This is the long version of this post complete with data, academic references, and disclaimers. The short version can be found here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/enneagram-dead-long-live-dennis-adsit
The Enneagram Personality Typing system is showing up more often in business and non-profit organizations, in part because it is increasingly popular with leadership coaches.
Despite its popularity, this post will highlight weaknesses with the assessment itself and also fallout from how it is being used. So as not to be seen as just casting aspersions, I will also highlight how people who want to advance the use of the Enneagram in psychology and business can make their case stronger.
Let me be clear, this is not an argument against theEnneagram per se in favor of another typing system. Many of my concerns about the Enneagram would apply to the Myers-Briggs Typing Inventory (MBTI), Colors,DiSC and others of this ilk.
For the reasons outlined in this article, I personally do not use typing systems of any kind in my coaching or training. That said, the objective here is not to convince anyone to stop using their favorite typing system; I’m just sharing research data, observations and concerns I have about them. I am not an expert in any typing methodologies, but most of the concerns I raise do not require specific expertise in the typing systems themselves.
Even though I am not trying to convince anyone to stop typing their clients, if you love typing systems in general or the Enneagram in particular, these criticisms might not be well received.
For that reason, a distinction before diving in might be helpful.
The effectiveness of any typing system is, of course a function of the knowledge and expertise of the person using them. Anytime something that has been around for awhile suddenly becomes popular, you have a group of long-standing experts and a large group of new people who think it is the cat’s meow and want to start using it. If jazz suddenly became wildly popular, the Herbie Hancocks and Wayne Shorters would be there as they have been for a long time, as would an army of new players who were still learning the difference between major and minor keys.
Becoming well versed in the Enneagram can take years of study and application. It is enormously complex. There are not just the home types that are becoming more widely known; there are wings, integration and disintegration points, the three triads, levels of development, and more. According to the Enneagram Institute, “the Enneagram can accommodate more than 486variations of the [home] types.”
This post will not attempt to explain the complexity of theEnneagram. The point is that there are Enneagram experts out there who have a deep understanding of the approach, who use the Enneagram systematically, who are able to sidestep some of the pitfallsI will outline here, and who lead their clients to deep insights that help them grow. This is wonderful. Note: people like that, deeply versed in their craft, probably won’t get much from this post.
There are also coaches just discovering the Enneagram or some other typing system, who see it as something shiny and new and who have decided to integrate it into their training and coaching, even though they might still be having trouble naming and distinguishing between the types. These “recently converted” might benefit from reading about the measurement and use issues I highlight and from being reminded that all that glitters is not gold. This article then is probably more for them.
This is lengthy article! To aid skimming and help you find the points of most interest to you, here are the section titles:
o The Usual Response Biases, Made Worse by Self-Typing
o Traits vs. Types: A Distinction with a Difference
o A Box by Any Other Name…Would Still Be as Confining
o The Only Constant is Change…and Apparently Your Enneagram Type
o Popular…but not Used When It Matters Most
o The Enneagram and the Likelihood of Cognitive Biases
o Depth Psychology: Seeing What’s Right in Front of You
o The Effects of Coaching on a Client’s Enneagram Score
o Types vs. No Self: Conflicts with Contemplative Spirituality Views of Self
The Usual Response Biases,Made Worse by Self-Typing. All personality assessments are plagued by a self-report response bias. You might be presented with an item and asked to rate yourself or asked to decide which of a pair of statements is more “like you.”
We have ways we like to think of ourselves and ways we would prefer not to. Those preferences -- which are unconsciously influenced by upbringing, social, and cultural factors -- color everyone’s responses to the questions that form the basis of the assessment’s output.
The existence of a self-report response bias is no secret to coaches. This is why they often want to conduct 360 feedback interviews because they know that the way a person thinks s/he is often differs markedly from the way others experience him/her.
Most people are first exposed to the Enneagram through taking a self-administered test that results in a report identifying one or more likely “home types” for consideration.
The key here is “for consideration.” If the output of your report doesn’t “feel” right, you might be asked to look at the various descriptions and just pick which one seems most like you.
