What is the Enneagram?

A brief overview by Aidan Higgins

Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day
Bertrand Russell.

Like the better known Myers Briggs Type Indicator (Myers Briggs 1980) the Enneagram is a personality profiling tool. While both the Belbin Model and the MBTI are used to understand the individual and particularly their role in the team, the Enneagram is more involved as it approaches understanding oneself and others through ones core motivation, ones values, thinking styles and ways of problem solving. The Enneagram maps out the individual differences via each of nine different personality orientations – derived from nine different focuses of attention developed during childhood.

The focus of attention is that which a child focuses on most to ensure it survival and development and that selection is in theory a combination of nature and nurture based on the impact of the environment of the child and the capabilities of the child given by its genetic make-up. This selection is deemed to happen at an early age. The 9 categories fall into 3 groups or “triads” Head, Heart and Gut also known as the Thinking type, The Feeling Type and the Instinctual Type.

Peter Senge (1990) observed that the mental model each of us possesses determines not only how we make sense of the world, but also how we take action.

The main schools of the Enneagram are Riso and Hudson and Helen Palmer/David Daniels all of whom are widely published and read as well as being very well respected in their fields.

Helen Palmer (1995) one of the foremost experts on the Enneagram who teaches it at Harvard Law School considers the Enneagram to be extraordinarily precise and to give the ability to look deeply within our own character and to clarify relationships with clients, co-workers, family and friends. A key factor is that insight quickly turns to compassion when you compare your own bias with people who are unlike you.

Riso and Hudson (1999) explain the personality type as the main filter that we use to understand ourselves and the world around us. We also use it to express ourselves, to defend ourselves, to deal with our past and anticipate our future, to learn with, to rejoice with, and to fall in love with. The Enneagram is a system that enables us to discern our filters more clearly and take them into account and it can show us our core psychological issues as well as our interpersonal strengths and weaknesses.

So the Enneagram describes nine distinct and fundamentally different patterns of thinking, feeling and acting. Daniels and Price (2000) tell us that each of the nine patterns is based on an explicit perceptual filter. This filter determines what you pay attention to and how you direct your energy. Underneath each of the nine patterns is a basic proposition or belief about what you need in life for survival and satisfaction.

Interesting stuff – and powerful. In my experience it takes some time to fully get to grips with the Enneagram, although you can start improving immediately. However like all things worthwhile it takes effort, and in my view the rewards are fully worth the trouble. So find your Mentor soon…..

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