The Enneagram: 9 Types

April 17, 2014 | Dialogue, Employee Engagement, Organizational Culture

Myers Briggs. DISC. Strength Finder. Emotional Intelligence.

There are dozens of tests and systems to help you better understand yourself and those you work with, and an army of consultants waiting to help you pick one to use.

I recently spent a week in Atlanta, Georgia, learning about the Enneagram, a system that has been around for many years but has not reached the level of popularity in the workplace that Myers Briggs or DISC have.


The first thing to point out is that THIS IS NOT A CULT. Don’t be confused by the symbol- it’s been around for a couple millennia, and the interior lines are used to demonstrate relationships between different personality types.

The word Enneagram derives from the Greek for model (“gram”) of “nine” (ennea). In other words it is a personality typology that has nine types. It has roots in early Catholic monasticism, Jewish Kabbalah, and Islamic Sufi mysticism. Starting in the 1960s, several folks began publishing and teaching about it and bringing the insights of modern psychology to it.

So why the Enneagram, instead of the more popular personality typologies? I have two main reasons:

1. Accuracy. The Enneagram types you based on why you do what you do instead of your external behaviors. So while it may be interesting to learn whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, understanding what motivates you in your relationships with others offers deeper and more accurate insights into yours and others’ personality structures.

2. Personal Growth. The Enneagram does not offer a neutral assessment of your personality- the “all personalities are good” nonsense that any human being can debunk by watching the evening news. While none of the nine personality types are inherently better than any other, we can all be healthy or unhealthy within our personalities. We can get “set in our ways,” be incapable of resolving conflicts with others, or repeat problematic behaviors that are ineffective at helping us reach our own life goals. The Enneagram is not shy about pointing out the ways each of our personalities can become problematic and unhealthy, and the work each of us needs to do to be our best versions of ourselves.

Of all the personality systems I’ve used, the Enneagram is the most useful – having given me more insight into my own behavior, helped me understand others, and given me a reliable path for self-improvement.

At TMI, we use the system almost daily to smooth the rough edges off of our communications, and make sure we are all engaged as best we can be in our work. Our staff meetings and daily interactions are often peppered with insights from the Enneagram. It’s a strange language if you’re not familiar with it, but it has helped our teamwork immensely.

There’s a wealth of information available about the system. Good sources include the Enneagram Institute, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, and The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others In Your Life.

Or if reading’s not your thing, we will be giving a free introductory lunch about the Enneagram sometime in May. Email me if you’re interested.