“Response ability”: The ability to respond to an opportunity, a situation, problem, task, project or challenge in a way that moves it forward.I came across this interpretation of responsibility and found it a most powerful descriptor for a word that gets used regularly and frequently without commitment behind it. I often use it to reflect on my own contribution as a leader and in working with and engaging others.
How often do we find ourselves in situations where it is much easier to “go below the line” to blame, defend, deny or justify rather than “stepping up” to find a way forward?
What excuses do we use to keep us from taking initiative, to look for an alternative path, to create opportunities to learn and develop, to admit our mistakes or identify that others may be offering better ways forward than we have identified?
Taking responsibility doesn’t mean we always have to find a solution or take action.
It can just be that we:
* Acknowledge and/or identify the part we can play in changing what is occurring
* Appreciate our impact and modify the way in which we might engage
* Remain as a “team player” rather than taking the lead or control of a situation
* Offer support and encouragement for others to step forward with their ideas
How will you know when you have taken responsibility? Perhaps there is an opportunity to stop and reflect the next time you find yourself “below the line” and ask what you can do to move forward instead.
The 9 Enneagram Styles and “Response ability”
I first heard this definition of responsibility in the 1970s during my Gestalt training at a growth center in Philadelphia (The Institute for Living) and at the University of California at Santa Barbara during my Ph.D. program in Confluent Education, which was Gestalt-based. The underlying premise of Gestalt is that “awareness is curative” and that to be more aware is to continuously increase one’s ability to respond in full, healthy, choiceful, and constructive ways. So I’ll use this idea to blog about how each of us, depending on our Enneagram style, has specific dilemmas with “response ability.” At the end, I’ll describe some actions we can all take to be more truly responsive.
Responsiveness: Although many Ones may view themselves as responsive because they respond quickly, it is important to differentiate true responsiveness – that is, based on real awareness and conscious choice – from instant reaction or reactivity. Ones tend to respond instinctually, but instincts can sometimes take you down the path of habit rather than awareness and choice. And their sense of diligence and responsibility can have them take on tasks when they don’t really want to do so and cause them intense resentment.
Responsiveness: Twos may perceive themselves as responsive because they are! But their responsiveness is to what they believe others need from them. Another way of saying this is that Twos are over-responsive to their perception of the needs of others, as well as over-responsive to the way in which others respond to them. Added to this is that Twos are under-responsive to themselves and their needs, wants, aspirations, feelings, and more. And their intense desire to not let others down can have them overextend themselves on behalf of others, often at great expense to themselves.
Responsiveness: Threes are also over-responsive to the reactions of others, particular others whom they admire and respect. But it goes deeper than this. Threes most commonly select their goals from what they observe in terms of what makes a person appear successful. In the end, most Threes are at a loss about what they most want, apart from what they’ve internalized from their social context. Thus, they can end up playing roles, looking responsive, but becoming more like people who are “acting” responsive rather than “being” responsive. And their fervent avoidance of failure has them taking on the work of others whom they perceive as not doing their tasks effectively, which can have them take on too much responsibility and work themselves so hard that they become stressed, frustrated, and out of alignment with themselves.
Responsiveness: While Twos and Threes are over-responsive to others, Fours are over- and under-responsive to themselves and over- and under-responsive to others. Confused? Well, Fours can be complicated! Fours are over-responsive to themselves in the sense that they dwell on what they think are their inner most feelings and experiences. But they are also under-responsive to themselves because, as many of them know, they are actually not sure what their deepest feelings are. With their emotional variations and swings, they often miss that underneath these waves of feelings are the true, deeper feelings. Fours are also over-responsive to others: an ambiguous look feels like a slight; a negative comment from another gets taken to heart. How are they under-responsive? Sometimes Fours don’t hear a compliment or expression of gratitude or don’t internalize it. Sometimes they are so focused on their own experience, they have difficulty putting themselves in another’s shoes. And their intensity and commitment to work and teams that have meaning to them can have them drive themselves extremely hard, but also sets them up for grave disappointment when things don’t work out as they had imagined.
Responsiveness: Fives are under-responsive to the outside world, perceiving it as a relentless intruder who requires their vigilance, lest their energy become depleted. In a way, Fives are also under-responsive to themselves, disconnecting from their feelings in the moment so automatically that retrieving them later changes the nature of these emotions. And their need to take care of themselves and manage their own energy levels – and they get depleted so readily – has them creating overly restrictive boundaries around how, when, and to whom they will respond.
Responsiveness: Sixes – whether a phobic Six, counter-phobic Six, or a combination – respond (and usually strongly and quickly) to just about everything. When one is over-responsive to everything, can one be truly responsive to anything? And their sense of loyalty, duty, and fear of reprisals can have them over-committing – but also under-performing or not delivering what was expected – as if their stability, security, longevity, and well-being depended on it.
Responsiveness: Sevens are over-responsive to pleasure and stimulation, over-responsive to pain (that is, by avoiding it), and under-responsive to their own interior lives: being still, experiencing feelings deeply, and more. And their inability to focus for longer periods of time – out of boredom, fear, and more – can have them not living up to their responsibilities; for example, not delivering a consistent quality of work on a timely basis.
Responsiveness: Eights can be over-responsive to situations because their anger-trigger gets so easily activated, but also when they move to immediate, big action. At the same time, they can be under-responsive to themselves. For example, Eights may be exhausted or ill and not even know this is occurring; they can also be feeling sad, anxious, or vulnerable, but cover it so quickly with a fast response (anger, action or both) that they can’t respond to their own needs. And their intense drive for control and to have a big impact quickly can have them be over and under-responsive to the real needs of a given situation.
Responsiveness: Nines are referred to as having “anger that went to sleep.” To keep anger at such a subliminal level also requires keeping most physical instincts to a minimum because instincts, by definition, reside in the body. As a result, Nines are under-responsive to themselves, but also over-responsive to others in their environment by acting accommodating, putting the desires of others first, and so on. And their easy-going, “nothing-gets-to me” orientation can have them be not-responsive-enough in a variety of situations.
What can we do to increase our “response ability”?
Here are some ideas for everyone:
Acknowledge and/or identify the part we can play in changing what is occurring
Ask yourself this question and respond with your deepest level of honesty: To what extent do you perceive yourself as an agent of conscious action in your own life versus a victim who is reactive rather than responsive? For most of us, the answer, if honest, will be a percentage of victimhood and a percentage of conscious, not reactive, agency. The Enneagram information above may provide some valuable insights for your development in this area.
Appreciate our impact and modify the way in which we might engage
Ask yourself these questions and respond with your deepest level of honesty: Do you truly understand your impact on others and the ways in which you engage? Think about positive impact, negative impact, impact that is neither positive nor negative. What is it? You may need to solicit feedback in this arena. The Enneagram information above may provide some valuable insights for your development in this area.
Remain as a “team player” rather than taking the lead or control of a situation
Ask yourself these questions and respond with your deepest level of honesty: How do you really feel about teams? How would you assess your team behavior? Are you a good follower as well as an effective leader? Can you put the team’s needs above your own when this is required? Can you be yourself and still be a full-hearted team member? You may need to solicit feedback in this arena. The Enneagram information above may provide some valuable insights for your development in this area.
Offer support and encouragement for others to step forward with their ideas
Ask yourself this question and respond with your deepest level of honesty: Do you care about and support other team members equally as much as you care for and support yourself? Does your behavior actually reflect this? The Enneagram information above may provide some valuable insights for your development in this area.