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Poorly Modulated Polarities | A Guest Blog by Tom Hattersley

In this guest blog by Tom Hattersley, member of the EIBN (Enneagram in Business Network), you get to read about a phenomenal process for reconciling type-based inner polarities. Tom discovered this process by chance – or was it?

Tom’s Blog
We have all noticed that Enneagram types tend to possess certain extremes or polarities, usually related to their type-based idealizations and avoidances. Applying that to myself, a type Six, I idealize Duty and avoid Deviance. My self-experience of the DutyDeviance polarity is that, on a 10-point scale, if I am not a nine or above on doing my duty, I feel like I score a one. For me, there is no two through eight.

If I am not Mother Teresa, I am Charles Mason. That is, inside this Six’s head.

Other types have some noticeable polarities, too: Eights can have Friend or Enemy with little in between; Threes have Success or Failure with little in between; and, of course, Ones have Right or Wrong with nothing in between.

In my mind, this conjured the image of a light switch with only two choices: On or Off, representing the polar reactivity we typically experience, in my case, Duty or Deviance. That was followed by the image of a rheostat (or dimmer) permitting gradations of choice, representing a way out of reactivity generated by the polarity.

So, I wondered, how can we better modulate the polarity between On and Off, Duty and Deviance, Friend and Enemy, Success and Failure, Right and Wrong? I took the approach, actually while in a meeting that had become uninteresting (oops, Seven wing), of using the dictionary. In fact, the online dictionary I can access from my phone. I think it was better that I did it while sitting in a meeting because that helped me avoid over-thinking it.

I wrote Duty on the top of my 27-line notebook paper and Deviance on the bottom. I then looked up Duty and found a synonym that was a little softer than duty. I then did the same for Deviance. Then, I kept doing it for each successive word for each polarity.

Twelve words away from Duty, I came to the word empower. Twelve words away from Deviance, I came to the word allow. In the middle of the page, in between the various words for Dutyand Deviance, I found the word authorize.

AUTHORIZE! What a great word for a Six!

Sixes give up their own authority. Sixes look outside themselves for the authority that they could and should authorize themselves to have. I had found my reminder, my awareness trigger, my mantra or my something to help me modulate my heretofore poorly modulated polarity of DutyDeviance.

That was about a month ago, and I continue to find going back to the concept of authorizing myself to be and to do very liberating. Imagine! I might even start having good relationships with authority figures someday because I can truly authorize them to take real authority.

So, I wondered, “Is this just a norepinephrine-induced craze of a certified member the over-thinking Enneagram Triad of Five, Six and Seven?” Or, had I stumbled across a useful technique? Luckily, I came across a social subtype Eight who was struggling with what he thought was a “disconnect” in the relationship he has with an important member of his organization, a relationship helpful, if not essential, to his success.

I (and others) had not seen a disconnection between the Eight and this other member of the Eight’s organization. We, instead, saw a Five who tended toward matter-of-fact, social abruptness. And he, having always been that way, was well regarded and well liked by everyone.

The Eight and I talked about the FriendEnemy polarity that Eights shuttle between. The idea of this “false” psychologically-constructed polarity was new to him, but he sensed immediately the relevance of the concept to his situation.

I merely told him of my Duty to Deviance 27-line word look-up scheme and how it had helped me. I left it at that, thinking, “There is no way an Eight is going to buy into such an abstract approach.”

Two hours later he presented the following list of words:


Accepting that this Five was, although not a Friend, not an Enemy either. That the Five was merely Unfamiliar to this Eight was clearly an uplifting notion. He has since told me that the Five has moved two words up to Familiar.

I intend to continue to experiment with this simple technique when I find someone who might be stuck in a type reactivity polarity. I would love to hear if anyone else finds it useful or has already defined a similar process.

Tom Hattersley came across the Enneagram in the Half Price Books store about four years ago. He has worked in human resources for 40 years, 28 years in large organizations – The Kroger Co., Cintas, and International Paper – and the last 12 years in consulting. He is a partner in a management consulting firm in Cincinnati, responsible for the firm’s HR practice, spending most of his time in executive coaching using The Enneagram In Business methodology. He can be reached at tom.hattersley@pathwayguidance.com.

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Mary Bast
10 years ago

Hi, Tom, and thanks for a thoughtful article. I’ve used a similar approach and describe how it might work with an Eight in my book with Clarence Thomson, Out of the Box: Coaching with the Enneagram (p. 157): “Mary helped Chris distinguish between authority and control by dissolving Chris’ polarized assumption that if you’re not strong, you’re weak. You can also help your Eight clients widen their field of vision by breaking down the meaning of the word control. Then you can dream up fieldwork that creates a continuum between no control and too much control. A thesaurus comes in… Read more »

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