Feb 122013

Why Do You Behave the Way You Do?

When we are born, we possess the essence of who we are, and as life happens, we find a way to relate to it. Early in life, we learned to feel safe and to cope with family situations and personal circumstances. We did this by developing a strategy based on natural talents and abilities.

We are born with a dominant type, and this orientation largely determines the ways in which we adapt to our early childhood development. By the time we are four or five years old, our consciousness has developed sufficiently to produce a separate sense of self. While still very fluid at this age, we begin to establish ourselves and find ways of fitting into our world.

One tool we can use to discover personality type is the Enneagram (pronounced ANY-a-gram). Its name comes from the Greek words for “nine” – enna – and “figure” – grammos, thus the nine-pointed figure. The Enneagram has been around for more than 2500 years. It is a geometric figure that defines the nine fundamental types of human nature and their complex interrelationships. It helps us recognize and understand an overall pattern in human behavior and underlying attitudes – including what attracts our attention. This tool explains why we behave the way we do, and points to specific directions for individual types and patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting.

Each point in the Enneagram can be seen as a set of personality types, with each number denoting one type. All personality types are equal, and studies have found that we possess some of each. However, one type is dominant in us and forms our personality and our social persona, which is how we meet the challenges of love and work. While each has different capacities, each also has different limitations.


  1. Perfectionist, Reformer
  2. Giver, Helper
  3. Achiever, Performer, Producer
  4. Romantic, Individualist, Connoisseur
  5. Observer, Instigator, Sage
  6. Doubter, Devil’s advocate,  Loyalist,Guardian, Troubleshooter
  7. Dreamer, Enthusiast, Visionary, Generalist
  8. Leader, Boss, Top Dog, Challenger, Confronter
  9. Diplomat, Mediator, Peacemaker, Preservationist

When you think of your personality type, which of the nine roles fits you best most of the time? Or, which of the word clusters comes closest?

None of the personality types is better or worse than any other. All types have unique assets and liabilities, strengths and weaknesses. You have all nine types in you. While it is common to find a little of ourselves in each of the nine types, one of them typically stands out as being closest to ourselves. This is our basic personality type.

So how can the Enneagram be of value? Being aware of the different types will give you a better understanding of others. It can give you a sense of compassion because you will recognize aspects of their particular habits and reaction in yourself. When we know our type, we can “catch ourselves in the act” as we move through the day. Once we have this self-awareness we can avoid reacting in negative ways.

As a source of self-knowledge, the Enneagram acts as a kind of “mirror,” revealing features of our personality that are normally invisible to us. Most of the time, we function “out of habit” as if on automatic pilot, acting according to our basic personality type. When we can clearly see our habitual patterns, understanding what we do and why, we hold the key to getting out of the box – to freeing ourselves.

The Enneagram is a valuable tool coaches can use with individual clients and teams, helping them understand why they behave the way they do. In an organization or business, this can help in employee development, hiring decisions, or forming highly functional teams. If your team members are all type Nine the mediator, they may become stuck in neutral while they all try to mediate and negotiate. On the other hand, if they are all type Five the observer, there may be very little participation – making it difficult to extract knowledge or new ideas. Having a team or group of employees who are all the same type can be detrimental to your organization”s effectiveness.

Some workplace applications of the Enneagram include:


  •   Personal development
  •   Executive coaching
  •   Leadership skill development
  •   Stress reduction and mediation
  •   Team building
  •   Project management
  •   Supervision
  •   Building workplace culture
  •   Motivation

To learn your dominant personality type, visit www.enneagraminstitute.comand take the free assessment. I plan to ask all of my future clients to take this assessment prior to starting a coaching assignment. It is a valuable tool for development.

Pay attention to your personality and take care.

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