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Tips on Typing: Part 2

In the prior blog, I covered 3 important Dos for typing in organizations: Present all 9 types in a fair and balanced way; Ask effective questions that differentiate between the types; and Know the subtypes; share information selectively.

This blog covers 3 important tips on typing that are Don’ts.

Three Important Don’ts

Don’t take typing responsibility solely on your shoulders
If you really think that it is your responsibility to type people accurately (or to get people typed), the burden will be heavy, a positive result is unlikely, and in the process, people are likely to feel slotted or pushed, even if that was not your intention.

For those of us who are so committed to accuracy in typing and our complete knowledge of the Enneagram, we may not go out there and help people with the system until we are very old, because it can take so many years to really know the Enneagram system inside and out. We do need to go out there and teach it, providing we know enough. How much is enough is a good question! Even those who have been working with the Enneagram for a long time are always learning. If we are not learning something new every time we teach it, it is likely that we are not open to refresh ourselves with this complex and powerful system.

My proposition is that it is the responsibility of those whom we teach to type themselves; it is our job to teach the Enneagram and the types as clearly and subtly as possible, without stereotyping, without giving out false information, without letting our own biases creep into our explanations, and by demonstrating through our own example that the Enneagram works. This means we need to know enough, and we need to do enough. It is also our job to help people sort between types to determine what fits them best. And it is also our job, if people are mistyped (or we think they are) to provide guidance but to not push them (or they will dislike the system and dislike us, neither of which are good for our teaching them. I think it is also our job to not use examples of people of each type that are questionable or even wrong. By this I am referring to public people whom we think might be a certain type as well as to people in our programs or groups. If we have any doubt about public exemplars we use (and we should), we need to state this. If we think someone in our program may be wrongly typed, don’t use them on type panels or ask them to explain how they respond to something as an example of a type-based response. The use of mis-identified public and private exemplars creates unintentional mis-information about the Enneagram.

So my second proposition is this: Teach the Enneagram when you really know enough; teach the Enneagram because you love and honor it, not because it somehow gives you a competitive edge in whatever work you do; and keep learning from books, other teachers, and from the people with whom you share the system.

Don’t confuse people with over-complexity
In my various certification programs – the 2 Train-the-Trainer programs and the “Coaching with the Enneagram” program – I have found over and over again that there is a tendency for many people to try to teach the system to others with more complexity than is warranted. Yes, the Enneagram is complex, and that it part of its attraction; the Enneagram has power, depth, and it is profound. At the same time, when first encountering the Enneagram, there can be too much information provided such that people get distracted from the essential aspects of the Enneagram. I’ll review here just some of the ways in which we can over-complexify the Enneagram and lose our audience. Each item is followed by what participants new to the Enneagram really do want to know about the item described.

What I am referring to here is not meant to apply to in-depth Enneagram programs that focus solely on the Enneagram and occur for multiple days. I am referring to the Enneagram’s introduction into organizational settings.

The Enneagram’s History
I have heard about and observed Enneagram teachers spending long periods of time early on explaining the vast history of the Enneagram. There are some issues with this when this approach is used in organizational settings. The primary problem is that most people neither care nor are interested in the in-depth history of the Enneagram. 5 minutes, yes! 20+ minutes, no! Their eyes glaze over; they stop listening, and the audience is essentially lost for the remainder of the session. The other issue is that even if they were interested, we do not truly know the Enneagram’s exact history. We may think we know because we heard it from someone we respect who is considered an Enneagram expert. But, in reality, they don’t even know for sure. As a result, we could be unknowingly sharing information that is not entirely accurate. Finally, some of the Enneagram’s early history involves esoterica because the Enneagram began, and still is to a degree, an esoteric system. Some (maybe many) people we teach get turned off to esoterica and for a number of reasons: fear of the non-rational, a confusion of esoterica with religion, and more. It would a real loss, in my opinion, to turn people off to this remarkable system of increasing human consciousness because we did something early on that was likely to have this effect.

What do people in organizations want to know about the Enneagram’s history? My experience is that they are delighted to know that it has a long history. They are equally happy to know that we (whoever is teaching it to them) did not make the system up, that it has a long tradition. People also seem excited that its roots are not Western, that it appears to come from Asia and the Middle East. And people like that, in its modern usage, it is being used all over the world. This makes it credible and universal. And all of this takes only 5-7 minutes to explain.

The Wings and Arrows
People do want to know and need to know about the wings and arrows, but the question is when do these get explained and with how much depth. I have so much experience with this, I have a clear answer: the arrows and wings are best explained when questions arise in the group about them, and the depth of explanation depends on when questions arise and how much the group you are working with can absorb.

Although the above may sound vague, really it is not. Sometimes questions arise after the symbol is shown, even before the types are explained. The question is often phrased like this: What do those arrows mean? There is no question about wings because these are not so obvious on the symbol. Another way the question is phrased is this: Do we have only one type? The answer to either question is the same: we have one core type, yet there are 4 others where we may also show some of their characteristics. These are called wings (the types of either side of your core type) and arrows (the arrows pointing toward and away from your core type). The wings and arrows don’t change your type; they add extra qualities, more resources.

