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Resolving Conflict with the Enneagram

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Think back to the last time you got into a conflict. Did you see the situation one way while the other person had a completely different way of looking at things? Maybe you wanted to work things out logically but the other person kept telling you to look on the bright side, or asking how you felt about the issue. Maybe it was the other way around.

No matter how much we work on ourselves, sometimes unavoidable challenges, breakdowns in communication, and misunderstandings lead to conflict with others. Conflict isn’t always bad; it empowers parties to increase their understanding of each other and move forward in a way that benefits everyone. In order to keep conflict positive and solution-focused, it’s helpful to learn how others react under stress.

Borrowing from ideas in psychology, Don Riso and Russ Hudson identified three Harmonic Groups, clusters of personality types that react in distinctive ways when facing conflict. Here’s a brief introduction to the Harmonic Groups, with ideas for resolving differences with people of every style.

The Positive Outlook Triad (Enneagram types 2, 7, and 9) wants to look on the rosy side of things. When in conflict, their first instinct is to avoid sweating the small stuff and look at the best possible outcome. At the high side of this style, positive outlook types frame challenges into a broader context and assist others in seeing when conflicts do – and don’t – need to be addressed. The challenge is that sometimes people who use this dominant style avoid actively addressing conflicts when necessary, causing them to grow bigger. Positive Outlook types benefit from having teammates frame conflicts in a positive way, including showing how immediately addressing the problem will help in the big picture.

The Competency Triad (Enneagram types 1, 3, and 5) wants to solve problems using their objectivity. When in conflict, their first instinct is to use logic and analysis to discuss and solve the presenting challenge. At its best, this style keeps the focus of the team on the problem and quickly identifies and implements a great solution to the conflict. The challenge is that sometimes people who use this dominant style get bogged down in details, causing overly long discussions and solutions that miss the big picture. Competency types benefit from having teammates bring in the broader picture and emotional weight any decision carries, by describing it in a solution-oriented manner.

The Emotional Realness Triad (Enneagram types 4, 6, and 8) wants to address the underlying emotional dynamics of problems. Their first instinct in a conflict situation is to express their feelings – both positive and negative – and to learn the feelings of others involved. When used well, all the parties quickly learn where the other stands and proceed to a resolution that takes into account everyone’s desires. The challenge is that sometimes people who use this dominant style can get caught in a never-ending loop of expressing emotions, without coming to a solution. Emotional Realness types benefit from having teammates disclose their honest feelings (in a manner appropriate to the situation), while also steering the conversation to finding a resolution.

Each Harmonic Group, at its highest level of expression, brings gifts to conflict resolution. The highest mode of conflict resolution involves using all three styles: drawing on the strengths of your own style while integrating the gifts of the other two. As we learn to use conflict resolution strategies that don’t come as naturally to us, we bring smoother sailing to life’s challenges. How will you bring all three styles into your office and home this week?