Conflict at Work? Use the Enneagram. - jennwhitmer.com

Aug 15, 2022

Conflict at Work? Use the Enneagram.

Three cousins walk into a bar.
An illustration on conflict.

A fireball on ice, cucumber soda, silver martini, and sampler app ordered at the counter, the group grabs a table, plunks down their white table number down, and start catching up.

After 20 minutes of laughing and talking, they notice their appetizer has not arrived.

  • Silver Martini, with a wave of the hand and smiling: “Oh, wow! We were just having so much fun. I’m sure they’re just busy back there, and it will be delicious when it arrives.”
  • Fireball, clenching her fists: “Can you believe that? I mean, really, what terrible service. Aren’t you frustrated by this?”
  • Cucumber Soda, popping up: “Well, I’ll just see what’s going on. No big deal. I’ll take care of it.”

Who are you at the bar?

Photo by Tina Vanhove on Unsplash

So now imagine… what if that bar is how folks in your workplace deal with conflict?

Can you picture the silver martinis? What about the fireballs? Who are your cucumber sodas? And most importantly, who are you?

How do these different responses feel? I know for me, I’m ready just to slide over it and say “it’s ok!” and the other responses feel distant, uncomfortable, or even wrong.

The truth is, all three conflict styles have strengths and challenges. As leaders, we must begin with ourselves and how we react to interpersonal conflict (or simply a situation that feels disappointing.) 

Because if we remain unaware of who we show up two things happen:

  1. We have unmet expectations of how conflict “should be done.” (Because we believe everyone is thinking like us!)
  2. Our challenges are living in our blindspots. Like your drink teetering on the edge of the countertop that shatters because we didn’t see it, our unseen challenges cut us and those around us, limiting our opportunities for healthy resolutions.

So, friend, here’s the good news: when we use the Enneagram personality framework to recognize our conflict coping styles, we can lead ourselves and others into healthier resolutions.

The Enneagram shows us three Conflict Coping Styles:

  • Reactive: The Dynamite
  • Logical: The Cool Cucumber
  • Optimistic: The Silver Lining

So you remember the Jeff Foxworthy joke, “You might be a redneck if…?” So I’m taking that to the Enneagram conflict coping styles.

You might be a Dynamite if…
Catchphrase: “Argh!! Aren’t you upset about this??”
The Reactive Triad — Fours, Sixes, and Eights

Do you tend to:

  • Get worked up and intense at first?
  • Get frustrated when others don’t respond with the same level of emotional intensity?
  • Get moody, pessimistic, or confrontational?

So here are some great things about Dynamites: You help us all remember emotions are a part of every conflict. We can’t just push them to the side. You make it easier to bring those emotions out on the table.

But like everyone else, you’ve got some places you can grow. You may have heard this one before…you can be intense. And your intensity isn’t wrong, but it can be distracting to others and get in the way of getting what you want. And if you’re being honest, could it be that your emotional reaction is shield to protect yourself against others and the disappointment of a conflict?

Here’s a trick you can you right as the flash of intensity comes. You don’t need to become restricted and robotic, but just lower the intensity a bit.

Take a slow, low breath. Mentally imagine yourself turning a dial from 100 down to 60. And release that breath. Imagine the safe way of releasing that InstaPot quick-release valve. Now, ask an open-ended question of the other person. Even if it’s just, “That’s surprising to me. Can you tell me more?”

You’re still at a 60, but now your passion is released in a healthy way and solutions become more clear.

You might be a Cool Cucumber if…
Catchphrase: “What’s the right way?”
The Competency Triad — Ones, Threes, and Fives

Do you tend to:

  • Leave your emotions behind or even detach to remain calm?
  • Focus on facts, rules, and tasks?
  • Value maintaining emotional control?

So my Cool Cucumber, you bring some fantastic traits to the conflict table too. Particularly the ability to focus on precise solutions and action items.

And while you love to be competent and controlled, you do have a blind spot in conflict. You often detach from emotions and want other to behave dispasstionately as well. So growth for you looks like incorporating others’ feelings (I know!) so you can understand the emotional impact a conflict and its solution. Relax your death grip on THE. RIGHT. WAY. and get curious about multiple perspectives and solutions.

So here are the bullets how you do this:

  • Slow down.
  • Ask more questions.
  • Identify your emotions (rather than put the in a nice bedazzled box for  later.)

This doesn’t mean a kumbaya cry fest. But it does mean expressing emotions in authentic ways. Often it’s as simple as, “I feel frustrated by this.”  And then asking others how they feel.

You might be a Silver Lining if…
Catchphrase: “Well, at least…”
The Optimistic Triad — Twos, Sevens, and Nines

Do you tend to:

  • Respond with the silver lining first?
  • Avoid negative emotions, yours and others’?
  • Dismiss others as too negative or too detailed? 

Silver lingings, you’re just “the sun will come out tomorrow” people. And that’s what’s great. You remind us that we will get through this. And often you have the gift of giving the positives of any difficulty. You also don’t sweat the small stuff.

But in that non-sweaty state, you can really miss when a conflict actually needs to be addressed. If you shine a light underneath the positivity, what you often find is fear. Fear that the connection will be severed, that people won’t like you, or that you’ll be trapped in this painful spot forever. 

What happens is that you neglect solving issues when they’re small. And then they become the very situations you fear and you’ve tried cover up with positivity. Ben Franklin’s irritatingly accurate aphorism is what you need: A stitch in time saves nine.

As you are an expert at moonwalking on out of a conflict, here’s what you can do in the moment. Stay engaged and feel the disappointment. Reflect back what the other person is saying before you reframe it. Be brave to face conflict before you feel ready.

Which one are you? Which one made you want to walk right now of the bar? 

Notice that. Now how can you apply this awareness to the conflict you’re thinking about right now?

Regardless of your coping style, your leadership will rise and fall on your ability to manage conflict. You can learn when it’s time to face those hard conversations.  You can learn how to respond rather than react. You can own your strengths and support your weaknesses.

Rather than feeling out-of-control and ineffective, you’re feeling confident and influential as a leader — no matter what bar you’re in.


Want your team or even to hear how to solve conflict. Book me to give my keynote, The $668 Billion Dollar Opportunity — Solving Conflict.” Check out my speaker page and let’s set up a time to chat.

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