Having just returned from 3 different venues – South America, Canada, and Europe – with many instances of helping other people type themselves, I thought it might be helpful to review some of what works best in helping other people identify their Enneagram styles.
Three Important Dos
Present all 9 enneatypes in a fair and balanced way
Our own biases can easily show when we are describing the 9 styles to other people. The types we like best we often tell positive tales about, but the types with which we have trouble can be in trouble when we describe them. Our stories may be a bit more negative; our tone of voice may be more strained. People pick up on this and then may be reluctant to say they are that type.
Here’s an activity I highly recommend for anyone who is about to work with an individual or a group on the identification of type. Ask yourself this: Which enneagram style do I like best (and be honest)? Why? What does this say about me and the areas I need to honor more in myself?
Then ask yourself the opposite question: Which enneagram style do I like least (and be honest)? Why? What does this say about me and the areas I need to honor more in myself
Typically, what we over or under-like in others is one of four things: (1) a projection (something about ourselves we put onto others without their permission!); (2) there is something about the type we over- and under-like that colludes with our own ego-structure (something they do either reinforces our sense of self, so we like that type, or challenges the way we function); (3) we had a recent encounter (either very positive or very negative) with a person of that type and, as a result, we generalize about that type; or (4) transference is operating. Transference means that person reminds us of someone we either like a lot (a parent, sibling, friend, etc,) or someone we dislike. As a result, we transfer our reactions to that original person onto this new, unsuspecting person who has literally done not very much positive or negative.
All of the above behaviors are human and even though we work with the Enneagram, we still do them. However, as transmitters of the Enneagram, we need to check ourselves so that our reactions toward the different types don’t affect those who want to learn from us. They deserve to learn the Enneagram in a fair and balanced way, so they can find themselves in the system and also have a fair and balanced perspective on all the 9 styles.
I do the activity above before I do anything with the Enneagram: teach, coach, write, whatever. It always clears me to be more available to others without unconsciously infusing my positive or negative biases.
Ask effective questions that differentiate between the types
When someone is not clear about which of two or three different Enneagram types best suits their character structure, and assuming you have done a good job of explaining the types and they have done their own work of self-reflection, it can be very helpful to ask closed ended (forced choice, yes/no questions) to help others decide which style fits them best. The pattern I often use is this:
1. Start (most often) with two of the types, not three, because differentiating questions are easier to ask this way.
2. Ask them why they chose both types; in other words, what did they relate to most in each type.
3. Make a very short statement about how the two types are similar, then make a statement about how they are different along one dimension that differentiates them.
4. Ask which quality of the two types fits them better and why.
5. Ask a probing question to make sure they understand the Enneagrammatic meaning of what they’ve just said.
Here’s an example, a person who isn’t sure if they are a 7 or a 3:
1. “So 7 or 3 might fit you best?”
2. “What about each type did you relate to?”
3. “ 3s and 7s are similar in many ways; they are both optimistic and enjoy engaging in activity. However, 3s are extremely focused almost all the time, often with a laser focus, while 7s are challenged to maintain their focus because they get so easily distracted by something new, exciting, and stimulating.”
4. “Which describes you better?”
5. “Can you say what you mean by being focused or unfocused?”
How the 9 different enneatypes are similar and also different is thoroughly described on my website in the section “Enneagram,” “Find Your Enneagram Style,” “Style Differentiators.” After you read each section, you can create these differentiating questions. Click here.
Know the subtypes; share subtype information selectively
I really love the 27 Enneagram subtypes as a way for the Enneagram trainer/coach/consultant to know how to help people identify their enneatypes. Subtypes refine our understanding of the 9 styles, but they do more than that. They help us to not stereotype the types or to explain them based on one subtype only. For example, the social subtype 3 is often described as the 3, but the self-preserving 3s and 1-1 3s can appear quite different from the social 3. When we only describe 3s as having a persona and being oriented only to their own success, these other two versions of 3 may not readily identify with that description.
In addition, some of the subtypes of a type may look, on the surface, more like another enneatype than their own. For example, social subtype 7s can appear and mistype themselves as 2s because they sacrifice (postpone is a better word) their gluttonous desires in service of the group; 1-1 1s can appear very much like 8s due to their intensity and drive for getting what they want; and self-preservation 4s can be mistaken for 7s or 3s due to their dauntless (and reckless) pursuit of the risky and thrilling (like 7s) or their over-activity (like 3s).
But how do you learn the 27 subtypes accurately and how or when do you share this information with others? Obviously, don’t teach or share the subtypes if you don’t really understand all 27 versions of enneatypes. Giving incomplete or incorrect information is worse than no information because people who learn from us assume we know what we are teaching.
But there are effective ways to learn the subtypes yourself and to share the information even before you understand all of it. Here are some ways:
1. Read about the 27 versions of type on my website (click here).
2. Read about the 27 versions of type in my coaching book, Bringing Out the Best in Everyone You Coach.
3. Buy the DVD on Subtypes (featuring Bea Chestnut) for $75 (click here).
4. Join the Enneagram Learning Portal (ELP); watch the subtype DVD, plus, in a short while, you’ll be able to hear different 1-hour teleconferences on Enneagram subtypes: one with Peter O’Hanrahan, one with Bea Chestnut, and the third with them both.
5. Buy the 27 Enneagram Subtypes tool for $9 (click here).
6. Attend a Subtypes program with Claudio Naranjo (go to his website for events).
Once I learned the subtypes from my reading, from attending programs with Claudio Naranjo, and from collaborations with Bea Chestnut, I felt very comfortable with sharing the information, although I continue to constantly learn more about them each day. When I do programs, I always bring a few copies of the 27 Enneagram subtypes tool with me, for my own reference, but also to give to participants here and there who can’t decide between two different types. I simply say this: “Why don’t you read the 3 versions of the types you are considering and see if any of them seem to describe you well.” 75% of the time, they find themselves.
From my perspective, trying to communicate information about all 27 subtypes (even if you know it) at the beginning of an Enneagram program in organizations is simply too much information for participants to absorb. I emphasize the word “beginning.” After you have worked with them for a while, they are likely to want to know about these variations, since this knowledge takes them deeper into understanding themselves, the system, and others.
If you are conducting in-depth Enneagram programs for non-organizational groups and you have several days to teach type in-depth, then providing accurate subtype information (if you know it) can be very aligned with your teaching purpose.
In my next blog, I will cover 3 tips on typing that are things to avoid when you teach the Enneagram in organizations.