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The Enneagram and Life Coaching

How you can use the Enneagram to become a better coach

The Enneagram is a framework for understanding personality types. It was designed to be used as a tool for spiritual students. Once you understood how your ego was habitually structured you could begin to deconstruct it. The nine types of the Enneagram are nine habitual patterns, one of which most people use as their main coping strategy.

Psychotherapy glommed on to the Enneagram as a diagnostic tool. It was used to inform therapists as to present and potential patterns of behavior they might expect to emerge in their clients during the course of their therapy. Then business consultants and self-help gurus adapted it to work settings, sales situations, relationship counseling, and career counseling. All these specialties use it as a diagnostic tool.

As co-active coaches we don't diagnose. We are not experts on our clients. We don't make prognoses or analyze the character of the men and women we work with. Therefore two legitimate questions come up, "What is the use, if any, of this system?" and "How can it be used coactively?"

If we start presenting ourselves as "Enneagram Coaches" we have fallen into the trap of marketing ourselves as professional consultants or experts. This spiritual system was always created to be a self-diagnostic tool, not an instrument for evaluating or manipulating others. And here is it's greatest use for us as coaches. Don't use it with your clients. Use the Enneagram on yourself. Find out what patterns and habits keep you from becoming an even better coach. Find out how you get stuck with clients because of these semiconscious behaviors and worldviews that interfere with your capacity to be fully present with your client.

To find out your type you can buy a book about it. I recommend The Enneagram Made Easy by Renee Barron. And/or you can log on to http://www.9types.com take the new test by Tal. It seems very accurate.

Enneagram Point One: Seeking Perfection

We will be looking at each point as a survival strategy. From our birth until adulthood, a deep part of us was always scanning his or her environment. We needed food, shelter, and clothing, but much more than that we needed love, acceptance, admiration, and affection. There is a hidden strategist operating all the time. He or she or it creates beliefs about who you are, assessments of your gifts strengths and deficits, and strategies for getting the goodies.

Core Strategy: The core of the strategy for Point One is the need to understand, follow, and if necessary enforce rules of behavior. Ones discovered that, if they could figure out the rules, they could get respect, and avoid punishment or abandonment. Sometimes they took over parenting in a family, because the parents could or would not do their job. Sometimes they had to raise themselves. Sometimes they were modeling an authoritarian parent. It is a lonely job.

Gift: The gift of the One is a finely tuned capacity to make distinctions. They are sharpened swords, separating the good from the bad, the right from the wrong, and the deserving from the unworthy.

Trap: The trap of Ones is the incessant judgmental conversations going on in their head. They ceaselessly look for evidence of why someone is better or worse than themselves. When they find someone worse, they can rest for a brief moment in their superiority. When they find someone better than their attempts at perfection, they attack themselves mercilessly. Ones are consumed by their gremlins, and have a very difficult time discovering territory within them that hasn't been gremlin polluted.

The Pull for Coaches: We all fall into the One strategy at times. We need to be right and someone else needs to be wrong. Whenever, as coaches, we think that our client is in denial, resisting the coaching, helplessly stuck, or an irresponsible flake, we are being a One. We are afraid to surrender to the vulnerable truth that our clients are out of our control. So we judge them.

Antidote: The antidote to Oneness is the deep realization that everyone is naturally and inherently creative, resourceful and whole. That means everything they do is a creative, resourceful and whole response to their environment. Even the things you don't like.

Clients do not have problems. They have responses to their situation. They may discover more skillful responses over time, but any response has its wisdom and ingenuity.

Enneagram Point Two: Loving to be loved

Core Strategy: For any child, getting love is more important than getting food. Each Enneagram point develops a strategy to get this most essential ingredient for life. The survival strategy of the Point Two in childhood was to be adorable, affectionate, cute, cuddly, vulnerable, dependant, maybe a little sickly, or a little fragile in order to get love and attention. They were raised in families in which one of the parents needed a sweet loving thing to share affection with. That child should not be a problem, or if she or he was, it should be a problem that keeps the child passive.

Gift: As an adult this strategy exhibits the gifts of attraction, emotional connection, charisma, heart-felt caring, and warmth. People like being around healthy Twos.

Trap: The down side is that Twos give to get, and they can ruthlessly cut connections when they decide you are not going to give them what they need.

The Pull for Coaches: We all fall into the Two strategy as coaches when we need to be liked by our clients. We create nice, warm, cozy environments for our clients where they can feel loved and no one has to step out into the cold wind of accountability, calling forth, and terrifying powerful questions that rock their world. We fear our client's rejection when we are in Two, so we pull our punches.