Moreover, it is not uncommon for people to end up with two or more high scores. For those with multiple high scores, one eyebrow-raising (from a psychometric perspective) suggestion some coaches offer is to subscribe to the “Enneagram Thought of the Day” for the two highest scores and go with, again, the one that “feels like you.”
In the case of the Enneagram then, in addition to the usual response bias problems, we have the potential for self-typing bias, as some types will seem more desirable than others.
There are lots of possibilities here. Despite being around for decades at least (some say centuries), the system and assessments are still evolving and practitioners are still trying to figure out how to design assessments to make clear distinctions. It is also possible that the assessments will only be able to go so far and it will take an expert to help someone find the type that truly fits them.
But clearly the assessments aren’t quite able to zero in yet and self-selecting your type, with all the potential for bias, does not seem like a scalable solution for broader use in psychology and business.
Traits vs. Types: A Distinction with a Difference. The Enneagram is a personality typing system. The basic difference between type-and trait-based approaches to measuring personality is that traits are measured on a continuum, whereas types put you in a category. The Extroversion trait says that your tendencies can be scaled somewhere between highly introverted to highly extroverted. A typing system says that everything above a certain, often arbitrarily set, level makes you Extroverted.
Consider the figure below, excerpted from my colleague and friend Gordon Curphy’s top-selling college textbook on leadership:
In a trait-based measuring system, John and Joe, having more similar scores would be considered more alike and wildly different from Jim and Jack, who have quite extreme scores. But in a type-based approach, John would be considered a Submissive type, like Jim; and Joe would be considered a Dominant type, as would Jack.
The personality assessment most widely researched and deployed for predictive purposes is the trait-based approach that goes by several names including the Five Factor model (FFM), the Big Five, and the OCEAN (Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism) model of personality.
Trait-based approaches like the Big Five with their continuum scoring systems allow for an infinite amount of nuance and variation between people, which results in better decisions for both organizations (promotion/selection decisions) and individuals (coaching and behavior modification recommendations).
The Enneagram and all the rest of the typing systems suffer from this "measurement fidelity” problem.
A Box by Any Other Name…Would Still Be as Confining. The Enneagram output report attempts to sort you into one of nine personality types, though as noted earlier, multiple factors can create more refinements. The Colors personality assessment had only four types. The MBTI, which was the personality assessment seemingly used in every personal growth and leadership training class in the 80s and 90s (and is still administered nearly 2 million times a year!), has 16.
Can/should you attempt to sort all of humanity and the obvious continuum of human personalities into a small number of boxes, and, if so, what is the right number of boxes to sort them into?
My belief is that few are paying attention to the real downsides that go along with placing people in a category as these typing systems do. As mentioned, type-based personality inventories, like a Procrustean bed, ignore meaningful variation in responses and can result in dramatically misleading conclusions about respondents.
However, the Enneagram faithful believe that putting you in a category is not only doable, but a good idea. Ian Morgan Cron in The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self Discovery says, “The Enneagram does not put you in a box but reveals the box you are already in…”
I will have more to say about the fallout from putting labels on people in the cognitive biases section.
The Only Constant isChange…And Apparently Your Enneagram Type. Whether it is the Buddhist notion of impermanence, the bromide “you never step into the same river twice,”or the physicist notion of an expanding Universe, there is no question that Life and our lives are continuously unfolding.
In contrast, the Enneagram Institute claims some things don’t change. They assert that “Everyone emerges from childhood with one [their emphasis] of the nine types dominating their personality…” and “People do not change from one basic personality type to another.”
Everything is changing, but not my 6-ness? Final answer?
Peer-reviewed research on the Big Five indicates personality does change over time. When studying cohort groups, there are big changes from childhood to adolescence and then from adolescence to adulthood, first in absolute level (my scores change over time: Soto, Christopher J.,John, O., Gosling, S., Potter, J. (2011) "Age Differences in Personality Traits From 10 to 65: Big Five Domains and Facets in a Large Cross-Sectional Sample," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100 (2): 330–348).
