Posted by Grahame Morgan-Watson, Wednesday 22nd November, 2017
Who do I turn to?
In my experience there is no one right approach, and no formula that works for all of the people, all of the time. I find this especially true when coaching someone through the lens of the Enneagram.
This may come as a surprise for some people who know of the Enneagram and the nine personality types. There is an expectation that once you know a person’s dominant personality type, there would be specific communication styles, problems, and solutions common to all those people who share that dominant personality type. After all isn’t that what the Enneagram personalities profiles are about?
Maybe, maybe not. As a professional Enneagram Teacher and Coach, I wouldn’t rely on just one model of behaviour to support a client in their endeavours. Be it to solve a problem or achieve a personal goal.
As with many professionals in the field, there are a variety of disciplines that I draw on from having invested in my own development, which include NLP, LAB Profile, Spiral Dynamics and somatic learning principles from the Feldenkrais Method®.
However, the Enneagram model is worthy of deeper contemplation. Not just because it is one of my primary teaching interests, but it offers some of the most dynamic and revealing insights I have come across. It is also one of the most complex to fully comprehend, and as such, easily misunderstood and oversimplified.
Where do I look?
Some clients know their type already, which can be helpful even if they have been mistyped. Mistyping often arises from being told one’s type by someone else or from completing a questionnaire. I do not tell people their type as one of the valuable learning benefits from the process of discovering your own dominant type is ‘Self Observation’.
Being told your type is like being told the football scores before watching the match. There is so much more awareness and curiosity to the unfolding mystery of a well written whodunit, and yet we often find ourselves subjected to spoilers, wanting to show off their insider knowledge.
Observing ourselves with compassion, kindness and non-judgmental awareness cultivates a new kind of curiosity and awareness, one that is open to not-knowing. This can be unsettling for some people, and that is where the role of the coach becomes one of holding and supporting you in your inquiry.
So often we want things to change, and yet get a bit freaked out when something that we hold dearly in ourselves, begins to loosen its hold over us, even when we know it is probably not supporting us anyway. A question that may arise might be what will replace it?
So much of what we take for granted as a truth in our psychological makeup, can turn out to be false, and based on flimsy evidence. Discovering our own Inner Expert and our True Self becomes a yearning, satiated by abiding in the depth and mystery of our Being.
The questionnaire approach to discovering your dominant type is fine unless it claims certainty. And certainty has a tendency to close down any further inquiry or possibilities.
As an Enneagram Institute Teacher I might refer people to the online Riso Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) if someone really needs a starting point before a course or session. But we keep in mind the ‘Indicator’ aspect of the acronym.
Don Riso and Russ Hudson, the two foremost developers and authors of the Enneagram personality system, invite you to start observing yourselves, not to end it on completion of the test. The RHETI results are in the form of nine scores. The higher type score indicates your most likely dominant personality type, and lower score the least likely.
Despite the scientifically proven accuracy of the 144 question RHETI, I encourage you to keep looking, even if you get a clear winner. Keeping the question open allows for further insights to arise.
It is also my experience that the top score is not always the dominant. How we answer a multiple choice question with regards to our own behaviours is dependent on the context we choose to review the question. Many people who have been through NLP training adopt certain ‘models of excellence’ and NLP ideals. Such aspirations will skew a behavioural preference in the direction of an idealised personality trait.
Why is it so difficult to know thyself?
Context impacts on who we take ourselves to be and how we filter information and language patterns. Unless a context is specified in the question, like “when driving home at night…do you…” etc, we will recall a variety of time frames, scenarios and activities, which might also include the presence of other people. Such factors as Who we are with, When are we doing this, Where is this happening and What are we doing (Who, What, Where, When and a Verb) contribute to the context. Each context influences our thoughts and behavioural patterns. An aspect of this was shown in the 2011 research by Gabrielle Radvansky known as the ‘doorway effect’.
In coaching, Contextual shifts can be valuable resources. They can help unlock solutions to many of the issues that we might take to our coaching session. They are the potential for real change and completeness.
As there is a correlation between context and personality traits, ascertaining the dominant personality type requires time and patience in Self Observation. Don Riso and Russ Hudson maintained we have all Nine Types within our psyche. However, the formation of our personality and ego state is an attempt to hold fast to one way of being in the world, and influenced by how we were nurtured in the very early years of our life. As babies, we sought to be accepted, soothed, loved, mirrored and kept safe. However, events and conditions within our family constellations will not necessarily have guaranteed adequate acknowledgment and attunement to these needs. Some may have been rejected, ignored or the opposite and overly encouraged. These factors have influence, but are not the only sources for developing what I am referring to as the dominant personality type.
How do I get to be me?
It begins with a desire to ‘be something’. Many of us might wish to be loving, strong, admirable, intelligent, unique and so on. However, we often miss the elusively obvious from this desire. As we try to identify more and more with this one quality, we will avoid seeing or admitting to anything that contradicts it. Recollections of how we might also be weak, hateful, mediocre, stupid and ordinary get sidelined and erased. A lot of our energy goes into avoiding these blind spots. Our ego structure has a deadly weapon to keep us locked into this personality agenda, it uses self-criticism, shame, fear and self-loathing.
Furthermore, our access to the other eight attitudes, behaviours and gifts are influenced by the degree to which our ego is more, or less fixated on holding onto the dominant personality type.
This degree of fixation is what Don Riso discovered from his twelve years of research back in the 1970s, and is called the Levels of Development.
The Levels of Development is a measurement of how we can be more or less identified with the ego/personality agenda. When we are less identified there will be greater openness and freedom from habitual attitudes and dysfunctional behaviours. Thus, within our own dominant personality type, there are a range of traits, behaviours and attitudes that correspond to a Centre of Gravity that can be within a healthy, average, or unhealthy bandwidth.
When do I get to be whole?
I said the Enneagram was complex, and I make no apologies for expounding the complexity of a system that attempts to understand one of the most complex and wonderful manifestations on earth – YOU!
Human beings are complex. We are diverse animals with many amazing cultural differences, and yet, to say there is a model that can help us to understand some of these differences through a symbol of a triangle, hexagon and a circle, would seem on the face of it, rather naive. Maybe, and I can tell you that almost all those people that I encounter in my trainings and coaching who have learnt to embrace the Enneagram in their inner work, continue to report how it has been the catalyst for improved relationships and well-being. People experience a greater freedom of expression and real sense of connection to something more wondrous within themselves.
Remember, the Enneagram shows us the mechanical nature of the personality that we take ourselves to be, not our True Self. So if you are feeling that the Enneagram descriptions are too constraining and predictive, Good! For it is the constraints and habitual nature of your personality you are seeing, and that is the starting point of waking up. Your personality is not the problem, but identification with all its stories, fears, desires and beliefs can be.
Begin where you are. . . .
So when considering your coaching options, it can be worthwhile exploring aspects of the Enneagram. Discover your dominant type and inquire into your personal experiences of what the authors and teachers tell you about each of the nine types.
At the same time, I invite you to continue to seek out how all the nine personality types are playing out in your life. It might be that we have certain resistances, even strong reactions to one or two of the type behaviours. This is often a good one to examine, as it can indicate some aspect of ourselves we are cutting off from. If you know nothing of the Enneagram begin now by observing what is arising in your consciousness from reading this article? What sort of questions, resistances, desires, objections are you experiencing?
Often the clues are in what we seek to defend and promote of ourselves. It is not uncommon for fear to arise from opening ourselves to the possibility of a different way of being in the world. I wonder how this might be your portal to a more complete Human of Being?
© 2017 Grahame Morgan-Watson
Photo credit: Grahame@Triguity.com