Ethics & the Enneagram
Ethics & the Enneagram: What you need to know
Ethics is a crucial part of learning and implementing the Enneagram, especially when first starting to use the tool. At Sway, we use the Enneagram in various environments—corporate and beyond—because of the way it cuts through the noise and helps people dive into the meat of what they experience at work. It’s also, honestly, just the most accurate personality assessment we’ve come across.
That being said, just like any other tool—no matter how specific or well-intentioned—the Enneagram is often misused. So misused, in fact, that we devote an entire section of our teachings and team coaching to talking about ethics and usage. We do this every time. We believe it’s our job to set up an individual or team for success as best we can when introducing them to the framework. So in that spirit, below we’ve listed out our series of simple “do’s” and “don’ts.”
Don’t use the Enneagram…
…to type others
When excited about a new tool it’s easy to pigeonhole people into being only a certain way. From the outside, it might seem easy to tell your coworker’s Enneagram type and, because knowledge is power, you might be in the mood to just tell them one day which ennea-type you think they are. This desire to type others is natural for a variety of reasons:
it shows the tool has been helpful to you
it expresses a desire to understand them more—albeit in a limited way
However, a word of caution.
Typing others can make them feel pigeonholed. Not to mention the Enneagram, by being about motivators and fears, is a fairly intimate personality assessment, and the other person might not want to share that level of personal information with you. Not to mention, one of the reasons this tool is so powerful is that it gets beneath external behaviors and into motivations, meaning it’s much harder to type people than you think. Respect people’s boundaries and don’t type them.
...as a badge
Don’t use this tool to make excuses for your knee-jerk or potentially unhelpful behaviors. Understanding and compassion is the goal of doing work with the Enneagram. Teams that understand each other and are able to make space for each others’ differences end up being more collaborative and more productive in the end. However, this only occurs when others believe that person is earnestly pursuing health. Also, real development often means not looking like your type.
…as a weapon
“No wonder you can’t sit still...classic 7!”
“Stop being such a 9 and just make a decision.”
We actually hear things like this on occasion. Not only are these phrases boxing individuals into their Enneagram type, they’re also disparaging and weaponizing the tool (however lightly) in the process.
In our worst experiences with companies, we’ve seen the Enneagram used as a way to discriminate. Often these executives don’t know much about the Enneagram, but they may know enough to say “We never hire that Enneagram type” or “This Enneagram type can never be a good manager.”
Never say these things, and if you come across someone else (or yourself) thinking or saying these things please tell that person to stop. It’s quite damaging. You can remind them of this from the Enneagram Institute:
“No type is inherently better or worse than any other. While all the personality types have unique assets and liabilities, some types are often considered to be more desirable than others in any given culture or group… If some types are more esteemed in Western society than others, it is because of the qualities that society rewards, not because of any superior value of those types.”
Which leads to our last don’t.
...in relationships that aren’t safe
We never force people to share more than they want about their Enneagram type, and we suggest not sharing unless you feel safe enough to be vulnerable. Stay away from using this tool in casual cocktail or meeting talk, unless there is trust already built.
Now for the do’s:
Do use the Enneagram...
…for individual reflection
The Enneagram is a great personal development tool! By creating a map to the dynamics between core desires and fears, the Enneagram helps us identify personal blind spots and cyclical patterns that individuals, more often than not, do not see. When used in a team environment, we find individual reflection helps resolve underlying conflicts by allowing each executive or employee to discover on which areas they tend to over-focus and which areas they tend to miss. We’ve literally seen this transform hostile work situations into unbelievable comradery in 2-3 months.
However, there’s a catch: this always starts with the individual.
The individual must do their own reflection and notice the transformation they have to do for themselves before they’ll ever be able to humbly engage with others. If you’re already on this path, we applaud you! Just remember, self-awareness takes time and is a journey.
...in safe relationships
We’ve already touched on this, but just a reminder to never feel coerced into sharing more than you wish about your Enneagram type.
...with purposeful language
OK, so this one’s big. Opt for language that holds an expansive view of personality rather than a reductive one. Say things like “I identify with Type 5,” or “I am dominant in Type 8” versus “I am a Type 5” or “I am a Type 8.” Language shapes reality, so the more you can get in the habit of not talking like someone is merely their Enneagram type, the better off you’ll be.
...with questions instead of answers
It’s always best to assume you know less about someone than they know about themselves. Ask open-ended questions. For example, “How familiar are you with Enneagram?” “It sounds like you might be [Enneagram-related action here, e.g.]... Is that accurate?” These changes in language go a long way.
...as one lens among many
It’s a powerful lens, yes, but it is one of the many. We frequently pair the Enneagram with other leadership or coaching methodologies because, even though it’s our most powerful tool, it won’t necessarily tell you what you’re supposed to build—you have to decide that.