Antidote: The antidote is to ask questions that frighten you to ask: the forbidden, the unacceptable, the outrageous, and the taboo. Go there, and let go of the fear that your client will fire you. If they do fire you, it will probably be the very best thing for both of you. Be fearless, choose love.

Enneagram Point Three: Doing to survive

Core Strategy: The core belief of the Point Three child was that their survival depended on their capacity to perform. Survival for most people at that age means receiving love, attention, food and shelter, in that order. Three's perceived that love came when they accomplished something arduous. Some Threes came from workaholic parents, and the child was just modeling their Mom and Dad. Other Threes came from strict households where love was earned by performance. Still other Threes were raised in chaotic households. They eagerly filled the gaps that were being left by absent or incompetent parents. The common denominator is that hard work becomes the default solution to any of life's problems.

Gift: The gifts of the Three are particularly rewarded in the United States, a Three culture. They include industry, a hard focus on the goal, a willingness to put aside personal necessities to accomplish the group's purpose, and a positive outlook on life.

Trap: The down side is Three's occasional willingness to sacrifice honesty, relationship, or self care for the sake of their work.

The Pull for Coaches: We all fall into the Three strategy as coaches when we work so hard to bring balance to other peoples life, while neglecting our own needs. We mistake the professional intimacy of coaching for real intimacy. Real intimacy means having to deal with grumpy friends, unappreciative lovers, and unpredictable family members. It's more fun to go coach than it is to be in the mess of a rich human life.

Antidote: The antidote to Threeness is to let work be work, and learn to live an even richer life outside of work.

Enneagram Point Four: Longing for completion

Core Strategy: Mystic writers talk about how the soul is on a long homeward journey. What keeps the seeker on the path is the knowledge that there is much more to reality than what is commonly accepted. The pilgrim longs to be near the beloved, that divine energy or being who will fill in the painful holes of our incomplete and egoistic personality. Fours know this pain quite well. Loss has colored their lives with darkened hues. They orient their lives around honoring that loss: seeking to express it, to heal it, to be true to it. Their role in the family was to be the one who could feel and express the grief that the rest of the family denied.

Gift: The gift of Fours is a depth of their emotional intelligence. They perceive shades of feeling unnoticed by others, who habitually adopt more outer-oriented points of view. They find ways of expressing feeling, through poetry, through graphic and performing arts, and in their very presence, which is quiet, receptive, and invites intimacy.

Trap: The down side is chronic depression, narcissistic melancholy, and over-indulged grief.

The Pull for Coaches: We all fall into the Four strategy when emotions appear to overwhelm us, and we lose touch with the needs of the situation. Some of us are so out of touch with our feelings that, when one finally shows up, we feel that we have the right to inflict it upon the rest of the world with very little self-reflection or self-management.

Antidote: The antidote to Four is out there in the raucous world that Fours have often turned their back on. Let yourself get knocked around a little bit; adore even though you know the relationship must end in death or separation; bring a puppy home from the pound. Love anyway.

Enneagram Point Five: Retreating into the Mind

Core Strategy: The Five believes that all of life's problems can be solved through the rigorous application of their mind. Their mind is their greatest asset, and the place they could retreat to when their external life became too chaotic, or too threatening. Either they created this retreat center to separate themselves from their dysfunctional environment, or they were raised in an environment where intellectual pursuits, contemplation, and emotional repression were prized. They survived by being contained, invisible, or at least never a burden.

Gift: The mind of a Five is an amazing tool. Their inner world is rich, complex and eccentric, often quite the opposite of their bland appearance. When they focus on a topic to study, their powers of understanding, creative thinking, and comprehension of a myriad of interrelated factors is amazing.

Trap: They often have stunted emotional intelligence, and are at a loss to maneuver the illogical chambers of the heart.

The Pull for Coaches: We ask questions. And unfortunately most of our questions send our clients up into their heads. They wander around in their thoughts, trying to discover the answer they think we want. The mind can bar access to the deepest wisdom of the soul of our clients. Yet too often we as coaches are content with our client's more superficial mental response.

Antidote: Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom cannot come only from the mind; it comes when mind, heart, gut and soul are in alignment. The Five, and all of us, must leave the familiar territory of thought and dive into unknown realms.

