in the third domain, it becomes a big focus when needs related to it are acute—we all become Preservers when we realize we haven’t eaten all day—but we will return to focusing on our dominant domain when those fundamental needs are satisfied.

While we use the domains when necessity demands it, we also sometimes use the second and third domains to reinforce our sense of security in the dominant domain. For example, Transmitters may pay more attention to the preserving and navigating domains when life issues in those domains arise that need to be attended to, or they may use them as a way to help them feel like a more effective Transmitter.

We have also found that there is a predictable pattern of expression of the domains. Here is how it tends to work:

Preservers will express Navigating behaviors more than they realize (though often experiencing either internal stress or ambivalence about it) and usually in a way that directly or indirectly supports their preserving needs. For example, they ensure that they have a handful of close friends that serve as a support network, but they don’t let that circle become so large that it starts to require a lot of effort to maintain. They will seem to have little interest in the Transmitting domain, though when they do express it, they tend to do so in support of Preservation.

Navigators will express the Transmitting domain more than they realize, but often experience either internal stress or ambivalence about it and often in a manner that supports Navigating. For example, they like attention and may awkwardly seek it if they feel they are being overlooked and losing their position or status in the group. They rarely express interest in the Preserving domain unless it supports their ability to Navigate.

Transmitters will express the Preserving domain more than they realize and often experience the same internal stress or ambivalence the others experience in their secondary domain. For example, they will talk about their diet and exercise habits or lack thereof, their homes, etc. in a way that both helps them dominate the conversation while expressing a feeling of charming inadequacy or self-deprecation. And while they often see “Social” as second in their “stack,” they actually show little interest in the concerns of the Navigating domain beyond the way that it supports their inclination to Transmit.

Those patterns are shown in the table below:

Zone of  


Zone of  

Inner Conflict 

Zone of