Individuals, like cultures, think they have facts. Arguments like, “Well, the reality is” or “let’s look at the facts” are not nearly as convincing nor as stable as we think. Our enneagram style filters out and welcomes information selectively. Here’s an example of how an anthropologist, Bruce Malina of Creighton, illustrates this.
(These historians) obviously do not eat apples. Instead they eat the first red object on the lowest branch of the third tree in the fourth row of the northwest corner of Smith’s farm…” “Apple” is a later understanding of all that.
Malina is a scripture scholar who details how we read back into scripture texts our worldview (we are darn sure what an apple is) but the original understanding was dramatically different.
The same principle applies to communication between enneagram styles. For example, “good job” means one thing for a style One and another for a style 4.


It is graduation time and I’ve been able to hear some inspirational speeches by the graduates and visiting dignitaries sharing their wisdom.
What is almost universally missing is context. I have a thing about context, whether it is in scripture or news programs or a tattling grandchild. When the speakers try to inspire the graduates, they talk at volume and length of personal effort and responsibility. And that is a crucial part of it. They almost never talk about the importance of creating or belong to a community.
As a coach, I am careful to ascertain what kind of community my client belongs to, what kind of support is available and what kind of network they have fashioned. If the person is in trouble, the support is usually absent or negligible.
The American rhetoric of the rugged individual is at a toxic level. When I coach, I try everything I can think of to help clients find or create some kind of community. Enneagram students can easily understand why a style Five might need some help, but even socially enthusiastic styles like Twos can have trouble because there are so few community structures. The most commonly sought are bars and churches and they both have some limitations.

Peace, the elusive search

If you are a style Five or are coaching any, I have a book recommendation for you. And I Shall Have Some Peace There, by Margaret Roach, erstwhile executive at Martha Stewart’s compound. She is an erudite and entertaining Five who left the corporate world to go live in a small house in the woods. She is a gardening authority and a botanical student. Her reflections, pointed and persistent, reveal the inner workings of a style Five in an unforgettable way. If you don’t have a fairly strong liberal arts education, her botanical, psychological and literary allusions will intimidate, but her prose is as flowery as her garden. It is both an intellectual sleigh ride and a helpful docent about how a style Five thinks and feels. I hated to finish the book.


When coaching Nines about goals, spend most of your time finding out as clearly and specifically what they really want. If they can acknowledge what they want, they can take powerful action, but their goals have to be made specific, and they find that difficult. My favorite example of a Nine’s vagueness is a lovely Nine, full of honest zeal and enthusiasm who was doing good work, who had as her stated mission “to transform humanity.”

Straight Eights

Enneagram Eights usually know what they want and are willing to go after it. What the coach can do to help them is to notice the effects their goal will have on others. Their subtext –as long as– is “as long as I can be in charge and have my way.” They need to include the consequences for others and the price everyone may have to pay. This is more important than it may seem because style Eights do very well in the external forum, but they can be blind about inner realities. Their external goals may not include any emotional or spiritual considerations. “Just do it,” can be toxic for them.

More..or less?

When coaching an Enneagram style Seven, remember they are gluttons. The form that proclivity assumes when they set goals is a habit of making lots of goals or huge goals. They glance briefly at the costs of time and effort for a goal and decide they can do that goal plus several more. It is garden season in most of the country, so let me recommend a horticultural metaphor: pruning. When a Seven sets a a goal, the coach usually has to prune either the size or the number. Their enthusiasm is contagious, but so is the common cold. They won’t like small incremental goals, but that is a good place to start.

What can go wrong?

When you are helping a style Six set goals, you may want to try something that may seem counter-intuitive: assign your client to list all the reasons they can’t reach or even try for a goal. Sixes sort for what can go wrong and they won’t make much effort until they have examined all the possible negatives. Once they’re done that (and they will whether you assign that task or not), then they can move forward.
If you would like an audio-visual aid of how that works, watch the TV show, Monk. He notices everything that is out of order because that is what he is constantly looking for.
I don’t know the style of the old man who predicted the rapture, but I’ve read many newsletters that predict coming calamities — they are frequently written by sixes. It is their “literary genre” if you will.
What is a little deceptive about this is that because Sixes are so communitarian, they have very pleasing personalities. Their negativity is usually not in their social presentation, it is in the expectation that things are just not going to work.

I think

When coaching a Five about their goals, be aware that they have a subtext that goes something like this: I will meet this goal…as long as…I can have a lot of time to myself. Fives can be like batteries that people drain and so they protect their privacy with space and time. They need their own private space and they don’t like to be surprised or rushed – everything has to be thought out — and spur of the moment decisions in a conversation can be intimidating..

Mine. All mine.

When coaching Fours about their goals, you will likely notice that they will be reluctant to set goals that need recognition. Getting a promotion, writing a book, setting a financial goal — all of these might have a condition attached …as long as… as long as I don’t have to compromise my uniqueness. Fours can be whipsawed by the belief that if they act from their true self, they will not be accepted. Their book won’t be accepted, they won’t get the promotion and they can’t make money without compromise. So a shrewd coach will make the goal pared down to the quality of effort, not the effect, especially of acceptance (of either an authority or the crowd. Sometimes the authority will be trusted and can be included, but the crowd – even peers – will not be).

The laser Three

Coaching a Style Three on setting goals can be a real trap. You and the client look so successful, but… Threes focus like a laser, but lasers are used to cut steel, too. When coaching a Three, remember they are more drawn to extrinsic rewards than most others so they will work too hard for extrinsic goals (money, position, applause) and push down their inner needs. They need to balance their goals with the (often neglected) inner values. They might make CEO just as their spouse leaves them. Threes don’t have a “as long as” subtext, but they need one. “I will reach my production goal as long as I don’t have to ignore environmental concerns.”