Oct 8, 2023

How to Use the Enneagram — and What NOT to Do

“Some people are concerned about using personality as part of our professional development,” my corporate client shared in a prep call.

“Tell me more,” I said (BTW…my all-time favorite conversation continuer is “tell me more.”)

“Well, some of our staff who came from another agency had DISC profiles displayed, and their personality profiles were used against them in performance reviews.”

My reaction:

If you’ve had a bad experience with DISC or MBTI or any other personality tool, I would bet all the money in my pockets (ok, my Venmo account) that your training and implementation made your personality more than what it is.




And this matters tremendously at work.

So what is the proper place for personality work at work? Where does the Enneagram fit in creating positive culture? What’s the right way to use the Enneagram as an exploration tool, and what are ways that can lead to hurt or even harm?

How to use the Enneagram:

  1. Use the Enneagram to build empathy, compassion, and understanding for people who view the world very differently than you do.
    The Enneagram shows you how you see the world. The story your personality tells you sounds like, “If you don’t maintain this image, the worst will happen.” This motivation impacts all your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
    If you’re new to the Enneagram, here’s a tiny thumbnail sketch of the basic motivations of the Nine Enneagram Types.

Eight: Try to maintain a self-image of the strong one to avoid betrayal.
Nine: Try to maintain a self-image of ease, balance, and harmony to avoid conflict and disconnection.
One: Try to maintain a self-image of being right to avoid the relentless inner critic that says you’re bad.
Two: Try to maintain a self-image of a helper who doesn’t really need anything to avoid rejection. 
Three: Try to maintain a self-image of success to avoid feeling worthless.
Four: Try to maintain a self-image of uniqueness to avoid feeling envy, being too much or not enough. 
Five: Try to maintain a self-image of competency to avoid feeling ignorant and to protect energy.
Six: Try to maintain a self-image of being loyal to avoid blame or abandonment to stay safe.
Seven: Try to maintain a self-image of the optimistic, fun-loving, it’s-all-ok person to avoid any pain.

I can have so much more empathy for a five who struggles to make quick decisions when I understand their personality is telling them they must understand completely before moving forward.

  1. Use the Enneagram as a common language to communicate.
    When you have some Enneagram wisdom, you have a language that describes your inner world. So last week, when we talked about the Johari Window, self-disclosure is the way to open and deal with issues, conflicts, and problems. The Enneagram gives you that vocabulary for self-disclosure. I often suggest something like, “I’m noticing my Sevenness is trying to escape this because it feels uncomfortable.” That’s self-disclosure that helps solve issues.
  2. Use the Enneagram to create belonging (and employee retention).
    Because of the Enneagram’s depth as a personality framework, people feel seen. Lack of belonging and feeling seen as a whole person is one of the top retention and productivity metrics. According to BetterUp research, belonging creates 56% increase in job performance, a 50% reduction in turnover risk, and a 75% decrease in employee sick days. Welcoming the fears and struggles, as well as the strengths and greatness of individuals, fosters belonging.

Do not use the Enneagram like this:

  1. Don’t use the Enneagram as a filter in hiring.
    Any type can work with any other type. And any type who has the skills and desire to do a job can do the job. Avoid the Enneagram as part of a hiring matrix. Rather use it as a part of onboarding to do all the great things we talked about above.
  2. Don’t use the Enneagram as a sword in performance reviews and more.
    “Well, you’re a Seven, so you’re flighty and don’t finish projects by the deadline.” Nope. Not ok. First of all, there should be no surprises in performance reviews. Feedback and support come earlier than the review. Then, someone’s personality is not up for evaluation. Performance reviews review performance: behaviors, responses, and impact on goals. As you give support, you can ask about fears, motivations, and circumstances, but the Enneagram is not used for attacking others.

Personality is not up for evaluation.

  1. As a shield for hurtful, harmful, or toxic behavior.
    “Well, I’m an Eight, so I’m just going to say it like it is no matter how you feel.” Also, no. Your personality is for you to manage. It’s not a throw-up-my-hands-and-say-oh-well excuse for your inability or unwillingness to grow and change. It’s also not an excuse for bad behavior. “Well, he’s a One, so he’s just critical” while the One is allowed to continue in harmful behavior. Harvard Business School notes a toxic employee, regardless of their personality, costs your organization more than twice as much as the contribution of the best performers. Again, address issues and fears, but don’t allow personality to be the excuse for ineffective leadership.

If you’ve had an experience like my client described, using the Enneagram at work can be a little scary. Yet, the results are hard to deny. One of the participants from that same corporate client said this after my day with them, “This was perfect. I could see exactly where my personality is helping me and where my pressure points are. I  was nervous going in, and now I feel equipped and excited. Like I jive with my workplace now. Today was fantastic.”

So now what? Here’s what you can do:
1) Do you want to improve your leadership, foster belonging, retain team members, and increase productivity? Comment, “belonging” below. I’ll help you with a question or two.

2) Are you ready to dig into actually using the Enneagram for yourself and bring this to your team? Email me at hello@jennwhitmer.com and say “ready.” I’ll reply, and we will work together to figure out the best next step for you.

You’ll be so proud you took this step to create positive culture.



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