In addition, Big Five personality does not appear to be fixed in childhood as Enneagramers postulate. In the case of adolescents moving into adulthood, there are also rank order changes (my scores change relative to others: McCrae,R.; Costa, P.; Terracciano, A.; Parker, W.; Mills, C.; De Fruyt, F. and Mervielde, I. (2002) "Personality Trait Development From Age 12 to 18:Longitudinal, Cross-Sectional, and Cross-Cultural Analyses," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83 (6): 1456–1468).
You can quibble about cohort research because it is studying different people at different ages and looking for patterns by cohort. Relatively hot off the presses is a longitudinal study (same people studied over time) by Damian, et al. which showed that while rank order, on average, remains relatively stable (this means, if you are more conscientious at 16 than your peers you are likely to be more conscientious than your peers at 66), people’s absolute scores change markedly over time (Damian, R., Spengler, M.,Sutu, A., Roberts, B. (2018) “Sixteen going on sixty-six: A longitudinal study of personality stability and change across 50 years,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology).
According to Damian, et al., three of the five dimensions of personality change a lot, generally for the better. Most of us, mercifully, become more conscientious, more agreeable, less neurotic as we age. (A fourth dimension, Openness may also changeover time, but the ways of measuring that dimension have evolved over the last 50 years so any changes in individuals might not have been detected).
While we mostly mellow in later years, the data also shows there are plenty of people that not only change, but change in ways that are maladaptive and harmful as they age.
Now maybe the stability of your Enneagram type argument just applies to the home type because there are only eight other possible types to change into. Maybe they are saying if we took the time to do a more thorough typing we would in fact see change on the previously referenced, more granular, “486 variations of the home type.” If this were so, that would be consistent with personality research on the Big Five.
Or maybe the Enneagram type doesn’t change because what theEnneagram is measuring is not really personality after all.
Some Enneagram users like to hedge and say what the assessment really measures is “core motivations,” and leave it at that without much explanation for what exactly a core motivation is and why there are nine of them and not five or seventeen for that matter.
To my knowledge, a testable “construct” of core motivations has not been defined. Constructs are the building blocks of scientific theories and a good construct definition means something specific enough that it can be researched.
My recommendation is that instead of just toeing the party line on core motivations, taking them on faith like some kind of Virgin Birth, those who want to see the Enneagram used more broadly could really advance their cause by constructing a testable definition of the core motivations construct.
Enneagram proponents could develop a construct theory about: 1) where core motivations come from; 2) for example, is there a genetic/heritable component to core motivations as there is to the Big Five personality traits (Jang, K., Livesley, W., Vernon, P. (1996) “Heritability of the big five personality dimensions and their facets: a twin study,” Journal of Personality, Vol 3, 577-91);3) how we ended up with nine core motivations; 4) why there is not more distinguishable variation within types; 5) if in fact core motivations and personality are distinct constructs; 6) why core motivations don’t seem to be malleable and what might be locking them into place; 7) what a valid measure of them might look like; or 8) how we might go beyond just telling someone they were a Peacemaker or a Challenger and use the types to predict other phenomena we care about, for example likelihood of promotion or leadership and/or team effectiveness.
Rigor like this, accompanied by research, would build broad-based momentum for the Enneagram.
Another possibility, but not a great one, is that Enneagram practitioners are just being struthious about data that show personalities doin fact change because that contradicts a worldview they prefer to hold. It is, of course, perfectly fine to ignore disconfirming information as long as you don’t mind standing on shaky ground.
Popular…but not Used When It Matters Most. Here is a final point about the psychometric fidelity of the Enneagram. There are people in this world whose livelihoods and reputations depend on the accurate assessment of personality. These are scientists, academics, and industrial psychologists that are measuring personality either as a predictor variable (e.g.,attempting to assess the personality of candidates for promotion recommendations)or a dependent variable (e.g., studying the influence of genetics vs.environment on the shaping of personality in studies of twins reared apart).
In these situations, the validity (does our assessment accurately measure the construct we have defined?) and the reliability (do we get the same reading each time we measure?) of the assessment instruments are absolutely critical.
When there is a lot on the line, people turn to the well-researched Big Five model referenced earlier, not the Enneagram.
