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Ethical Challenges | The Enneagram’s Use in Organizations | Sales

There are three main areas that deserve discussion when considering the Enneagram’s use in organizations: sales, hiring, and even leadership. What I am going to suggest is that all of these application areas raise serious ethical questions that should be thought-through ahead of time. I am also going to offer the idea that the Enneagram can be used in all three areas, but the issue is how it is used. In this blog, I am going to cover sales and in the next two blogs, hiring and leadership will be reviewed.

Why we shouldn’t use the Enneagram in sales | There are so many reasons, all good ones, why the Enneagram should not be used in sales, and here they are (not that I agree with them all; I agree with very little of it, actually): selling can be manipulative and the Enneagram should not be used to manipulate people into buying something they do not need; if the Enneagram moves into the sales arena, it can hurt the perception of the Enneagram (as in “tarnish the image”); sales people only want to know how to sell, therefore, they are not going to use the Enneagram for personal and professional development; they will use it only to be better at “reading” others. In sum, sales can have a negative meaning to some people, but is this enough to disqualify its use?

How we can use the Enneagram in sales | First, the Enneagram can be used effectively in the personal and professional development of sales professionals, and why not! They are people just like programmers, CEOs, nurses and accountants, and they deserve access to the Enneagram just like everyone else. To assume they are not interested in growth is really more a stereotype than a reality.

And what’s wrong with understanding that your enneatype comes with positive qualities and areas that could get in the way of your being effective with others, areas you can use the Enneagram for development?

In sales, the Enneagram can and is being used to help form more successful sales teams and to enhance the leadership of sales managers. Why not? It is being used in almost every other profession for the development of teams and leadership. We are all better off when people work better on teams and leaders are stepping into their full potential. Maybe you agree or disagree with that, but I would say that many things are sales that we don’t consider “traditional” sales: charities and causes need to “sell” donors to contribute. We may disagree about what is a worthwhile charity or cause depending on our politics, values, interests and more. But similarly, we might disagree about which for-profit organizations we think are good ones or not good ones. However, we rarely if ever hear that the Enneagram should be restricted (even if we could) to certain industries and organizations and not others.

This brings me to my final comment about the Enneagram’s use in sales, and I have thought about this a lot and been influenced by professionals I respect who do use it in sales. The best example I can give is the health care industry, in which I worked for a number of years as an internal organizational consultant. Medical professionals have many challenges, among them trying to understand what a patient is experiencing symptomatically, by communicating with them in a way that works for them, understanding their needs and concerns, and ultimately, encouraging them to do what is needed to remediate their situation. Startling as this is, there is a great deal of research indicating that many patients do not take their prescribed medicine, even though they need it to heal. What if, using the Enneagram, medical professionals would know better how to motivate patients to take their medicine? This would be good, but isn’t this selling?

I know first-hand of a hearing aid company that trained all their providers as well as their internal staff to use the Enneagram for their own development as well as how to both market to prospective clients and to work with current ones. We all know people who need help with their hearing but either deny it or get angry when hearing supports are suggested. What is also true, according to those who work in the industry, is that many people who need hearing aids buy them, but then don’t use them. Wouldn’t everyone be better if those who needed assistance got it and used it? And if the Enneagram helps in this endeavor, we can be proud of that.

In the end, it comes down, in my opinion, to the issue of ethics and manipulation. If we are using the Enneagram to get others to buy or do something they wouldn’t otherwise do and this something is really not in their best interests, then it is manipulation, unethical, and should not be done. But if we are encouraging people to say yes to something that they really do need and it is in their best interests to use, then this is a good thing!

Do I need that expensive car? Maybe not, but I do need a car. As a 2, I own a Prius, but my reason for buying it was not to save gas, since I don’t drive very much. I walk everywhere and travel via airplane, so my 7 year-old car has only 16,000 miles on it. But I did buy it for reasons of social good (imprint on the environment). A salesperson who might understand this about me would do better to show me a hybrid or an electric car. And I would appreciate it.

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Lindy Amos
10 years ago

Thanks Ginger – I really like the way you have delineated between manipulation and helping people make good choices based on the things they need.- in sales. None of likes to be on the receiving end of manipulation and some of us can smell this a mile off! find nothing worse (as a social sub type 8) to have people try to sell things to me (including those wanting me to donate money to them) and taking a flattering, overly complimentary approach – my hackles go up immediately. If people can quickly get to the benefits and practicalities of the… Read more »

10 years ago

I’m so glad you wrote on this topic Ginger — it’s something I have belabored myself and couldn’t agree more — it’s about ethics and intention in a sales environment. Having worked extensively in the healthcare setting within the pharmaceutical industry, I often grew frustrated and disillusioned when my colleagues and clients would become focused mainly on profit. They seemed to forget why they went into healthcare in the first place. The same could be said for many industries and I’ve experienced this in different roles from the top on down. Introducing the Enneagram in these scenarios brings people back… Read more »

Stephanie Ross
10 years ago

Ginger – great post. Thanks. Have you seen or read Daniel Pink’s new book out: To Sell is Human, The Surprising Truth about Moving Others. He makes the case that there is a new ABC’s of selling. Instead of Always Be Closing, it is Attunement, Buoyancy, Clarity. Pink defines attunement as “the ability to bring one’s actions and outlook into harmony with other people and the context you are in.”

As I read this, I thought: What better way than the Enneagram to help sales people get attuned?