Improving Relationships with Others through the Enneagram

This will be my final post about the Enneagram, rounding out a short three-part series. In my first post, I described how the Enneagram helped me understand myself better and fostered self-growth, after I figured out and accepted that I was a Type One. My second post shared how the Enneagram helped me appreciate my spouse more and navigate conflicts better in my marriage. 

This post will talk about how the Enneagram can improve your relationships with everyone else: coworkers, friends, family… anyone. 

After learning what another person’s Enneagram type is, I can begin to understand why they would think and act the way that they do (which is crucial if they think and act differently than me!) It’s easy to judge the actions of other people when they don’t line up with what we think we would do in a situation. We often assume the worst about others: they are simply being inconsiderate, they haven’t thought it through, they’re living in ignorance…

Instead of immediately judging others for doing things differently (I’m looking at you fellow Ones!) we can ask ourselves questions like:

What would motivate a person to do that or act like that?

Why is a particular issue so important to them?

What internal struggles could this person be facing at this moment that might be influencing their actions?

Motivation is a huge component of fully understanding the Enneagram. Two different types on the Enneagram could perform an identical action for very different reasons. This is why you aren’t supposed to identify another person’s type for them – only they will truly know their own motivation for doing or not doing something.

If you are having trouble deciding which type you are, (maybe you are stuck between two numbers), it is helpful to ask yourself why you do the things you do. For example, on every Enneagram test I have ever taken, I always score type One as my highest, with type Three as a close second. The descriptions of both types sound like me, because both types can appear to be highly organized, task-oriented, and concerned with self-improvement. However, Ones may act this way to attempt to obtain perfection and order in every aspect of their lives, while Threes may act this way because they are focusing on achieving success or advancing their career.

All that being said, it’s a good rule of thumb to just assume that you don’t know the reasons behind why another person acts a certain way – you’ll never be able to fully know because you’re not inside their head. If we did understand more, we’d give people a lot more grace and forgiveness. Most people are dealing with much more than we see on the outside, and I think most people are pretty adept at hiding their pain and fears from others.

Another step towards having more grace and compassion towards others is learning the core fears and desires of each Enneagram type. While they are broader generalizations, and obviously no two people are exactly alike, knowing these core motivations can help you as you interact with others.

Core Desires and Fears

TypeDesireFear
Oneto be good (or perfect)being corrupt/evil
Twoto be lovedbeing unworthy of love
Threeto be successful (valuable)being worthless or a failure
Fourto be authentichaving no identity or
significance
Fiveto be capable/competentbeing useless/incapable
Sixto be secure and safehaving no support
Sevento be satisfied and contentbeing deprived
Eightto protect themselvesbeing controlled/harmed
Nineto have harmony and inner
stability
loss or separation
from others

Let me give you a few examples of how understanding another person’s core fear or desire can help you better connect with them, while also fostering empathy and compassion:

*Instead of using names, I will just identify the person’s number in order to keep things anonymous – each number below represents a real person I’ve interacted with*

“Nine” – I used to get frustrated that Nine never voiced their opinion, and always took a long time to make a decision. Knowing that Nine’s core fear is being in conflict/losing relationships with others, this began to make sense. I needed to help Nine feel safe to express their true thoughts and opinions, and when they finally did, I needed to make sure those opinions were validated. If I asked Nine for their opinion and then told them I didn’t like their idea, I reinforced their desire to stay silent and avoid disagreements.

“Eight” – Eight and I often clashed when we had different opinions, and Eight never seemed shy to express their thoughts. Eight always gave off an illusion of being strong and in charge, but as I got to know Eight better, I realized this was a front to hide their more vulnerable emotions like fear or shame. Since Eight has a core fear of being vulnerable or weak, the way Eight showed that they cared about me was rarely in the form of direct words of appreciation – (too touchy-feely). They showed they cared by giving me advice or helping me solve a tough problem – they wanted me to avoid feelings of weakness and vulnerability too.

“Five” – When working with Five on projects, I learned that they required a lot more time for researching and thinking than I did. I’m a person of action, quick to decide and make judgements. Five also avoided asking for help even when they needed it, because they didn’t want to appear incompetent (their core fear). I realized that we worked together more efficiently on projects if we allowed extra time for thinking/planning and if I checked in on their progress periodically.

“Six” – Six is a very anxious person, and can find a reason to worry about almost anything. While I can relate to having anxiety, Six has anxiety issues on a different level. Instead of trying to explain to Six that their worries were irrational or unnecessary, our relationship got better once I simply started validating their emotions of fear. Six’s default mode was to make sure they were safe and secure, and sometimes this manifested itself by Six worrying about every little detail. Accepting Six’s core fears and desires allowed me to accept Six fully as a person and not always desire to change them.

“Three” – Three was a very ambitious person, not afraid to try new things or to fail. On the other hand as a One, I struggle with perfectionism, and failure is very difficult for me to accept. I could tell that Three didn’t understand why I was so hesitant to jump into new challenges and frequently doubted myself. Our relationship got better when I was able to clearly express my fear of failure, and when Three gave me permission to try (and fail at) something new.

This is just a handful of examples I could give to show how the Enneagram has helped me relate to others better. I love how the Enneagram allows us to see ourselves and others as we are: imperfect, but uniquely created with gifts and talents and perspectives of our own.

If there’s a person in your life that you are having a difficult time handling or understanding, see if thinking about their core fears/desires makes a difference. Take an opportunity to ask them about why they are acting the way they are, don’t judge, just be curious! It takes courage and humility to try it, but I encourage you to be brave!

Thanks for reading.

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