Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Fine Art of Inference

Prior to my scheduled phone call with Tammy, who was going to be a panelist in one of my workshops, I sent her a handout summarizing all nine Enneagram styles and asked her to come to the call with her best guess about her own. She said, “I think I’m a Seven because I’m definitely the cheerleader for this organization.”

Even though the instructions I sent with the handout emphasized the importance of looking for core motivations instead of external characteristics, Tammy did what many people do – she looked at the descriptions of each Enneagram style’s observable behaviors instead of isolating the central tendency that distinguishes one from another.

For style Sevens the driving force is gluttony, seeking pleasure to avoid pain, a tendency to focus only on the good news. As Tammy talked I listened for clues that reflect underlying motivation level and quality of energy, symbolic language and behaviors, reactions under stress, communication style, and focus of attention – observing whether or not her behavior with me matched her self-description.

She did have a lively, aggressive energy that could be true to style Seven, but there’s a similar energy in styles Three and Eight. I didn’t hear the louder voice typical of style Eights, or any bluntness. I didn’t hear much evidence for style Seven’s charm, storytelling, or focus on the positive. 

Tammy said, for example, she gets bored with details and likes to have people around her to do the follow-through, which she’d read about style Seven. But she had major decision-making responsibilities as head of a large agency, so it was to be expected she’d delegate as much as she could. Most important, she volunteered lots of details as we talked. 

I observed clues that led me to think she might be style Three, whose driving force is vanity, with a tendency toward self-promotion. I'd asked her to tell me about her youth so I could listen for her patterns of speech and what she tended to highlight. Her speech was fast-paced, which could have been true of style Seven, but she focused on measures of success instead of on long-term perspective and possibilities.

She described her family’s stature in the community based on their achievements, which suggested the importance of image found in the 2-3-4 triad. Some of her comments that are characteristic of style Three: “You always have to work harder to be an honor student.” “I have a strong work ethic.” “When you’re a leader your life is on stage for everybody to see.” “People have told me I was a model for them.”

After Tammy had reviewed the reasons why she thought she might be style Seven, I said, “I’m surprised. From reading your biography, I thought you might be style Three because you’ve accomplished so much at a relatively young age and you’ve won a number of awards.”

Her response: “I was hoping you’d tell me what you think my type is.” This answer alone was another clue she was more likely to be style Three than Seven. Enneagram Sevens tend to be self-referential, whereas style Threes – sometimes unconsciously – tend to seek approval from others. In the course of thirty minutes, both Tammy and I became clear her Enneagram style was Three, not Seven.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Nature of Change

The Sanskrit word Maya is often interpreted to mean "life is an illusion." More accurately Maya is the illusion that we and the world around us are stable and unchanging. In fact, everything is always changing. A good coach looks behind the illusion of immutability to discover the openings and opportunities for change.
Academics argue passionately about which comes first, a change in attitude or a change in behavior. Translated to coaching, do we help clients challenge their beliefs and thus bring about behavioral change; or do we encourage them to experiment with new behavior, hoping different results will reframe their thinking? The answer: both!!!  It's true that new behavior can create results that make old beliefs obsolete. And sometimes a "new view" leads clients to make behavioral changes consistent with that new perspective.

Moreover, change can occur even when clients don't believe it will work. They may be uncomfortable or even afraid to behave differently, but as long as they'll experiment with something and stay open to the possibility it will work, they're on the road to change. 

This is so because the act of doing something in a different way has already begun to act on their beliefs. In addition, responses from others will reinforce their new behavior. Over the years I've noticed about 40% of my clients have changed based only upon insights gained from clear and specific feedback. This surprisingly high percentage is based on three factors: 
  1. Coaches are generally hired by reasonably self-aware people who are ready to change, who've experienced some degree of success in their lives, who are relatively optimistic, resourceful, and self-initiating.
  2. Many clients haven't experienced truly effective therapy or coaching. It's hard to know what to change, for example, when a friend says "You're too bossy" or your boss says "We didn't promote you because we need someone with a broader perspective." The behavioral specificity of good coaching is usually a breath of fresh air
  3. Presenting observations in the context of an Enneagram style often lowers peoples' defenses. The collective experience of Enneagram enthusiasts and teachers offers support for the "down-sides" and hopefulness about the potentialities of a particular style. And coaching specifically to an Enneagram style accelerates the process of change considerably.
Another 40% need to try out new behaviors and learn from them. For example, an Enneagram Eight was told she needed to be less positioned and more flexible in looking for collaborative resolutions to problems. She wasn't aware of her toggle-switch (dualistic) way of thinking – only perceiving two alternatives: hers or "theirs." From that perspective there could only be one "winner" and she'd been determined to win. She also acknowledged her reluctance to show any vulnerability. It took time and practice for her to make this important shift.

