What the Enneagram Adds

Exercises in refinement

I will review a number of materials that are, in my opinion, fine helpful works. Then I will look at how this material can be profitably refined by using the Enneagram as almost a template. The information can be subdivided into nine responses.

Everything has a context. From literary criticism through political spin to "active ingredients" in drugs, we do well to pay attention to context. A quotation out of context, a sound bite on the news or the infelicitous labeling some effects "side" in order to remove them from a context all conspire us to treat information warily.

We are usually aware that what is presented to us needs a context. This series will pay attention to another kind of context: the context we bring to information. When a speech is given, or a book is written, each person will receive the information according to the filters of his or her enneagram style. We all have a receiving context.

I'm writing this primarily for coaches, especially for coaches who understand the enneagram. Most coaches are well read and many feel free to recommend books, lectures and websites they think will be helpful. Here's the rub. When a client or student reads a book, for example, that information will be filtered and shaped. Take a homely example. If the book is earnestly insisting on doing "good" work at your job, a Three may understand that to mean "that for which I will received the maximum reward and recognition." A One might take grim pleasure in having her perfectionism validated! A Seven could wonder if there are creative alternatives to something that smacks of drudgery. A Six will worry that the task may not be spelled out clearly enough so that he can do it to please the authority.

In other words, whatever excellent advice contained in the self-help library a coach uses for herself or recommends to a client can be profitably refined with an understanding of the Enneagram.

I will try to be careful to use subjunctives. Just because someone has an Enneagram style does not automatically mean that distortion is inevitable. (But that's the way to bet). Fives will "tend," Sixes are "apt to" and Sevens "occasionally" or even "frequently" interpret self help books in predictable ways.

Many self-help materials are written to solve the Enneagram style of the writer and many recommend the habits of the presenter. That's a separate issue. Where it is blatant, I'll point it out. (For example, it appears to me that every book I've read on time management is written by Threes for other Threes.)

I offer these refinements not as a criticism of the way we absorb information. Each style should take information and tailor it to their talents.

Let me begin with two large generalizations because when I coach, I'm always conscious of these two contexts.

The first is that the culture of the United States has a strong Three coloration. Threes are hard workers and ascribe their success largely to their own efforts. When I ask Americans (US or Canada) what they have that they didn't work for, I often get confusion and a long silence. It is apparently a law, or at least received wisdom, among politicians that any favorable designation of a citizen must have the tag, "hard-working." If I had a dollar for every time a politician uses the term "hard-working Americans" I could influence the elections. Hard-working is almost a synonym for virtue.

The other context one must acknowledge is the American school system. Whatever one learns for content, one usually unconsciously absorbs the unspoken dynamics of the system. Coaching can involve teaching, but one must be aware that the school system assumes a) passive learning and b) standard tests/criteria. Coaching does not. I spend much of my time polishing the strengths of my clients. Schools do the opposite: you do the most of what you fail at. It's called "remedial." If you are weak in math, you spend extra time doing it. If you can't fathom symbolic thinking and are failing literature, that's what you will do more of. I coach clients to do that which they excel at and we find ways to compensate for what they do reluctantly or shoddily.

So when I interpret a book and suggest a strength or weakness, I am not nagging, I'm not even suggesting improvement. I'm describing a pattern that may or may not be serving you well. When I evaluate Keith Ferazzi's fine book, "Never Eat Alone," I will point out that he is a clear, vivid style Two. If you are a Two, you can do what he does (up to a point at least) and if you are a Five, please don't feel any pressure or even the mildest suggestion that you do "remedial networking."

Punished by Rewards - Alfie Kohn

What's in it for you? This is one of my favorite questions from the moment a client wants coaching on through any attempts at changing any behavior or reaching any goal. What rewards you for your effort? Who rewards you, and with what?

Alfie Kohn lays bare both the contexts--school and society-- I mention in my introduction. He carefully threads the reward system beginning with gold stars on up through grades, rings, uniforms, dinners, salaries, office size and retirement plans.

Every coach needs to be aware, and make the client aware, of the reward system that motivates the behavior. The most fundamental distinction is the point of the book: the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. The Enneagram is crucial here, because extrinsic rewards look the same for all styles, but intrinsic rewards vary dramatically.

Kohn carefully takes on B. F. Skinner's behaviorism philosophy and the schools and corporations moulded by it. Personality plays no role at all in this philosophy. Behavior is determined (and I use that philosophically charged term deliberately) by stimulus and response.