Enneagram Point Six: Scanning for Danger

Core Strategy: The Six is on continuous lookout for threat. This hyper-alert state served them well in a childhood that was dangerous, unpredictable or chaotic. They prize loyalty because they want people on their team who will show up when it all falls apart. Which may be at any minute.

Gift: Sixes are loyal, honest and great friends. They stand by their word. They are attentive to details looking for any subtle sign as an early warning signal that trouble is coming. They relax in war zones. Finally the world is confirming their beliefs.

Trap: They get more suspicious the better things get. Good times threaten their state of alertness. Never Relax.

The Pull for Coaches: The six strategy is to find and solve the problem before it gets you. That orientation towards any problem is a hard habit to break, for any coach. We need to grow beyond seeing ourselves as problem detectors, and truly become compassionately neutral about the struggles of our clients.

Antidote: Trust only comes when we relax, and let the universe handle the problems. As long as we contract in fear, or try to fix things, the natural unfolding cannot occur. "Not my will but thine" is the path towards unwinding the tight fearfulness of the Six.

Enneagram Point Seven: Keep all options open

Core Strategy: The Seven learned early that life disappoints. From these early rejections or losses, Seven determined to diversify. Love many things a little and the loss of any one of them will not devastate you. This capacity to bounce from project to project, or relationship to relationship is accompanied by a natural optimism and cheerfulness. That positive attitude was rewarded by other members of the Seven's family of origin.

Gift: Sevens are the essential entrepreneurs. Usually intelligent they are great starters, inspiring to others, and very energetic. They have more new, fresh ideas in a day than people from other points have in a year.

Trap: Sevens are poor at follow-through. They abhor the petty details of day-to-day operations (or relationships) and are ready to jump to the next exciting project.

The Pull for Coaches: We are all attracted to the bright, shiny new ideas, plans, goals, and visions of our clients. It is important to hold our client's feet to the fire. We need to make sure dreams get grounded in structures, and not let our clients just spin off to the next dream.

Antidote: Commitment, with all its attendant trails, burdens, and struggles is the ultimate path of wisdom for the Seven. For them to stay with one project or one relationship, no matter how seductively the next one pulls them, allows them to grow into maturity. Without commitment they stay adolescent all their lives.

Enneagram Point Eight: Guarding the Kingdom

Core Strategy: Eights believe that survival is dependant upon a strong will and control of the exterior and interior environments. They are physically powerfully present, and energetically dominant. They learned early on that they could only count on themselves when push came to shove. To survive and to protect the ones they love, they needed to be King of the Mountain. Often it was an abusive parent or a dangerous environment which breed this strategy.

Gift: If an Eight lets you in to the inner circle you could not have a better protector. They will do whatever is necessary, legal or not, to defend you. It's not easy getting in to that inner circle, but the allegiance is lifelong. Eights survive through making a powerful impact on the world, so they are powerful leaders: spiritual leaders, political leaders, criminal leaders.

Trap: They are terrified of vulnerability. Especially their own. They tend to aggressively react to avoid it.

The Pull for Coaches: We want the best for our clients. And sometimes that becomes a belief that we know what is best for our clients. When they don't do what we want them to we call it resistance and can get testy. When they get vulnerable we can feel like it is wimpyness and want to slap them back into shape.

Antidote: We have to surrender to our own vulnerability: we can't change anyone else. We have to give the choices back to our client and struggle to see how their actions are not resistance, but are precisely what they need to be doing right now.

Enneagram Point Nine: Making Peace

Core Strategy: Nines want everybody to be happy. Conflict makes them uncomfortable, and they seek to alter themselves or the situation to minimize that discomfort. They are the archetype of the codependent, and have a great capacity for compassion and unconditional caring. They tend to be a little fat and out of shape. People tend to like being around them, because it is relaxing. They served a soothing role in their family, often becoming the confidant of one of the parents or a more disturbed sibling.

Gift: This point is the most non-judgmental one of the Enneagram. They make you feel heard, appreciated and valued. Through not needing to take a strong stand themselves, often they can help a group reach a decision that everyone can live with.

Trap: They haven't a clue what their wants and needs are or how to put those out. It's peace at any price, and often they end up paying the price.

The Pull for Coaches: We want to love our clients. Sometimes that can create an unhealthy dependence in them, with us being the only person in the world who truly understands them. That takes their power away from them.

Antidote: Borrow strength from the Eight and discrimination from the One and be willing to make your client damn uncomfortable. Your job isn't to understand your client. And sometimes it is to give him or her an uncomfortable push towards what they really said they wanted. Nice doesn't cut it.

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