The remaining 20% of coaching clients require a deeper level of intervention. No matter how motivated someone is to change, or how clear the feedback, or how well-rehearsed the skills, deeply embedded patterns affect the nature and degree of change for all Enneagram styles. My clients, like the rest of the population, come from a wide variety of family backgrounds. I've worked with people who were physically and/or emotionally abused as children, or who are recovering addicts and alcoholics, for example. But the negative impacts of previous experiences need not be so dramatic for people to have difficulty with change. Sometimes this means a longer course of coaching, with more support as well as more challenge, more experimentation, and much more patience.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

All That Jazz

If you haven’t yet read Judith Searle’s The Literary Enneagram or Tom Condon’s The Enneagram Movie & Video Guide, you’re missing a world of pleasure. 

Those who’ve had the good fortune to be in workshops with panels of exemplars know the value of seeing and hearing from a wide variety of individuals. The evidence for Enneagram style is in the stories people create out of their lives: their language, their pace, how they view the world. And – when the stories are well told – you can distinguish among Enneagram styles in film and books as well as from a live panel. This is a pleasurable way to improve your observation skills. 

I’ve been drawn to jazz from the first note I ever heard and was happy to discover Nat Hentoff's Listen to the Stories, a collection of his essays about jazz and country musicians. Because I’d read in Condon’s Enneagram Movie & Video Guide that Thelonious Monk is style Five, I looked for evidence in Hentoff’s essay, “Memories of Thelonious Monk:”

"…That day Monk, for a while, was more talkative than usual. At other times his silences could last an hour or two or longer. A brilliant young musician, Gigi Gryce, came rushing in during one of the silences and said to Monk with great delight, 'I got in! I got in! I’m going to Julliard!' After about ten minutes, Monk looked at the still radiant Gigi and said, 'Well, I hope you don’t lose it there.' 

"Although there's plenty of room for improvisation by Monk and his colleagues, each piece is precisely structured. Monk not only knew what he wanted from his musicians, he refused to accept anything less. Gigi Gryce once told me: 'I had a part Monk wrote for me that was impossible. I had to play melody while simultaneously playing harmony with him. In addition, the intervals were very wide. I told him I couldn’t do it. ‘You have an instrument, don’t you?’ he said. ‘Either play it or throw it away.’ And he walked away. Finally I was able to play it'…

"For a long time, Monk… was treated by many jazz critics as a semi-comic eccentric rather than as an original. And that diminished his chances to work… Eventually, he made many recordings and played a growing number of festivals and clubs. But Monk began to stay more and more within his own mind. The silences grew much longer…

"Monk knew his own stature. At a recording session, when Coleman Hawkins asked Monk to explain some of his music to him and to John Coltrane, who was also on the date, Monk looked at the magisterial Hawkins: 'You’re the great Coleman Hawkins, right? You’re the guy who invented the tenor saxophone, right?' Monk turned to Coltrane: 'You’re the great John Coltrane, right? Well, the music is on the horn. Between the two of you, you should be able to find it.'"

In the above excerpt, note a Five-ish tendency to withdraw into silence, Monk's long pauses, his disdain for emotions, his minimalism, his certainty about his own carefully thought-out views and expertise, and his tendency to expect others to learn the way he did – to figure it out for themselves.  


Saturday, February 7, 2015

How to Write a Personal Vision

Stanford Business School's Michael Ray believes the key to accessing deeper sources of creativity can be found in two questions: Who is my Self? (your higher self, your divinity, your highest future potential) and What is my Work? (the purpose of your existence, what you're meant to be) (From page 101 of Presence, by Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers.)
Who is your Self?     What is your Work?

Write your answer to each question as if it's already happening:

  • VISION: What is your Work? What happens when you're giving your greatest gift to the world? How are people different as a consequence of having been in your presence? See this as an image. Use present tense. 

    Answer these questions from Bill O'Hanlon:
    • What gives you a sense of aliveness, that feels "just right"?
    • What do you dream about; what holds you spellbound?
    • What are blessings you could give back to the world?
    • Whose work or life inspires you?
    • What would you talk about if given an hour of prime time TV to influence the nation or the world?
    • What makes you angry enough to correct in the world?
    • What contribution of yours will be more profound than others doing something similar?

  • MISSION: Who is your Self? What about you (attributes, experience, skills, knowledge, passion) makes your vision possible?  This will also inform your logo/image, marketing/funding, etc.