The next time questions about wings or arrows arises is during the typing process, often when people can’t decide between types that are on arrows lines and/or wing positions ­– for example, a 6, 5, 3 configuration. This is a good time to explain the concepts of arrows and wings and to then give an example from this specific question and to give one more example. For example, you might say something like this: There are 4 additional types from which we may draw some qualities, although our core structure/motivation drive doesn’t change. Wings are the two types on either side of your core type; the wings for style 6 are 5 and 7. So if you are a 6, you could have a 5 wing, which would tend to make you slightly more analytical and possibly withdrawn, and/or a 7 wing, which would make you more optimistic and creative. You could have either wing, neither wing, or both. If you are a 6, you could also have access to type 3 and/or type 9. With a link to 3, this would make you more results oriented; a link to 9 would enable you to be more easy-going.

Please notice that in the above explanation, I did not include the words stress-security for the arrows or point of integration-disintegration. There are many reasons for this, but the primary one is that this can easily confuse people, because they may go to their security point under stress and their stress point when relaxed. For example, a 6 moving to 9 (a stress point) can actually overcome analysis paralysis. Explaining all this is too complex at this stage. Whether you agree with stress-security and integration-disintegration or not, it makes an already complex system even more so at this point.

The 27 Subtypes
This is covered in the prior blog in great detail. For here, I will simply summarize to say that as an initial introduction to the Enneagram, explaining all 27 subtypes takes too long and can be too confusing. Most people can find their type through a good overview of the types, then the subtypes can be used only when someone might be a subtype that appears on the surface to be similar to another type (for example, a self-preserving 1, a look-alike for a 6 in many cases.

The Levels of Development
I think that the concept that there are different levels of development within a type is extremely important. Otherwise, how do we explain why people of the same type seem so different in their Emotional Intelligence? Whether there are 9 levels, 12 levels, or 7 levels (or 6), I really don’t really know for sure; although I have a background in psychology, I am not a practicing or licensed psychologist. But the concept matters a lot. To explain that there are differences based on self-mastery is important. Even if there are 9 levels, for example, learning all these levels and what they mean so early on is very difficult to remember and digest. As a result, I suggest merely mentioning that there are levels of development (if you use this term, please give credit to Don and Russ), and leave it there, until later on, after they know the system, their types and how to use it in the real world.

Centers of Intelligence
The Enneagram system and the 9 types can be taught well without any mention of the 3 Centers of Intelligence. However, my experience is that teaching the 3 Centers early on at a very basic level helps people learn the system more easily. It is easier to remember 3 sets of 3 (3 head styles; 3 heart styles, and 3 body styles) than to remember 9 styles. All I do is to explain the 3 Centers, explain their functions, explain the 3 sets of 3, and then leave more about the Centers until later. Sometimes I teach the specifics of type by Centers – for example, 5’s being fearful of intrusion and withdrawing; 6’s being more overtly fearful (except the counterphobic 6s who may or may not be aware of fear because they can charge toward that which causes them concern) about what could go wrong; and 7’s running from fear (still a character structure that is constructed based on fear reaction), particularly fear of pain, discomfort, and being limited or constrained.

Don’t rely on typing tests
It can be said about me, and fairly so, that I am not an advocate of using typing tests as the primary way for people to identify their Enneagram types. I am not against good tests as supplemental information for a person to consider when identifying type, as these can be helpful. I am opposed to using typing tests as sole determiners of type. The Enneagram, as compared to the MBTI, is more complex, nuanced, and subtle. There are wings, arrows, subtypes, and look-alike types. It’s amazing that the current tests are even as good as they are, given the nature of the Enneagram. Even the tests’ authors will be the first to state that their tests are not definitive and type certain styles more accurately than other types (and this varies with each test).

From a trainer/coach/consultant point of view, I highly recommend either not using a test or using them after people have done some preliminary self-exploration. It makes the process run more effectively, and you don’t have explain to someone who got wrongly typed by a test why the test was wrong.

But here’s my strongest proposition: Don’t let using a test be a substitute for your knowledge of the Enneagram, a substitute teacher in a sense. There is no substitute for your knowledge of the Enneagram and your ability to help people find themselves. We signed up to teach; they signed up to learn!

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12 years ago

Hi Ginger.
I really appreciate your 2 blogs on typing. It is very helpful – and I so agree with your approach. Unfortunately, I didn’t read it until now – however, 3 weeks ago I did a presentation on the Enneagram in a Law firm, and fortunately I unknowingly followed most of your advice – but was also corrected by the audience when I unintentionally failed to present a balanced view on one of the types. How right you are in emphasizing that this is extremely important to keep in mind!! I am so thankful that they spoke up! Warmly, Anne


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