Say What?! It’s Nothing Personal: Communication Clues from the Enneagram

Understanding, and communicating with, the three social stances of the Enneagram.

Do you ever get your feelings hurt by a colleague’s communication style?

Me too. And the Enneagram provides clues so we can understand why.

A few days ago, a friend and I were on Zoom discussing an upcoming project he was working on. He had called me for help with structuring a presentation, and I was thrilled to provide my best tips, tools and processes. After an hour, he had a powerful, punchy outline we both were excited about. Or so I thought.

Just as we were about to get off the call, his mood changed. He appeared irritated and no amount of clarification, affirmation or problem-solving could reach him. “I’m just… this talk doesn’t make any sense. I’m going to have to figure this out on my own…” he said.

Ouch.

I got off the call and felt confused, frustrated and most of all, hurt. It wasn’t until we began texting about the dynamic the next morning that I understood why.

It’s nothing personal: Communication Clues from the Enneagram

Looking through the conscious lens of the Enneagram, we discover the 9 types divided into 3 “Social Stances” – what I call “Leans”: Three unique ways of interacting with the world to get their needs met.

Leans provide a shortcut to understanding our colleagues’ definitions of good communication – and to not being offended by them.

The Assertive Types: Enneagram 3, 7, 8

Let’s begin with the Assertive types: Enneagram 3, 7, and 8 lean into people and the world to get their needs met. They are movers and shakers, and you can feel their presence in a room, so try not to be intimidated or to take their efficient, straightforward, intense communication personally.

  • Enneagram 3 Achievers are assertive about success, so be efficient and affirming in your communication, and dangle a carrot or two in front of them. They are hungry to achieve the next goal.
  • Enneagram 7 Enthusiasts are assertive about their freedom. Allow them to express their ideas and plans without judging or limiting them. They may not act on these ideas, but they don’t want to hear that they can’t!  
  • Enneagram 8 Challengers are assertive about truth and justice, so leave your passive-aggressiveness, sandwich approach, and tip-toe communication at the door. These types prefer you talk straight. They want the truth, even if it hurts.

The Withdrawal Types: Enneagram 4, 5, 9

On the other extreme of communication are the Withdrawal types: Enneagrams 4, 5, and 9, who lean away from the world to get their needs met. These types can be masters of “ghosting,” so it’s important to understand – and to not take personally – their tendency to disengage and regroup.

  • Enneagram 4, Individualists, withdraw from the present moment. When they are ready to process, they’ll want to engage on an emotionally real and deep level. They are not afraid of the dark!
  • Enneagram 5, Investigators, withdraw from people. If you find them slinking away from a dinner party to hunker down over their latest innovation, try not to take it personally. Give them time and space to prepare for conversations and meetings.
  • Enneagram 9, Peacemakers, withdraw from conflict. If you are upset about something, wait until you are calm before approaching them, and give them time to respond on their own terms.

The Compliant Types: Enneagram 1, 2, 6

And finally, the compliant types – Enneagram 1, 2, and 6 – lean with the world, striving to match its rules and expectations. Don’t take it personally if you can’t always meet their standards.

  • Enneagram 1, Reformers, are compliant to the rules – both external and internal. Communicate with clarity, integrity and in the language of constant improvement. Don’t be offended when they point out mistakes, problems, and pesky impediments to perfection.
  • Enneagram 2, Helpers, are compliant to people, and love to be in warm, friendly, affirming environments. Don’t take it personally if their desire to connect becomes smothering. They want to help, so let them: Encourage them to share what they need – and help them meet that need! They’ll love you for it.
  • Enneagram 6, Loyalists, are compliant to expectations – both perceived and real. Don’t be offended by their skepticism: They need to doubt until there is no doubt, so give them space to share all the troubles they see ahead and then reassure them that, as the Beatles said, “We can work it out.”

A follow-up conversation with my friend

The next day, after my friend took a long bike ride to practice the presentation in his head, and he and I laughed about what we discovered when we looked through the lens of the Enneagram:

As an Enneagram 7, my colleague was having fun coming up with ideas until the very end when it felt like a ton of work to fulfill them. He was irritated and frustrated because he felt overwhelmed by the amount of work required to finish preparing the presentation. As a 7, he is assertive about freedom. Getting on a bike and fleshing out the outline in a fun, organic way was exactly what he needed.

As an Enneagram 3, I am assertive about success: I can’t help but work hard. I approach nearly everything I do with the effort that will yield true excellence. I had wanted to give my friend my very best, and to serve him. And yet, his final frustration felt like failure to me – the bane of the 3!  I felt relief and compassion when I realized his response wasn’t personal, but was rooted in the needs of a 7 for freedom.

What about you? Is there someone on your team that you regularly feel hurt by? Perhaps it’s time to put on the conscious lens of the Enneagram and look for clues about their communication style. You may be surprised to discover it has nothing to do with you!

Want more tools and take-aways for your team? Would a playful tour through all 9 Enneagram types add value to your organization’s or association’s next event? If so, please schedule a consultation today. I’d love to chat with you!  

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