Edgar Schein has been a great in the field of OD (organization development) for over 50 years, and he keeps on generating ideas and influencing the profession to this day. At the Hudson Institute of Coaching’s recent annual Learning Conference, we had the opportunity to listen to Edgar via satellite through question and nuanced answer session. Even though the technology used was “remote,” he was anything but that. Approachable, kind, and thoughtful, he gave tough answers in the sweetest way. He made people think.
Before going into some of what he said at the conference, there is some older Schein work that has relevance to the Enneagram. In a period when every consultant was trying to become an expert on changing organizational culture, Schein brought a bigger perspective. Culture, according to Schein, doesn’t change readily because it is so deeply embedded in systems, but more than that, Schein has always emphasized the importance of being clear about the specific aspects of culture one wants to attempt to change. In other words, you can’t change the whole easily, but you can change the parts, which can eventually shift the whole.
As you read Schein’s perspective on organizational culture below, consider that while he is referring to organizational culture, it also applies to Enneagram types and in this way: Each type is part of a bigger tribe; each tribe has its own culture. The only difference is with organizations and tribes, people are taught formally and informally how to fit (or not) with the culture. But, who teaches us type culture, yet we know it! Each type has a specific worldview, shared perceptions, and common patterns of thinking feeling and behavior.
Schein on culture | the basic tacit assumptions about how the world is and ought to be that a group of people share and that determines their perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and their overt behavior (Schein, 1996)
Type-based cultural patterns
Cultural patterns of Ones
The world is imperfect and I must constantly work to improve myself, everyone else, and my environment, with thoughts of what is right or wrong, emotional patterns of irritation and frustration, and behavioral patterns of judging as a way of trying to make everything better: “It can always be better.”
Cultural patterns of Twos
The world is full of suffering but for what purpose? I need to help alleviate this, with thoughts of how I can help or provide service to others, feelings that I am unworthy unless my focus is on doing for others and not on myself, and behaviors that have me overextend my offers to take care of other people: “If I pay attention to myself, I am being very selfish.”
Cultural patterns of Threes
The world lacks a natural order and flow, so my efforts must be focused on setting goals, creating plans, getting results, with thoughts of living up to an internalized image of success and confidence, feelings of disorientation and confusion if I don’t know where I am going or despair if I feel I have failed, and behavior that includes constant activity and forward movement: “I am only as valuable as my last performance or achievement.”
Cultural patterns of Fours
The world is fundamentally disconnected from the place of deepest connection between all living beings, the spiritual world, and the meaning of life, with thoughts of what is wrong that I feel so separated, feelings of being deficient or defective in some unclear way, and behavior that tries to remedy the feelings of not being good enough: “Something feels wrong internally, but I don’t know what it is.”
Cultural patterns of Fives
The world is an intrusive and unknowable place, with thoughts of how to conserve resources and learn as much as possible about what is important, disconnection from feelings or feelings of isolation and distance, and behavior that tries to conserve resources, maximize autonomy, and limit the sensations of ultimate depletion: “I can’t give out very much or I will be entirely drained.”
Cultural patterns of Sixes
The world is an unpredictable and often dangerous place with many possibilities for great things to happen and obstacles to this occurring, with thoughts of scanning for danger or how to creatively problem solve to make sure bad things don’t occur, feelings of cowardice or courage, and behavior that withdraws from fear, moves forward in bravery, or alternates between the two: “Hope for the best and plan for the worst, so that the best can manifest.”
Cultural patterns of Sevens
The world is a place of infinite possibilities but people put unnecessary limits on themselves and others, with thoughts of constantly moving toward pleasurable and/or productive possibilities, feelings of optimism and an insatiable thirst for the new and exciting, and behavior that is highly energetic and fast moving as a way to avoid discomfort or limitation: “Everything is possible; no one has the right to restrict me.”
Cultural patterns of Eights
The world is a harsh and tough place in which I must assert control to feel invulnerable and to restore justice, with thoughts of how to strategize to get the upper hand and rectify injustice, manifestations of anger when feeling vulnerable, sad, or anxious, and behavior that asserts control and take immediate, big action: “Go big or go home because only the strong survive.”
Cultural patterns for Nines
The world is a benign place where everyone is happiest when they are listened to, are treated with respect and are in a harmonious environment; with thoughts that get defused and diffused when under pressure or stress, conflict or when forward action is needed; feelings that are tuned to a low volume so that they barely arise and do not get expressed readily; and behavior that is conflict avoidant and non-assertive: “Go along to get along because I don’t matter that much.”
On Schein at the Hudson Learning Conference
Schein is also a master of the understated, the nuanced, the detailed, the humble, and the importance of the role of the question in relationship. He distinguishes between four kinds of inquiry in relationships, and these can be applied to consulting questions, coaching questions, training questions, questions of friends and family, and even questions of self: The essence of his message is that we need to focus our interactions on the art of questioning from a place of respect and curiosity, to that end, Schein advocates Humble Inquiry. In Schein’s view, all forms of inquiry have a purpose, but he believes that humble inquiry enhances relationships and elicits the most information and insight. Here are some definitions and suggested links to the Enneagram types.
Humble inquiry | the gentle art of asking rather than telling, even when the telling is formulated as a question (a disguised form of telling); inquiry that comes from a deep and pure attitude of interest and curiosity that minimizes bias or preconceptions about the other person
Diagnostic inquiry | Influencing the other person’s mental process or his or her focus by asking questions that (unintentionally) conform to your own perspective about what is most important | Enneagram types 2, 4, 5, 6, and 9 may have a tendency to ask these kinds of questions.
Confrontational inquiry | Inserting your own ideas but in the form of a question; you may be curious, but it is based on your own worldview and your own interests; most confrontational questions are statements in disguise | Enneagram types 1, 3, 8, 7 may have a tendency to ask these kinds of questions.
Process inquiry | questions about the process between the questioner and the responder that can be done via humble inquiry (e.g., “What is happening now as you share this?”), diagnostic inquiry (e.g., “Why did you tell me about this in this way?”), or confrontational inquiry (e.g, “Why did you have such a strong reaction when you shared this story?”)
What is involved in Humble Inquiry
Presentness | to be present to the other person without vacating yourself; slow down and keep the pace varied; reflect more by asking yourself humble questions, and do all of this in a spirit of mindfulness
Process | to pay attention to the process at multiple levels – your process, the other person’s process, and the process between you
Position | to recognize that there are differences between you and the other person such as status, rank and role, trying to equalize them where possible and not pretending they are not there when you can’t
Ginger Lapid-Bogda PhD, the author of four best-selling Enneagram-business books, is a speaker, consultant, trainer, and coach. She provides certification programs for professionals around the world who want to bring the Enneagram into organizations with high-impact business applications, and is past-president of the International Enneagram Association. Visit her website: The Enneagram in Business.com. firstname.lastname@example.org