Enneagram: Berghoef & Bell Innovations

Leadership. Communication. Teamwork.

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The Cross-Cultural Enneagram

From what we’ve seen, Enneagram types exist across culture – that is, cultures throughout the world will have people who display qualities from all the Enneagram types and Instincts. Nonetheless, each country and culture has a dominant cultural overlay, which has a personality type of its own. People absorb the values taught by their culture, which impact how they display their own dominant type. In Melanie’s Canadian culture, for example, people are encouraged to be polite and collaborative – values of type Nine and the Social Instinct. In Kacie’s American culture, citizens learn the values of independence, ambition, and hard work, the “American Dream” rooted in Type Three and the Self-Preservation Instinct.

Despite knowing that we came from different countries, we were still surprised when cultural differences unrelated to our types came up when we started working together. For example, Melanie would say “Sorry” as an instinctive reaction when things didn’t go as planned. After several months, Kacie asked Melanie why. She explained that Canadians say sorry in a multitude of situations as a form of politeness, a cultural subtlety very different from the more assertive American culture.

As we prepare to travel to Canada for the Canadian Enneagram Conference this month, cultural differences are heavily on our minds. We’re busy thinking up ways to adapt our presentation to a less assertive, more community-oriented culture than the American audiences we usually work with. At times Melanie, the Canadian on our team, has found herself acting as “cultural translator” and explaining Canadian communication norms.

When you connect with people from different cultures, whether in work, travel for pleasure, or in your daily life, you can use the Enneagram not only to understand their individual differences but to gain a better sense of the culture you’re interacting with. Listen to what people around you talk about. Notice the values and beliefs they take for granted. Each Enneagram type operates from a set of assumptions projected onto the world at large. Just like we expect others to share our personality-based motivations and way of seeing things, we also expect others to share the cultural viewpoint that we’re accustomed to. These things are so ingrained that we often don’t realize there are other worldviews out there that differ drastically from our own.

When you look at cultural and personal Enneagram types side by side, you’ll find that they don’t always match closely. A Type Eight, for instance, might find their strength and assertiveness valued in one culture, while they might have a harder time in a culture that values quiet and conformity. In what way is your dominant Enneagram type and Instinct similar or different to what your country’s culture values? Understanding how your type and culture work together adds nuance to an action plan to improve your communication with other people, and supports companies in doing international business productively and successfully.

Using the Enneagram also makes it easier to identify human similarities across cultures. Our colleagues in the Enneagram field have taught it to groups of Israelis and Palestinians who worked together, as well as South African teams different races and backgrounds, and found it to build cross-cultural bridges between people of the same Enneagram type. Often, two Sixes or two Ones who start a workshop thinking they have nothing in common discover that they share a set of values and behaviors that goes beyond their culture. Even “us vs. them” dynamics sometimes transform into “Me too!”s, and a new understanding is born.

The Enneagram is a useful tool for improving our communication, relationships, and self-awareness. Developing cultural competence through an Enneagram lens help us grow and develop these skills in an even more powerful way.


Crafting Successful Communication

ducks try againThe Enneagram has many applications, and communication is one of its more universal ones. Communication is all around us. We chat and plan with our colleagues, engage with our loved ones, catch up with our friends. We e-mail, text, and talk on the phone. We receive messages from our environment every day, from advertisements to street signs. Given how steeped we are in communication as a species, why is it still so difficult to communicate successfully?

The answer is that communication is complex. It involves a sender, whose message is shaped by their own experience and style, and a recipient, who brings interpretive filters that may or may not match the sender’s. Sometimes there are multiple senders, recipients, or messages. Communication norms vary from culture to culture–Richard D. Lewis’s summaries of business communication in different countries offer useful insight into these variations. Just as importantly, communication style is deeply influenced by personality.

The Enneagram describes three communication styles present in most groups. All bring distinctive strengths and challenges. By understanding your own communication style and the styles of people around you, you can engage more effectively on others’ terms and minimize misunderstanding.

Soloists (types Four, Five, and Nine) have a rich internal dialogue. They work best on their own and respond to stress by moving away from engagement into their inner sanctum. Soloists are quieter and may take longer to speak and engage than the other communication styles, but they think through their ideas carefully and bring long-term, strategic thinking to the table, along with innovative ideas. Soloists benefit from being offered time to think before responding, and being asked questions that draw out their ideas.

Initiators (types Three, Seven, and Eight) are action-oriented and driven by challenge. Interested in being in the center of things, they are quick to speak up and engage. Under stress, they default to taking up space and pushing for action. They tend to be direct and energetic in their communication, and may present ideas as a way of brainstorming–“thinking aloud.” They benefit from debate and forthrightness.

Cooperators (types One, Two, and Six) want to work for a common purpose. Natural collaborators, they are more willing than the other styles to play a supportive role and draw out others’ participation, rather than coming up with ideas or starting things. When stressed, their superego becomes vocal both internally and externally, demanding adherence to a personal set of principles and responsibilities. Cooperators benefit from acknowledgment and appreciation.

Communication styles are an especially practical part of our teaching that can easily be applied to interpersonal situations. For those who have difficulty reading others, learning communication styles offers a way to understand different people’s mindsets and tailor communication accordingly. We’ve seen Enneagram knowledge help people on the autism spectrum learn how to interact better with others–one success story here–and we’re honored to be presenting on communication styles to the autism spectrum community at the AASCEND conference. We’re also excited to offer a communication styles workshop through General Assembly San Francisco, where we’ll bring the styles to life through a business simulation.

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How the Enneagram Can Empower You

The Enneagram is an amazing tool for understanding ourselves and our common humanity. Don Riso and Russ Hudson write: “One of the great strengths of the Enneagram is that it steps aside from all doctrinal differences…. With the help of the Enneagram, we will discover that Sixes are like all other Sixes–and that they share the same values as others of their type. Ones who are black are much more like Ones who are white than they could have imagined, and so forth. A new level of community and compassion emerges that obliterates old ignorance and fear.” (Wisdom of the Enneagram, p. 10)

P1010765The Enneagram is accessible and empowering to anyone who wants to use it–no matter their age, race, gender, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, or life circumstances. It maps out our internal dynamics with incredible precision, pointing to the strengths we possess in spades as well as ways we can grow. Let’s look at the profound forms of power each type embodies–sources of inner strength we can all tap into.

Type One represents the power of conviction. When we see a wrong in the world, it’s the part of us with the strength to take a stand and work for positive change.

Type Two represents the power of altruism. This part of us hones in on what others and ourselves need and offers it generously.

Type Three represents the power of excellence. It’s the part of us that works to cultivate our gifts and live a life of great value and integrity.

Type Four represents the power of self-renewal. It’s the part of us that listens to and expresses our own voice, honoring our personal truth.

Type Five represents the power of clarity. It’s the part of us driven to discover new truths, that refuses to back down in the face of uncertainty.

Type Six represents the power of support. It’s the part of us that stands with others as an equal, committed to seeing things through.

Type Seven represents the power of hope. When things get difficult, this facet of us can find the joy and wonder that still exist in the world.

Type Eight represents the power of strength. It’s the part of us that won’t back down, initiating action and championing justice.

Type Nine represents the power of harmony. It’s the part of us that sees an underlying unity and brings peace to the world around us.

We’re looking forward to sharing more on self-empowerment using the Enneagram with two wonderful groups of women at the San Carlos Wise Women’s Retreat and the WOW Talks Walnut Creek. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these 9 types of power as well. Which of them come most easily to you? Which could you use more of in your life?