The Big Five model has been shown (as cited in Hughes, R.,Ginnett, R, & Curphy, G. Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience, 8th Edition, 2015) to be an effective predictor of:
* Managerial effectiveness
* Promotion rates
* Organization level attained
* Job performance
* Effort, persistence, creativity, and willingness to help others
* Teamwork and team performance
No such claims can be made for the Enneagram.
I mentioned there is no defined construct of “core motivations” that would lead to predictions like this that could be tested and in fact very little peer-reviewed research on the Enneagram even exists (Bland,A. (2010) The Enneagram: A review of the empirical and transformational literature, Journal of HumanisticCounseling, Education and Development).
Therefore, not surprising, very little scientific reliability or validity has been found for the Enneagram (Thyer, B., Pignotti,M. (May 2015) Science and Pseudoscience in Social Work Practice. Springer Publishing Company).
Even worse, Ph.D. research (Dameyer, J. (2001) Psychometric evaluation of the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator.PhD, California Institute of Integral Studies. 2001) showed there is only weak agreement between a person’s type as identified by the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) and the Wagner Enneagram Personality Styles Scale (WEPSS). These are two of the major approaches to assessing the nine Enneagram types and yet people can get different readings depending on which assessment they take.
Now that study was done a while ago and those differences might have been fixed by now. But aligning the assessments is probably an ongoing problem as new ones are popping up as the popularity of the Enneagram grows.
Finally, Robert Carroll was less equivocal. He included the Enneagram in his list of pseudoscientific theories that “can’t be tested because they are so vague and malleable that anything relevant can be shoehorned in to fit the theory.” Robert Carroll (11 January 2011). The Skeptic’s Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions and Dangerous Delusions. John Wiley & Sons.)
IIf coaches feel that the understanding of a client's personality is an essential ingredient for guiding that client, they might at least consider using personality assessments that are well understood and have been validated across multiple cultures, age groups, geographies, etc. The Hogan Personality Inventory is one such option, and it is in fact, gaining traction with coaches.
The first section dealt with the psychometric properties of the Enneagram. This section deals with how coaches and trainers use the results.
There are four topics in this section: the effect of typing systems on cognitive biases, differences with the Depth Psychology approach, unasked questions about the interaction between coaching and Enneagram type, and conflicts with Contemplative Spirituality views of Self.
The Enneagram and the Likelihood of Cognitive Biases. The Fundamental Attribution Error is such a pervasive and insidious cognitive pattern that it is often referred to as “the conceptual bedrock for the field of social psychology.”
The Fundamental Attribution Error is the tendency to attribute the behavior of others to stable aspects of personality or the “way someone is” (he is always so arrogant, she is such a control freak, etc.), while we describe our own behavior as being more a function of the environment: “I had to take over the meeting because we were running out of time.”
To eliminate stereotyping and unfair, inaccurate judgments, the Fundamental Attribution Error reminds us that we should assume people are rational actors and look for the environmental factors that are influencing behavior vs. attributing choices and behavior to some stable aspect of personality.
Once we have a label, it influences our behavior, often unconsciously. The Confirmation Bias is the tendency, once we think we have detected a pattern, to look for information consistent with the pattern and rarely look for and often actually ignore behavior inconsistent with the pattern. Cognitive biases are ways our brains prefer to keep things simple, even at the cost of being wrong.
My own Ph.D. dissertation demonstrated this and also showed that encouraging people to not only pay attention to disconfirming information, but also to actively seek it out, improved the effectiveness of problem solving and decision-making across a range of scenarios.
As mentioned earlier, Enneagram proponents argue that typing someone does not put them in a box, and don’t seem concerned with any potential fallout from the given label.
On the Confirmation Bias front, there is probably another novice/expert distinction operating here. For those with less experience, it seems more common to hear things like, “See. That’s a 2. That’s what 2s do.” Or “I am a 9, that is why I act like this,” “She’s an 8, after all.”
My guess here is that real Enneagram experts, who encounter some behavior that is different from a person’s home type, are more willing to question the assessment. As such, you would be likely to hear experts say: “Maybe you are not a 4 after all” or “Maybe you are more context-sensitive and the Enneagram is not a good typing system for you.”
