Vive la difference!

One of the things that makes the Enneagram helpful in relationships is understanding in depth the differences in the inner experience that different styles have. A Five, being told she is wrong, might begin to search her mind and computer for materials that will help her prove she is right or enrich her already vast store of knowledge. An Eight, being told he is wrong, might understand it as a personal attack.

Neurolinguistic program (NLP) is a description of the inner physiological states that go with our Enneagram experiences. A Six may inwardly visualize an authority as larger than life. A Two might see a situation through another person’s eyes more than his own. For the next day or two you can go to this link and listen to Tom Condon describe the inner states that he modifies to bring about change. He explains how he integrates the Enneagram and NLP. Even if you don’t use or completely understand NLP, his descriptions of the inner workings of our styles is helpful.

Context, please

Much of the advice in the self-help field devotes a lot of attention to our individual efforts. That is proper because that’s where we have a lot of power.
Because of the strident individualism of our culture, we frequently don’t pay enough attention to context. Any culture that enables us to get the news in sound bites without history or analysis is sweetly innocent of context.

I’ve coached couples in distress for many years. I have almost never found them with a strong support community (team, social group, church, league – any).

When Dr. Smith and I wrote our book on weight loss, we both were aware up front that our food supply is seriously compromised and our individual efforts had to include minor paranoia about what was in the food as well as what kinds and how much.

My background is in theology and all of the hate groups that have a religious motive begin with texts without context.

So here’s an exercise. Pick a problem you’d like to work on and then examine the context of that problem. Background, who else is involved, both physical and spiritual components.

Amtrack just had a terrible accident. So when the investigation began, they announced they would look at three components. The machine (that would be our body), the human element (spirit) and the environment. Good template.


MEGA is the acronym for Mutually Exclusive Goal Attainment. It is the technical definition of competition. We live in a culture that is IMHO pathologically competitive, as might be expected in a style 3 culture like ours.

Here’s a bind that our Three culture faces. In his book, No Contest Alfie Kohn demonstrates repeatedly that achievement and competition are negatively correlated. The more we compete, the less we achieve. When students, corporate departments, artists or programmers compete, they don’t perform as well. On most of the media and a lot of the internet pundits, competition is usually assumed to be beneficial. Bush named his education No Child Left Behind, unconsciously choosing a competitive framework. Obama did the same: “Race to the Top.” Everyone assumes students should compete. Only the research disagrees and it does so consistently.

So our culture loves competition and achievement, not realizing they are in conflict. We almost can’t think outside of competition. If an outcome is favorable to both sides, we say it is a win/winoutcome, not realizing that phrase is an oxymoron.

So when coaching style Threes or a citizen of our Three culture, look for ways they can cooperate. Cooperation takes some of the tension out of striving hard for achievement and weakens their bad habit of using someone or something else to measure success.

The technical definition is important. Competing against myself is a misuse of the term. If you win, you win. Nobody loses. Competition is different. Not only must one side win, the other side must lose.

If you’d like to watch an example, watch Tom Cruise playing a Three in Jerry Macguire, describing the world as fiercly competitive and highly cynical, then brag of his achievement (we had a big night) as a means of getting his wife to come back to him.

It’s all good

The Enneagram is occasionally accused of being negative. I would argue that when it is, it is frequently because we have a cultural bias against the goodness of human nature. Allow me a simple example, because every negative Enneagram style is an experience of scarcity.

If someone is selfish, we easily assert that “well, it is only natural” that people are selfish. (Dawkins book, “The Selfish Gene” argues that not only are WE selfish, but we are merely the carriers of genes whose only goal in life is to selfishly reproduce themselves.)

But when we see someone being generous, we almost never say “well, it is only natural that people are generous,” regardless of how many times we see generosity.

When I teach the Enneagram I pass out a list of 10 adjectives that describe first the high side and then the low side of the Enneagram. Even so, some people will decide their style on the basis of the negative attributes.

In our own way – 9s

When Nines get in their own way it is because they are trying to get out of the way of everyone else. When Nines are in their trance, they think in black and white – either you can have your way or I can have mine. When they are freer they are good negotiators because they can see all sides of a situation. Nines can often get themselves in trouble by not knowing what they want and then being upset because they don’t get it. It’s like their anger is their first clue as to what they want – right after it is too late to get it.


I’m planning to go to the International Enneagram Conference in San Francisco. This year the theme is using the Enneagram for change. The Enneagram is primarily a diagnostic tool, you have to get creative to use it for change. If you can’t attend and the topic is important to you, either for your own personal development or coaching or therapy for others, I highly recommend Tom Condon’s Five Elements of Change. He employs the insights and techniques of NLP and Ericksonian hypnosis to enrich his platform of the Enneagram.

Literally destructive

When we talk about mysteries like the human person, the nature of God, the magic of color and the process of knowing, we have to think symbolically. The best songs are enhanced poetry and as soon as we fall in love we talk symbolically. Even in intense rage, we reach for metaphors I won’t use here.

I suggest that literalism is degraded language.

When Frost speaks of a dreary kind of “grammatical prose” and Thoreau, of the language of “ommon sense,” they are warning about the deadening effect of literal language. Thoreau insists that to say only with this restricted language produces brain rot.” (Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, p. 150)

On a wide public scale literalism shows up in ISIS. They take the Koran’s words literally. Christian fundamentalists still look for Noah’s ark. I live in Kansas City. Independence MO is a suburb and the fundamentalists have built a large platform for Jesus to land on when he returns. In many cases exclusive literal thinking is funny, in others it is destructive.

When people talk about the behaviors of Enneagram style, they frequently are trying to be scientific — i.e., literal. Our Enneagram style is all about the inner intentions, feelings and motivations that are accessed only by symbolic thought. There are nine reasons for giving flowers or driving fast or eating badly. Until you know the inner drivers, you don’t know what the Enneagram is about.


The Enneagram has some numerological roots. The Greek tradition, coming from Pythagoras, was clear about the importance of the Law of Three. The Enneagram has an inner triangle and three distinct triads. I only know the conclusions of their tradition, not the math behind it. But the law is three is important.
Today in the Christian tradition many churches celebrate Trinity Sunday in which they proclaim that God is One but there are three persons: God is relational.
The mystical intuition that is expressed symbolically says that God is triune.

I would suggest that much of life is. Ken Wilber, a rational philosopher says we know in three different ways. (The eye of the flesh, the eye of the mind and the eye of the spirit).
Artists all know that the multiplicity of colors comes from three primary colors (which is why my Enneagram on has a tri-color Enneagram.
Biologists know that man/woman/child trinity is a basic unit of the race.
So the Trinity, like color and reproduction and knowing is a mystery that seems to combine unity with the law of 3.
At least it seems to me, but I live in a three-dimensional world, so that may be my bias.