When typing ourselves on the enneagram or when assisting others in identifying their type, I’ve developed some important guidelines over the years that can be useful in doing this. These are taken from both my own journey in teaching the enneagram, but also from people in my Train-the-Trainer programs and coaching certificate programs. Here are the 1st 4 No-Nos accompanied by a related Yes-Yes. The 2nd part of this blog will cover four more typing No-Nos and a Yes-Yes for each area.
No-No # 1 | Telling someone what their type is or is not
It is very important for people to figure out their own enneagram type, and this can take some time. Patience is our friend here. If we believe we are the expert on typing others, think again! While some new to the enneagram may look for the answer through a typing test and others through an enneagram teacher (and sometimes both), most people new to the enneagram will assume that a test or a teacher is an authority on the subject. This can get in the way of a person being self-reflective or discerning certain key features of the type, and more. As a teacher or as the person who suggests a certain test, people may perceive us or the test as giving them the answer, even when disclaimers are made.
Yes-Yes: Explain in the beginning, the middle, and the end, that they know themselves best so that any outside person, test or book is merely a guide. Repeating this is essential.
No-No # 2 | Unintentionally using type-based stereotypes to explain the 9 types
I doubt whether any enneagram teacher would purposely use stereotypes when teaching or sharing the enneagram with others. If this is true, and I believe it is, the question is this: Are we unknowingly communicating type-based stereotypes? The other side of the issue is that even if we are not communicating using stereotypes, those on the receiving end might hear what we say in a categorical, stereotypical way. What makes this even more challenging is that we rarely have the time to explain each enneagram type fully when we are teaching it; to do so would take hours per type. Further, people love examples or stories for each type; examples or stories anchor their learning. But are our examples feeding stereotypes?
Yes-Yes: It helps to explain that while the 9 types are profound descriptions of the 9 basic human character or archetypes, we are much more than our enneatype. In addition, give example or stories that illustrate the complexity of each type rather than a single dimension. For example, with type 9, use a story or example that shows a 9 both moving away from being in the spotlight and not wanting too much attention, but also illustrates how 9s truly want to be heard and acknowledged. Or if you use the word competitive to describe type 3, remind everyone that we can all be competitive, but in 9 different ways; then, share what you want to say about 3s in relation to 3s being competitive.
No-No # 3 | Using one factor alone to guide people in typing
I see this more in some people who are new to teaching the enneagram, but also sometimes those who think they know it well and have come to rely primarily on one factor. Examples might include the following: one aspect of communication style; a story from a person’s biography; the ways their eyes move; body type; because the new person reminds you of someone you know; the impact someone has on you. Here are some things I’ve heard others say about the types: “That person intimidates me so that person must be an 8 because I get intimidated by 8s,” or “He/she looks like – or talks like – someone I know who is a 6, so he/she must be a 6.”
Yes-Yes: When you start to move toward a single factor in typing, tell yourself to stop and, instead, be in curiosity, asking more questions about other types that might be possible matches. If you only ask about the type you hypothesize that person to be (or that the person thinks they are), you will be risking what is called “confirmation bias.” This kind of bias occurs when the questions are ones that only confirm what you already speculate to be true. In addition, remember that so many types engage in similar behaviors, but they do so for different motivational reasons. Go for the why, not the how.
No-No # 4 | Using tests as the only way to help clients identify type
Typing tests are being used more and more, and there as some good ones that are helpful in helping the enneagram spread. That said, none of them have sufficient reliability and validity to be accurate 100% of the time. My recent experience with two different groups using a test to determine type prior to my working with them – and each group used a different well-known test – is that about 60% had their types correctly identified. Of the remaining 40%, half were close – that is, it was a wing or arrow line of their true type – and the other half were not at all accurate. A reliance on tests, in my experience, without working with the individuals to get their types more accurately is becoming a more common occurrence. The problem is that if people have their types wrong, the development work for that doesn’t work well for them. In addition, if the type is wrong and the individual doesn’t believe the test result describes them well, then these individuals will dismiss the enneagram as an approach when it could have served them well.
Yes-Yes: If you are going to use a test to type someone, just make sure that they know that the test may or may not be accurate for them. Use a test as an initial guide. People taking tests often believe a test to be true; it is, after all, the written word, and it was suggested by someone they believe knows what he or she is doing (as in you!). And make sure you know the enneagram well enough to then guide people toward or away from the test results.
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