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How to handle natural and unnatural disasters when teaching

We are living in a time where horrific things are occurring, some ‘natural,’ some ‘unnatural’ – meaning totally created by human beings – and some a combination of both. As trainers, as Enneagram professionals, what do we do when a disaster occurs during the time we are training? Do we say something, do we do something, do we just go on as if this is not occurring? After all, participants have come for a training, not to discuss current issues. And what about our training agendas? Discussing difficult issues takes time and attention. Even if we want to bring the topic up for conversation, how do we do it and for how long?

I don’t have all the answers. I do, however, have some principles and assumptions by which I operate and some recent examples to share.

Principles and assumptions

  1. If something is occurring in the wider world that potentially impacts people deeply, they will be thinking about this and can be distracted from what is being taught and/or feel isolated.
  2. It is important that I, as the trainer, bring up the topic, thus giving participants a chance to discuss.
  3. No one should be forced in any way to share anything they prefer to not share.
  4. As the trainer, I don’t always know the way to bring up the topic, and that’s OK. I have to be willing to trust the process.
  5. Not all issues need to be discussed, but if they do, it’s best to do at the start of a program if possible.
  6. As the trainer, I will have my own reactions and will have to manage those in terms of how I respond to what others are saying, plus what I share and when.

Example 1 | Covid and pandemic

I’ve been running many virtual programs starting about 2 months into the pandemic. People were afraid, some didn’t recognize its severity. Others were directly impacted themselves. Several participants had jobs that involved scheduling for hospitals, contract tracing, and more. Some were parents with school-age children. We bring ourselves to work and to training programs, and this is especially true when we work from home.

What I did

At the start of every program, I’d ask how everyone was doing and create a space before the program content started for those who wanted to share. People really appreciated this, plus it allowed those with young children or those who might be called into work for a Covid-related essential job to be able to tell us this was the case. I also relaxed the program rules and allowed people who needed to step away to be able to make up what they missed. For those who had family or friends who died from Covid, we had a space for remembering. How long did all this take? No more than 10-15 minutes. Even now, the topic still arises as participants either come down with Covid themselves or their loved ones have it. We end up supporting one another as needed.

Example 2 | January 6 insurrection

I was literally running my Coaching with the Enneagram 1.0 certificate program when my iPhone newsfeed started buzzing with unrelenting information about what was occurring in the US capital in Washington DC. What exactly was unfolding was not clear or known, but it looked dire. I calmly took a program break, not wanting to alarm the participants. Turning off my Zoom mic and turning on the TV, the images were scary and the events uncertain.

What I did

I had no idea what to do because it was emerging in real-time. I did speculate that some of the participants were also aware of what was occurring. After the break, I told the group what I had just learned from the TV and newsfeeds, and while several others were also aware of the news, most were not. I told them the essence of what I knew; interestingly, many European participants also added information. The news was traveling faster outside the US than inside. I remember working to stay centered (calm was not really possible for me at that time) and focused on the group. After sharing what information we had – which didn’t take long since not much was available to us ­– I made a decision and asked the group what they thought of it. The decision was to end the program then so people could do what they needed to do, and I would do a special session for this group at a later date to cover what we were missing by ending early. Everyone agreed, we wished each other safety and wellbeing. People still contact me about the positive impact this had on them as participants. They felt part of the community and free to take care of their own needs at the same time.

Example 3 | Ukraine invasion

Clearly, this is the most recent major event, and during this time, I’d been leading a certificate program where half of the group was from Europe, although none were from Ukraine or Russia. In this group of 24 people, that’s quite a few from Europe.

What I did

I raised the issue at the beginning of the session, much to their relief as could be seen on their faces. Anyone who wanted to speak could. I sincerely wished I had taped the conversation as every single European had something important to offer: their fears about Russia, their concerns for as well as information from friends and colleagues in Ukraine, what they have all been living with in terms of proximity to Russia for decades, their views of their own governments’ responses to the invasion and more. A few from the US spoke as well.  And when this conversation was over – it lasted about 25 minutes – we were all better educated and more deeply bonded.


We may not know what to do when external events cause deep internal reactions, but I think it is important to live with this ambiguity and to do something. Doing something can lead to off-topic discourse and challenging conversations. However, doing nothing has its own downsides. It takes some practice and courage to lean into and lead the conversation, but both practice and courage build with experience. And yes, participants always bring up something related to their types, so the Enneagram becomes a living and breathing foundation for sharing and insight.

Ginger Lapid-Bogda PhD, author of eight Enneagram books, is a speaker, consultant, trainer, and coach. She provides certification programs and training tools for business professionals around the world who want to bring the Enneagram into organizations with high-impact business applications. TheEnneagramInBusiness.com |ginger@theenneagraminbusiness.com

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