Fifteen or so years ago, I sat through a dinner party where the discussion at the table went something like this...
"Well, as a three, I felt like I really needed to finish the 10k in less than an hour," said the perky blond. The whole table cracked up, but I missed the joke.
"I'm a two, so my time was longer this race, since I of course had to stop and help the guy next to me -- who was lost," said the guy to my left. This also brought chortles from the group, but left me confused.
"My cousin Jim's an 8, so he spent all his time complaining about how badly marked the route was, and how much better a job he could have done," said the hostess as heads nodded in complete understanding. Ok, who the hell were these people and what kind of cult did they belong to?
A few martini's and many hours later, I came to discover that the mysterious numbers they were throwing around with abandon represented the Enneagram -- an ancient spiritual and psychological system that reveals nine different aspects of human consciousness and personality.
Since then, I've spent some time studying the Enneagram and found it a useful tool for personal growth, conflict resolution and even character development in acting.
The model itself is both simple and deeply complex (just like people) and has layers that make the Enneagram system worthy of decades of study. However, for a quick look at the system, I had a chat with Diana Redmond -- a practicing Enneagram teacher and coach for the past ten years.
Q. How can people use the Enneagram to better their lives?
A. By understanding your primary Enneagram type, natural gifts are fully appreciated and self-made limitations understood. People report that they are more able to find deeper satisfaction in their work, and in their relationships, when they more fully comprehend the natural way they and others think, process and respond, based on their type.
Q. Can you give a quick two-sentence description of each of the nine types?
Type One-Reformer. Their focus is to make the world 'right' in their eyes. They are conscientious, principled and can be very purpose-driven.
Type Two-Helper. Their focus is to take care of others needs in an effort to feel loved and accepted. They are generous, empathetic and can be very humble.
Type Three-Achiever. To be perceived as successful in the eyes of others is their goal. They are assertive, like to be the best, and have a focus on winning.
Type Four-Individualist. Artistic, with an eye for beauty, this type is highly attuned to their own emotions and that of others. They are the consummate romantic and can retreat into their inner fantasy world.
Type Five-Investigator. With a passion for knowledge/ideas, and an ability to focus along with a keen intellect this type is a visionary, able to articulate whole new paradigms. They have also earned a reputation as the 'absent-minded' professor.
Type Six-Loyalist. Full of courage and ability to stay the course, this type is trustworthy and self-reliant. When not filled with doubt they are very decisive and committed.
Type Seven-The Enthusiast. Joyful, playful and spontaneous this type has an ability to savor the richness of the world. If not distracted or scattered, they have huge potential for accomplishment.
Type Eight-The Challenger. Intensity! They are self-determining, big-hearted and powerful. At times their need for control can be overwhelming.
Type Nine-The Peacemaker. Peace and harmony is the driver for a Nine. At their best they are patient, unpretentious and have the ability to recognize the highest potential in others.
Q. How does knowing what Enneagram style you are help create a more balanced life?
A. The Enneagram helps people learn to see their particular motivations and habits, which is the first step in learning balance. For example, if you're basic desire is to feel needed by others, you might say 'yes' to additional work, far more than is healthy. In this case, learning to say 'no' would create more balance and satisfaction.
Q. What are two or three books you recommend on the Enneagram?
A. Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Riso and Russ Hudson, and Enneagram of Liberation by Eli Jaxon-Bear. Also, If you go to www.internationalenneagram.org you will find a host of tapes that you can listen to on sessions with some leading experts that can help guide you in this most intriguing exploration of your own type and the overall system itself.
Q. Where can someone go to take a quiz and see what type they are?
A. The best self-assessment that will guide you toward understanding your own type is on The Enneagram Institute site.
Karen Leland is author of the recently released books Watercooler Wisdom: How Smart People Prosper In the Face of Conflict, Pressure and Change and Time Management In An Instant:60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day. She is the co-creator of a new line of Productivity Pads from Time Tamer™ and the co-founder of Sterling Consulting Group. For questions, comments or to book Karen to speak at your next event, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.