Kohn's work bristles with the pitfalls of rewards. What a child is rewarded with shapes the personality and significantly sculpts the inner life of the child. The same is true within a larger context of school, workplace or society.

An Enneagram coach will see in our school system and society the low side of style Three. The willingness to work for extrinsic rewards even at the expense of inner veracity or even pleasure is the dark side of style Three. When America burns incense to success, it is to money, fame and power, not to kindness, creativity, personal contentment or the ability to write touching poetry.

I recommend this book for its clear philosophy and careful research, but even more so for its value to an Enneagram coach. Begin with goals. Clients love goals. Managers love goals. Coaches love goals. They're so measurable and therefore reassuring - even rewarding. But be careful. Whose goals? Don't accept a glib answer. Even if the client says it is her goal, she may easily be deceiving herself.

I try to link all goals with the process of getting there. I also link pleasure to the goal. If the pleasure is only at the achievement, I am suspicious. I start young. I teach guitar to children as a hobby. If they don't like to practice (not IF they practice, if they LIKE to practice) I drop them.

Extrinsic goals burn us out. Intrinsic goals energize us. Every enneagram style is motivated by different rewards. If a client is not "motivated," it is only because both of you are not aware of what really motivates the client. "Resistance" is really only the client doing what really motivates her. If a Nine won't take initiative it is because she is motivated by peace and harmony. We are all quite aggressive in going after what we really want.

So if you are an enneagram coach, it is a good idea to be intimately familiar with what motivates each style. That is their real reward system. To the extent the goals with their corresponding rewards fit the style, you will both make progress. To the extent the extrinsic goals conflict with the intrinsic ones you will usually fail.

When gurus tell us to follow our bliss, they mean do work that gives us intrinsic rewards. What they don't tell us is how unrelentingly difficult that is. It is an emotional and even moral triumph. It means you have looked at your real desires and your real values and are working accordingly. Kohn can help, both by his unveiling of the harm done by external rewards and by his advice on how to cultivate inner rewards.

Never Eat Alone - Keith Ferrazzi

For some styles, Ferrazzi is an excellent guide. He is an utterly clear style Two and he does style Two in a dazzling variety of ways. When someone like Ferrazzi is on his game, in his style, it is a delight to behold. His network would provoke a spider's envy. His ability to link people and problems, problems and knowledge, knowledge and more people is masterful.

So if I am coaching a style Two or Three and some Sevens, this is not only the book I'd recommend, I'd take the individual insights or solutions and strategically apply them.

But let's say I'm coaching a Five. Ferrazzi says ""It's (connecting people) a sort of career karma. How much you give to people you come in contact with determines how much you'll receive in return." Within being a Two, this is both a psychological conviction and a cosmic law. Mary Kay Ash, a vivid style Two, says that whatever we put out into the universe comes back to us. Twos believe that. Now that gets them into trouble because they have to make an effort to keep "giving" and "investing" clear. Many don't. When Twos give to get from an individual, it is called manipulation. It's not quite as offensive when they expect to get it back from the Universe, but still, it can be tricky. Ever had a zealous religious person do something for you "in order to be rewarded by God" and wondered why you were vaguely uncomfortable? And if you are a Five, you know, deep inside yourself, that this is not a good investment policy - economic or emotional.

Or take Ferrazzi's dictum: "Never become invisible." This would be a Five's nightmare. Fives love to become invisible and cozy up with a good book. To tell them this is bad business may be counterproductive. You think?

Or let's say you are coaching an Eight. Ferrazzi advises people to learn to do what Enneagram teachers know that Two's usually do unconsciously. They match and mirror (in NLP terms). He says when you are talking to a client to use the same pace, the same tone, the same posture as they do. It is easy to teach ducks to swim - put them in water. Twos usually do that intuitively. Eights on the other hand, who see life as a battlefield with many conversations being verbal struggles for domination, frequently tend to mismatch. If you say yes, they say no. If you shake your head no, they nod yes. Twos listen well, as a rule, even going so far as to get your story and not tell theirs. Eights don't do that. I usually have a conversation someone in our meeting about listening skills. I wax eloquent on active listening and sometimes I have them take notes even when talking to someone below them in the corporate structure.

I recommend Ferrazzi's work. He is a keen observer and exploiter of human nature. He is generous and smart. But when you use his book to learn how to do what he does so well, realize that he is swimming downstream, going with the flow in a real sense, and unless you are a Two, you will have to make a lot of mental and especially social adjustments.