In a recent blog about the psychologically generated polarities we experience, I equivocated over whether to assist my Type Two wife in finding words to help her modulate the polarities she experiences. So, what do The Glenn Miller Band, Elvis Presley, Bow Wow Wow and I have in common? Exactly, cue music, “Fools Rush In Where Wise Men Never Go.”
It did not work. I think here is why. We experience polarities in our own words, not necessarily in the words used in Enneagram literature. As a non-Type Two working with a Type Two, indeed, as one person working with another person, I could only guess how she might experience any polarity and what words she would use to capture that experience.
So, as a fool rushing in, I tried Helpful/Needy. Got nowhere. I tried Giving/Selfish. Did not resonate.
Luckily, this experiment helped me deal better with a client the following week. This client is an executive director of a highly visible non-profit with a huge board of successful business people accustomed to telling others what they should do.
I had an occasion to talk with one of the board members and asked if he had any suggestions to increase the executive director’s effectiveness. He said, acknowledging the irony, the director needed to be less accommodating and respectful to the board! He explained that the director appeared to accept as edicts any direction or suggestions from board members. This resulted in too many and conflicting priorities.
The director is a Type Three and I had planned to work in our session on a discussion of the polarity of Success/Failure. Thankfully, the board member’s comment saved me from myself and we discussed instead his feelings about being overly accommodating to board member suggestions.
He acknowledged the accommodation tendency immediately. I asked how in the world he managed all of those cross-priorities. He related that he just complies with those he thinks make sense and ignores the others, hoping they will not come up again. In other words, he implies Yesand does No, using passive-aggressiveness as his defense mechanism.
I asked him to describe his worst experience when not being accommodating to authority figures. He responded, “insubordination.” I had it! He articulated his polarity as he experienced it: Accommodation/Insubordination.
Our circumstances not permitting a dictionary-based, word look-up exercise, I asked what behavior might be in the middle between Accommodation and Insubordination. The first thought he had was that he needed to Engage and not just passively take notes and nod Yes. I asked if that was enough and he responded that he needed Closure on whether he would comply with the suggestion or not.
Weeks earlier we discussed the classic Type Three idealization-avoidance-defense mechanism triangle of success-failure-identification. I was delighted to see him draw in his notes a triangle diagram during the discussion. On the three corners were, respectively, Accommodation, Insubordinationand Passive-Aggressive. In the middle of these three extremes he wrote, “Engagement and Closure.”
I could only facilitate this result; I could not create it. His experience, his words, and his desire to change were THE essential ingredients. It had to be his transformation to work.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.