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Enneagram typing | competency triad differentiating questions

Helping so many people over the years accurately identify their enneatypes has helped me refine my questioning approach so that people learn more about the types, more about themselves and, then, hopefully, more about how to determine which type best fits them.

There are many sets of triangles within the Enneagram symbol, one of them being the three sets of three types based on one version of the Hornevian groups: the Competency Triad (1, 3, 5); the Positive Outlook Triad (2, 7, 9); and the Emotional Intensity Triad (4, 6, 8). Because each of the three types within the triad has something in common with the other two types in the triad, these three types can cause some confusion for people trying to identify their types. This blog will focus on the Competency Triad (1, 3, 5), with future blogs covering confusions within the other two triads.

In my practice, participants use Typing Cards after giving an initial verbal and visual overview of the system, and sort the cards – which have a graphic, a type description paragraph, two positive and two negative words that go with that type, plus a defining characteristic of that type – into three piles: yes, no and maybe. Yes means this card really describes me well, no means the card doesn’t fit in any way, and maybe means part of the card fits and part of it does not. Then, participants rank order their yes pile into most-to-least accurate in terms of the degree to which it describes them. It happens just enough that some participants have 1, 3 and 5 in their yes pile, and they wonder why, since there is no obvious connection between and among these types on the Enneagram symbol.

I have learned over time to answer this question by explaining the Competency Triad, offering up some questions for them to consider and answer, and this then can help them narrow down their enneatype. Here’s the simple explanation and intervening questions I ask, and the process seems to work well:

Commentary: “There are several triangles or groupings of three on the Enneagram, and 1, 3 and 5 are part of the Competency Trio or Triad. What that means is that for these three Enneagram types, feeling competent and being perceived and treated as competent by others is centrally important to them. This doesn’t mean that these three types are more competent than the other six types, just that it matters to them so much.”
Question: “Is feeling competent and being treated or perceived as competent extremely important to you?”
Response patterns: Most 1s, 3s and 5s give an instantaneous affirmative response, both verbally and non-verbally. They may or may not give examples. Others who are not in this triad – and this is rare for people who have selected these three types in their yes typing card stack – will take more time to answer, ask a question to understand more of what is meant, or may say a weak yes but their body language does not match a strong yes. In other words, there may be a verbal or non-verbal hesitancy.

With people who appear to be in the Competency Triad, I offer more commentary about the difference in what sort of competency is significant to them:

Commentary: “Competency means something different to each of the three types. For Ones, competency is about getting things right and having the right answers and opinions. For Threes, competency is more about getting results and being treated with respect for what they have and can accomplish. For Fives, competency is more about what they know and their knowledge base.”
Question: “Given that feeling of competency and being perceived as such is so important to you, which of these three ways of defining competency matches your definition?”
Response patterns: Most people who are 1s, 3s, or 5s can easily answer this question, and so their type becomes more clear. The exception to this has been someone who is any of these types, in which case their response is often a mixture of all three answers. Then I often help them explore other types. Another exception, however, is some self-preserving subtype Threes. This subtype of Three wants to get it right but right in the time they have available, not necessarily perfectly right as most Ones strongly prefer.

In this case – that is to help discern whether the person is a self-preserving subtype Three or a One, there is a simple question to ask: “Would you rather be right or effective?” Ones almost always say right, most Threes say “effective,” and self-preserving Threes think about it a bit longer, but end up with “effective.”

Of course there are many other ways to distinguish between and among these three enneatypes; the above process is simply one and it is pretty clear and fast. Communication style, body language, type-based worldviews and motivations, and many other factors also matter. But this is a good start!

In blogs that will follow, I will share process for helping to differentiate type in the remaining two Hornevian Triads.

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Louis Wong
Louis Wong
7 years ago

Hi Ginger, I attended your TTT course in July and in the process I discovered myself.  I enjoyed it so much that I keep talking about it although it is almost 2 months ago. Nice. Being a newly discovered One, I read this article with an open mind and heart. But it is so personal that I can even feel you are asking me this question: If I want to be right or effective…. You assessment of One is that One will always say Right… And yes, I immediately say Right!! To me being right is more important than effective. I… Read more »


[…] up to, but definitely not looked down on or pitied. Kind of a roundabout description of the competency trio types (1,3,5). I tend to be guarded to varying degrees with people, although because Im outgoing […]

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