This is not my first blog on the nuances and hazards of typing by “experts,” and it is not my last! Where this arises in me is a love of the Enneagram and the benefits it has for people when they find their type accurately, and the hazards when they don’t. Yes, some people find their correct type fairly easily and for others, it can take some time. But those of us who by profession or by personal desire try to help others find their Enneagram type, I would like to offer some thoughts for pause and reflection.
“Expert” Enneagram typing can come in many forms. These include the following: Enneagram teachers, coaches and trainers who use the Enneagram, Enneagram tests, books, and individuals who engage in their own self-typing. Most often, people use several of the above sources to identify their Enneagram types.
The problems with inaccurate typing are probably obvious, but here are some:
(1) Self-Development | People who are inaccurately typed cannot avail themselves of the profound development processes that are designed specifically for each type. Mistyped individuals end up looking for growth in all the wrong places and sometimes the development activities that truly support the development of one type are the complete opposite for individuals of another type. For example, whereas a type 8 needs to learn about energy management, particularly but not only with respect to anger, a type 9 needs to get in touch with his or her body and the energy within it. A mistaken identity of a person who is a type 8 for a type 9 or vice versa sends their development in the opposite direction.
(2) Using the Enneagram in interactions | It is a given that if a person doesn’t know his or her type accurately, the person’s ability to interact more effectively with others – assuming the other person’s type is accurately identified – is limited as interactions are a dynamic between two people. As a result, a mis-typed person who knows the other person’s type may be able to adjust behavior based on the type of the other, but will not know how to accurately use the Enneagram to work on their own type-based interactions. And in many cases, we don’t know the other person’s type, so working with our own type is the only part we can know with certainty. And if we are mistyped, we can’t use the Enneagram for more powerful and productive interactions at all.
(3) Teaching or coaching with the Enneagram | It is more likely than not that if a person teaching the Enneagram or coaching with the Enneagram has mistyped him- or herself, the teacher or coach will convey information about these two types incorrectly. When people are mistyped, it is often because they learned the system incorrectly and are thus unintentionally perpetuating Enneagram misunderstanding; they are identifying with a type they want to be rather than what they are; they don’t really understand subtypes – some subtypes actually appear to be more like another type on the surface than the subtype of the real type; or they don’t understand the “look-alikes” on the Enneagram – for example, 3 and 7.
What we can do about this
Raise the question with colleagues
A gentle and clear question is good, not an accusation that the colleague is mistyped. Perhaps you don’t really know the person all that well, and his or her type is exactly true. Perhaps there’s something you can learn about the type of your colleague, something you may not have known about that type. Perhaps the colleague is mistyped. Let’s keep the conversation open.
Keep asking ourselves if we have our type right
Once a year, ask yourself if you have your type identified accurately. Explore other types and try them on. It doesn’t hurt and it only assists our self-awareness and discovery, even if we were accurate all along.
Attend training programs and conferences
Go to programs and conferences where you respect the individuals who are there, both the trainers and participants. Engage in the exploration of your type among colleagues.
When someone questions our type, be in curiosity, not in anger
If you respond in defensiveness to anger to your type being questioned, that’s usually a clue that something is activated within you. Explore what that is within you. If it is because the person who questioned did so aggressively or dismissively? OK, work on reactivity to being questioned. Is it because the person questioning doesn’t know the types very well? Explain the system to them without condescension.
Don’t teach the Enneagram or coach with the Enneagram if we really don’t know the system well
This is a huge problem, and if you are reading this blog, it may mean you are not the kind of person who would do this. Many people who respect and honor the Enneagram wait until they feel fully ready to share it with others. Those who don’t really know or understand the depths of the Enneagram go out with it quickly and without conscience. It’s not so much a matter of time spent with the Enneagram that makes a person ready to teach or coach with the Enneagram, although time does help absorption. More important is how it sits and settles within you, what kind of background you have that supports understanding and integrating the system, how self-aware you are, and a lot more!
Don’t rely on tests to type your clients
This is not a statement about not using Enneagram typing tests. Not at all! Tests have their role, for sure. The caveat is, however, a big one! If you rely on tests to type clients, why are you not relying on yourself and your client to figure it out? Often, people who rely on tests for typing others doubt their own ability to teach the system and help clients identify their own type accurately. Sometimes, doubt is good, since maybe the coach or teacher doesn’t know enough to be teaching it. In this case, the coach or teacher really shouldn’t be using the Enneagram. If you do know enough about the system and typing, but still use a test, consider that you will learn so much more about both the Enneagram and your clients if you help your clients identify their own type in real time. And your clients will also learn much more about themselves from self-typing than from the results of a test. There are several good tests out there, but just make sure you are not using them as a substitute for your own capability.
Ginger Lapid-Bogda PhD, the author of six 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: TheEnneagramInBusiness.com. firstname.lastname@example.org