To recap, the Fundamental Attribution Error is about how we tend to explain another person’s behavior with a label vs. how we explain our own. The Confirmation Bias says that once we have that label, we tend to look for behavior consistent with the label and ignore behavior inconsistent with it.
What about any effects on the labeled individual?
The Rosenthal (Pygmalion) Effect and its related counterpart in sociology, the Self-fulfilling Prophecy are well researched phenomena that demonstrate that our expectations affect observed results. In the famous education study, Rosenthal and Jacobson showed that students, whose teachers had been told that randomly selected students were intellectually“gifted,” were treated differently by their teachers and had greater increases in their IQ scores than those not given the “gifted” label.
In other words, we tend to rise (or fall) to fulfill the expectations set for us.
The expectations people have of us affect us in countless subtle ways each day. Although we rarely notice it (unless we are on the receiving end of overt racism, sexism, and other forms of bias), those expectations dictate the opportunities we are offered, how we are spoken to, and the praise and criticism we receive. Individually, these knocks and nudges have minimal impact. In the long run, they might dictate whether we succeed or fail or fall somewhere on the spectrum in between. (from “The Pygmalion Effect: Proving them Right,” fs.blog, accessed 4/6/2019)
The fallout from how our brains respond to labels and expectations are bad enough, but when the labels are incorrect (due to the reliability and validity problems with the assessment), the results can be even more harmful. The Rosenthal effect, of course, has a flip side (the Golem Effect),which demonstrates that lower expectations result in poorer performance.
The pervasiveness and deleterious effects of false labels, the tendency to continue to seek confirming information about those labels, and the likelihood of expectations becoming self-fulfilling means we would all be better off avoiding labels entirely or at least exercising extreme caution if labeling is somehow unavoidable.
I came across this statement from Dorothy Roberts in an article ("Not so Black and White: Dorothy Roberts on the Myth of Race," Interview in The Sun Magazine, April 2019) as I was writing this and it shook me. "Racism isn’t a product of race. Race is a product of racism." What Ms Roberts is saying is there is no biological basis for race, no genetic boundary line. It is an invented label. I'll let the reader decide if the benefits have outweighed the side effects for the labels Ms Roberts refers to.
Depth Psychology:Seeing what’s Right in Front of You.
The day you teach the child the name of the bird, the child will never see that bird again. ~Krishnamurti
An important notion in depth psychology (Jungian, ProcessOriented Psychology, etc.) is that there are multiple “characters” inside us. Among these multiple characters, one usually “has the conn,” in other words, is in control. Another name for this is our Primary Identity.
The other characters inside us might be considered “minority voices,” and many of these minority voices are less well known, less influential, or even completely disavowed. This might be the artist that is trying to come out in the accountant, who refuses to indulge that calling because s/he thinks s/he has to focus on making money and taking care of the family. Or the voice inside us that wants to speak out powerfully against oppression or abuse in the workplace but is “told” by the Primary Identity to keep quiet, go along, and not rock the boat.
Process Oriented Psychology, as developed by Arnold Mindell, would say our Primary Identities are not only not fixed, but they are trying to expand to include those other parts. It is worth noting that Enneagram proponents probably share this philosophy or orientation with process workers, as they are known.
But from that initial agreement, they would then take very different tacks. A process worker would never start with a label, an abstraction, a tendency that is said to be associated with every 3 who has ever been born.
A label does not tell us what something is; rather, it tells us what it is not. So if I told you thatI saw a cool tree on the way to work, you would know that I was not talking about a giraffe and I was not talking about a rainbow. But you would have no idea what kind of tree I saw. My label, my concept, is universal, but it lacks uniqueness, concreteness.
Every tree is unlike every other tree despite the similarities, just like every 3 is different from every other 3, despite some similarities. The label can then become a hindrance to really seeing the flesh and blood individual. You start experiencing the concept not the beating human heart right in front of you.
Why not start with trying to deeply see the uniqueness of this client’s primary identity and how it shows up in the nuanced and pressure-filled environments he/she is facing?
Why not try to hear the unique timbre and pitch of those minority voices, try to understand who they are, and try to understand what they want and where they would go if they were in charge?
