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.


San Francisco Neighborhoods by Enneagram Type

IMG_20141215_173728Enneagram types are not only found in people. They also exist in the spirits of places and cultures. When we traveled to Portugal for the European Enneagram Conference last year, we found ourselves in a somber country of beautiful tiled buildings and fado performances: soulful, melancholy musical laments. We’d arrived in a type Four country. Returning to the much faster paced U.S., we picked up strains of Three (efficiency, racing to the top) and Seven (endless entertainment options). Workplace cultures can likewise embody types, as do cities and communities. Just for fun, we’ve put together an Enneagram tour of the neighborhoods in our home city, San Francisco. Whatever your type, it truly has something for everyone!

Type One – The Financial District. High-reaching architecture and manicured parks frame the orderly Financial District, where every day on the clock, smartly dressed people go to work. This part of the city is where business gets done, and it maintains firm boundaries by closing down on evenings and weekends. It features a selection of ethically sourced restaurants.

Type Two – Noe Valley. Nurturing and family-oriented, there are lots of events for kids, and during the daytime you’ll see numerous parents with young children walking down the street. This neighborhood is attractive and beautifully maintained, while minimizing pretension. Local business on 24th Street take care of residents with frequent discounts and free samples.

Type Three – Pacific Heights. Image is particularly important in this neighborhood full of beautifully restored Victorian homes. This area of the city boasts the highest-end stores and boutiques in the city, and residents are well-dressed and take pride in their accomplishments and appearance. The neighborhood looks and feels good and exudes self-confidence.

Type Four – The Mission. A traditionally Mexican neighborhood, these days it hosts an eclectic group, from its traditional residents to quirky artists to tech employees. This edgy neighborhood values individuality and attracts funky music venues and coffee shops. Murals flourish everywhere. It’s proud of the gritty edge it retains even as the area gentrifies.

Type Five – South of Market (SOMA). San Francisco’s tech sector, which attracts a lot of Fives, is centered in this neighborhood. Originality, innovation, ideas, and a practical way of life rule here. Cloistered among modern apartment buildings and convenient amenities, SOMA residents can remain in a bubble detached from SF’s other communities.

Type Six – Bernal Heights. Highly community oriented, this neighborhood wants input from all its voices. It has a community center, neighborhood watch, and frequent meetings all residents are invited to attend. Residents greet each other as they walk by. Bernal Heights takes care of its own, highly valuing long-term, committed residents.

Type Seven – The Castro. San Francisco’s traditionally gay neighborhood is inclusive and fun for all. Endless bars, clubs, entertainment, and other nightlife stay open late, and it hosts several festivities and street fairs throughout the year. There are fun, quirky shopping options, and residents aren’t afraid to get wild. The atmosphere here is celebratory and exciting.

Type Eight – The Fillmore. Tough and sturdy, San Francisco’s gentrifying historically Black neighborhood requires some street smarts but is protective of both its residents and visitors. Edgy music venues and an annual jazz festival create a loud, festive atmosphere where people come from all over to live large for a little while.

Type Nine – The Outer Sunset. On the outskirts of San Francisco, this neighborhood is slow-paced and laid-back. Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park allow for peaceful communing with nature. A longer ride on public transportation from downtown than some suburbs, it can feel like a beautiful enclave tucked away from the rest of the city.

It can be useful to know the culture and values of the places and communities you move in day to day. Which types’ values are most represented in your country, community, and workplace?