I first studied the Enneagram in my training to become a coach—it seemed interesting and intriguing, and I’ll admit a little confusing. The Enneagram uses numbers as a way to sort personalities; I thought I was a two, and then I realized I am a nine. And then, I didn’t know what to do with that knowledge. I’m an Enneagram 9—now what?
But then I started studying the Enneagram some more — I took trainings, and certifications as an Enneagram Coach and an Enneagram trainer. And along this journey I kept learning more — about me and my type (my Enneagram nine) and the other eight types. And the more I studied, the more insightful and valuable the Enneagram has become.
What is the Enneagram?
It is a personality system with a long history. The name comes from the greek words Ennea (nine) and gram (written). The system sorts people into nine unique types based on their world view and how they respond to both positive and negative situations. And it goes beyond a simple declaration of a numbered type — it’s a powerful tool that shows opportunities for personal development and a foundation for understanding others.
What can you do with it?
Now what? Since each type is tied to a particular way of thinking, feeling and acting, once I know that I’m a nine (or two, or six or any number), I know how that personality tends to think, feel and act. With that knowledge, I can then start to choose my behavior—to be more proactive instead of reactive. It makes it easier to choose how to behave by helping me understand what instinct I need to over-ride. The awareness is key to the change.
For example, Enneagram nines (including me) often avoid conflict. And while many types avoid conflict, nines take this to a new level. An example I’ve often used is in a restaurant: to send back a poorly cooked meal — as simple as it seems, to me (and many nines) is a conflict. For others, they wouldn’t hesitate to send it back. I have also come to realize that not only would I not send back a bad meal and get something better prepared, but I also avoid customizing my meal; and as a plant-based eater, that often means settling for food that I don’t really like, just because my instinct is to “avoid conflict.” No wonder eating out is often a mediocre experience for me.
But, my Enneagram helps. Knowing my bias to avoid conflict, I can create options including:
- eating at home and avoiding all conflict
- eating whatever is on the menu (suck it up)
- eat only at vegan restaurants
- some other creative solution based on my conflict avoidance, like asking someone else to customize an order for me
- “braving” the conflict of asking a waiter to customize my meal (I know, I know, it sounds silly, but this is a real thing; an Enneagram nine doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers).
To some, this restaurant scenario might seem laughable. After all,
why wouldn’t you ask for what you want?
But to me (and many nines), this is my reality. And now that I have this Enneagram knowledge, when I do eat out, I go with options #3, #4 or #5 depending on who I’m dining with. Otherwise, I might have defaulted to option #1 or #2.
And this tendency to avoid conflict can occur in many scenarios much more important than a restaurant meal. It could be avoiding a difficult conversation with a friend (or boss, or employee, or partner). Or saying yes when it seems too difficult to say no, even if “yes” is not really an option. It could be not sticking up for values and what is important. It could be burying anger because of an unwillingness to confront someone.
Can you see where this is going? By avoiding conflict, the Enneagram nine might end up making their life worse:
- Avoid requesting a “special” meal at a restaurant → not get food they like
- Saying yes even though it’s not possible (often labeled passive aggressive) → frustrating the people around them
- Avoiding a difficult conversation → situation could escalate and the later conversation will be even more difficult.
So, the knowledge of a tendency or bias of the Enneagram type (in this case of nines, avoiding conflict) is the knowledge that enables change. Recognizing the tendency and the potential consequences, creates an opportunity for a change, even it it’s an uncomfortable change.
What is conflict and does it matter?
You might be struggling to relate to the nine and the extremes they might go to in order to avoid conflict. Conflict is definitely not an issue for everyone. Eights, for example will often step INTO conflict, particularly if it’s in service of justice — they have a strong moral compass and will easily take on conflict to protect anyone weaker.
All the types are different. A three avoids their feelings, and a seven avoids painful situations. Twos are often unable to stand up for themselves, and sixes are afraid of anything uncertain, so they attempt to control their environment by creating certainty.
And before this sounds like all doom and gloom, know that each side has assets — very admirable traits; for example, nines see many points of view and are incredible mediators; sevens can be imaginative and truly skilled at reframing difficult situations; ones are hardworking and disciplined, and so on.
Why bother knowing?
Why? Because your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness. Back to the nine example, the effort to avoid conflict and seek harmony, means nines have an innate ability to see different points of view and are natural mediators. And sixes are highly attuned to danger which makes them worriers, but it also makes them invaluable in a crisis because they’ve already thought through many worst case scenarios.
How do you know what type you are? What’s your number?
So, if you’re wondering what you are, there are lots of ways to figure it out.
- several books might help you discover your type (listed in resources at the end)
- you can take an online test — but if you do, I suggest you take a test that gives you scores on multiple types so you can compare the top 2 or 3 types and decide for yourself. You can verity the results of your test with a coach or by reading more about the types.
- you can also take a class if there is one being offered near you– just make sure your instructor has some training or credibility in the Enneagram world. I offered a class at Stanford Continuing studies (fall 2019) and hope to offer it again; it was focused on using the Enneagram in business but applied to life as well
- if you prefer a more supported approach, you can work directly with a coach who can help you identify your type.
And once you know your type you can use that knowledge for personal development and changing your behavior. It can be helpful at work and at home. I know people who have redirected their careers, and one person who credits the Enneagram with saving his marriage.
Some resources for discovering your type:
- “The Enneagram Made Easy” by Elizabeth Wagele & Reness Baron
- “The Art of Typing” by Ginger Lapid-Bogda (book)
- “The Essential Enneagram” by David Daniels
- The fast Enneagram Test (and free) by Marshall Aeon (make sure to not blindly accept the results — read up and decide if it’s accurate)
- The RHETI Enneagram Test by the Enneagram Institute (see above re: not blindly accepting results; this test costs $12 and will give you extensive information on your top 3 types for you to consider)
- my own coaching services including a 3-session Enneagram coaching program.
I also recommend two other books that I have found particularly helpful:
- A comprehensive book about the Enneagram by Beatrice Chestnut, “The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge” (of note, there are 3 sub-types for each of the nine Enneagram types which explains the 27 paths)
- A book which focuses on using the Enneagram in business for communication, feedback, team building and more, is Ginger Lapid-Bogda’s “Bringing Out the Best of Yourself at Work: How to Use the Enneagram for Success.”
If you’ve read this far then I know you’re interested in the Enneagram. Good luck in your explorations and let me know if I can help in any way.