And why not trust Life and follow the unique process unfolding in front of you to where it wants to go vs. trying to follow one of the nine Arthur Murray-like footprint patterns on the floor that suggest where this client should go?
Consider this touching story from the book, The Art ofPossibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, about a couple on the verge of separation that came to see her:
“The husband who had resisted coming to the session in the first place, had retreated to the farthest corner of the office, albeit only a few feet away. His wife was in a rage at him for his habit of withdrawing, just as he was doing then, and for leaving her alone too often. As the tension built, she pleaded with him and accused him and then she literally howled at him: “YOU DON’T LOVE ME!”
I heard my own voice shouting back at her “Who could love you when you act like this?” and realized that I had hurled myself between them... “But it’s not you speaking,” I blurted out. “It is something else: Revenge. Revenge is speaking in your voice. It’s a creature, sitting on your shoulder, and it’s going to get him no matter what, even if it has to destroy you in the process.” And the creature appeared right there on her shoulder, in front of our collective mind’s eye.
Suddenly and miraculously I wasn’t angry and I wasn’t trapped, and our sense of connection was completely restored. Moreover, a whole new set of phenomena appeared. I saw how much harder it was on the woman to have to manage this Thing than it was on the rest of us. I saw the vicious circle in which she would have to blame her husband for her outrageous behavior just to keep her sanity, while the Revenge Creature celebrated its victory. It was clear to me that It had come into being and split off from her at some early age and had not evolved since then by an inch or an ounce. And, I knew it was all a metaphor.
The man moved out of his corner and stood by his wife. Things came into view, one after another. “It’s not going to enjoy being discovered, “ I said. “Its scheming right now to find new hiding places so it can make use of you again to get him.” The woman turned to her husband: “What she is saying is true. I hate being this way!” And he grasped it completely by the tone in her voice. She plaintively asked me how she could get rid of the Thing.
I felt confident in telling her she would not be able to do away with it, as though I were an expert on RevengeCreatures; but in fact, once it was distinguished, I knew exactly how it would behave. I knew that if she resisted, it would gain in strength, and if she brought it to the light of day, it would lose its power. “Just keep calling it by name,” I told her,“assume it’s lurking somewhere.” Ask yourself, “What’s the Creature doing, now?”
Here was an apparition—part invention and part discovery—that removed the barriers between us and allowed for a flow of compassion, no matter how badly we had behaved…I saw that if we describe revenge, greed, pride, fear, and self-righteousness as the villains—and people as the hope—we will come together to create possibility.
This quote from Anthony de Mello is the best way to close this section because he articulates better than I ever could a path out of the woods:
[Love] means to see a person, a situation, a thing as it really is, not as you imagine it to be. You can hardly be said to love what you do not even see. And what prevents us from seeing? Our conditioning. Our concepts, our categories, our prejudices, our projections, the labels that we have drawn from our cultures and our past experiences. Seeing is the most arduous thing that a human can undertake, for it calls for a disciplined, alert mind. But most people would much rather lapse into mental laziness than take the trouble to see each person, each thing in its present moment of freshness.
~Anthony de Mello
The Effects ofCoaching on a Client’s Enneagram Score. Many coaches love giving their clients the Enneagram, but I have not seen a theory or model offered for the relationship between the effect of coaching, if any, on a client’s Enneagram type.
If what motivates me, my ways of looking at the world, my preferences and my behavior have all changed from working with a coach, all of which are related to personality, shouldn’t my scores change on the Enneagram?
If the answer is yes, would it be a good idea to give the Enneagram pre- and post-coaching? (The Enneagram Institute does indicate that personality "loosens its grip" for people who do a lot of work on themselves.)
If the answer is no---coaching has no effect on Enneagram score because core motivations never change---we are back to the discussion-ending, Virgin Birth premise.
The real answer is, of course, that it's an empirical question! The first step is to build a model: based on what we know/assume, what should happen? Then test it. That's the direction I would like to see Enneagram/typology enthusiasts go.
Conflicts with Contemplative Spirituality Views of Self. Many coaches are personally drawn to contemplative forms of spirituality. They even recommend contemplative practices to their clients.
The core belief in those traditions is that there is no such thing as a True Self, no “essence” of you. There are two selves: No Self and False Self. No Self…the pure, empty, light of Awareness…is what they say you really are. That No Self is being projected through the False Self: a bird’s nest of genetics, memories, and conditioning, haphazardly stitched together.
From the contemplative perspective, spending time trying to locate and define a True Self amongst all that clutter is a fool's errand. And the False Self is not the structure of personality, it is the structure of confinement, walling us off and causing us to feel separate from the world around us. The “Liberation” they speak of is liberation primarily from the bullshit ideas we have about ourselves, others, and the world of appearance.
For a client that wants "out," I see no value in helping him/her explore the prison cell they find themselves in. Nor am I interested in helping them decorate it by accessing their growth/stress or Relaxation/Resource points.
We’re all confined. Let’s not study the metallic composition of the bars. Let's leave that bird’s nest and take flight from the conditioning, genetic tendencies, and the identity to which we have become fused. Let’s leave the whole thing behind.
Motorcyclists look down the road not at the pothole or debris, because they know that you steer into what you focus on.
If you are a fan of typologies or the Enneagram, many of you are probably saying: “Blah. Blah. Blah. The OCEAN model. Peer-reviewed research. Construct definitions. Pygmalion effects. Minority Voices. False Self. What a bunch of gobbledygook. He is ignoring the most important thing of all: It works! People gain insight; their relationships improve; some even experience a profound sense of relief working with the Enneagram. What about that?”
No argument from me. I am delighted for the coaches and the clients who have experienced this. But let’s be clear, having an epiphany with a typing system does not validate the approach. It may not even be noteworthy.
Hippocrates developed the Four Temperaments theory around 400 BC. 400 BC! I am sure knowing that felt revelatory to some. And many people still feel their Zodiac sign completely explains who they are, why they do what they do, and whom they should partner with.
In fact, on 4/16/19, this headline appeared in the NY Times: “Venture Capital is Putting Its Money into Astrology.” If you needed proof that the evidenced-based validity of a typing system has absolutely no bearing on the value people feel they derive from it, quod erat demonstrandum.
Which is all to say, personality typing systems have been around forever and they aren’t going anywhere! People can't resist mirrors and, like Narcissus, are enamored by the reflection. Plus, there is an agenda-filling, parlor game element of these personality typologies that many coaches and trainers enjoy too much to ever give up.
People can't resist mirrors and, like Narcissus, are enamored by the reflection.
The title of this article was obviously a spin on The King is Dead. Long Live the King. That phrase meant there would never be an interregnum: the king/queen may have died, but a new king/queen has already ascended.
The Enneagram is the current king of personality typologies, at least in the coaching world, and it probably will be for a while. It will also almost certainly be succeeded as all things eventually are. Maybe the Myers-Briggs will ascend the throne again. Maybe it will be something completely new.
Based on the NYTimes article, for better or worse, the smart(?) money appears to be on astrology.
I knew as I was writing this post that it would be controversial and subject to blow back from the faithful. And I am not naïve enough to think that because of something I’ve written here people who use the Enneagram will suddenly say,“What was I thinking?” and stop using it. As I said in the introduction, getting people to stop using the Enneagram was never a goal of mine.
So why did I write this?
I would be thrilled with any of the following outcomes:
- Coaches stopped pretending that the Enneagram does not have side effects – which have self-fulfilling effects and prevent real seeing – and exercised more caution in how they used it
- Coaches who think personality assessment is an essential component of their coaching started reading more peer-reviewed research about what personality is, how to assess it and how to use it to make predictions
- If Enneagram loyalists fleshed out construct definitions, especially of their “core motivations” construct so that they could be tested with research and would no longer have to be taken on faith
- Enneagram users began to develop a working mental model about the interaction between their coaching, behavior changes in their clients, and the personality type they push their clients to identify at the beginning of their work together
- Coaches wondered about how the Enneagram fits with their own spiritual outlooks and the practices they are recommending to their clients and then worked to ensure alignment
If any of these were achieved or if even just more dialogue around these ideas took place, mission accomplished and worth any slings and arrows that might be aimed at me for attempting to challenge the zeitgeist.