  • STRATEGIES/GOALS/PARAMETERS: How do you carry out your mission and vision? 
    • What strategies will accomplish your vision? Identify 4-5 goals within each strategy.
    • What internal and external forces surround each goal--those that encourage and those that may discourage your vision?
    • What first steps can you take to accomplish your vision?
      • How can you increase encouraging forces, both internal and external?
      • How can you overcome internal/external discouraging forces?
    • When you're uncertain about priorities among strategies, hold them against your mission and vision, and you'll know which ones are most likely to ensure your contribution in the world.
As you ponder these questions and your intention becomes clear, your vision may appear to you spontaneously, possibly as a metaphor. When thinking about my true work, I suddenly saw my clients stepping out of a box. And I knew the box was each person's unique programming or conditioning.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Conflict Resolution – A Win/Win Example

When coaching your clients to open up their perspective about conflict, this classic example can be helpful.

In a meeting to discuss possible prison reforms in Wisconsin, nine of the state's top prison officials met to design an ideal correctional institution. In the course of the discussion, one group member proposed eliminating uniforms traditionally worn by prison guards. There was a lengthy argument about whether or not uniforms should be worn.

One official suggested the issue be resolved democratically by vote. As a result, six voted against uniforms and three voted in favor of them. The winning members looked pleased while the losing members either became angry or withdrew from further discussion.

A third-party observer suggested they take another look at the situation, asking those in favor of uniforms what they hoped to accomplish. They said part of the rehabilitative process in correctional institutions is teaching people to deal constructively with authority, and they saw uniforms as a means for achieving that goal. Those against uniforms said there was such a stigma, guards had additional difficulty laying to rest the stereotypes held by inmates before they could deal with them on a one-to-one basis.

The observer then asked the group what ways they might meet the combined goals – teaching people to deal with authority while avoiding the difficulty of stereotypes held about traditional uniforms. The group generated ten possible solutions, including identifying prison personnel by name tags, by color-coded casual dress, or by uniforms for guard supervisors but not for guards in constant contact with prisoners. After discussing the various alternatives, all agreed on the third solution.

In their first discussion, the group engaged in clear-cut conflict, only partially resolved by vote. In the later discussion, the group turned to problem solving, eventually developing a win-win method acceptable to all parties.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Do More of What Works

A coach I mentored said a style Nine asked her for some coaching because he was stuck in indecision about a career move. He'd specifically asked her to "tell him what to do so he could get on with his life and live happily ever after." 

She'd suggested this was an opportunity for him to take initiative in discerning and acting on what he chose, to muster the courage to believe he was important enough to figure it out. She encouraged him to remember earlier times in his life when that clarity came for him and he did indeed act. She asked him to visualize getting in touch with his own knowing that came from valuing himself, to spend time considering exactly what his priorities were, and to list them. Then she asked for my comments on her approach, adding that she would be glad to learn from this.

I agreed her suggestions were logically on target, and asked if the client was able to respond to her suggestions. She said he seemed a bit confused.

There's a deep-seated belief in Enneagram Nines that they're not important, not visible. This becomes a life stance of not wanting to be visible — when they make a key decision, then they have to be responsible for it. This is scary.   

So realizing her client wasn't ready to respond to her logical suggestions, she and I discussed ways for him to observe other, easier opportunities in his life to choose (e.g., which of two Sunday services to attend) – choices that weren't as loaded as a career decision. After he was able to see where and how this showed up in his life in small ways, he then practiced choosing without any particular criteria, just to break the pattern of saying, “Whatever."

When style Nines practice making less monumental choices and getting a little more comfortable with it, they can then begin to look at their true priorities. It was a helpful suggestion that the above Nine review a time when he'd made a choice. If he couldn’t quite bring back that personal power, the coach could give him a little more structure. 

We don't want to make decisions for our style Nine clients, but we can lead them through the process of how they've made previous choices by asking questions. For example,
“What was going on before that moment of clarity?”
“What were the pros and cons of the choice you eventually made?”
“What did you do to contribute to that moment of clarity?”
“How did you get yourself to act on it?”
The premise? Do more of what works

Friday, January 2, 2015

Meditation and The Trap of the Intellect

One of my clients had left two companies before we started coaching and was about to take a third job. All three positions were internal consulting roles for which she was well suited. Bright and innovative, she’d been hired in start-ups because she was comfortable with a new and/or ambiguous role if she was able to influence its parameters. But in the two organizations she'd left, she wasn't given the authority to define her role as she saw fit. She'd received positive feedback about her talents, but slipped pretty regularly into despair about her capability to make any real difference.

The job she was moving into appeared to be a better fit in terms of her potential influence, so she was more likely to stay there in spite of her historically predictable dissatisfaction. In addition, she began to shift her perspective with a mindfulness practice of gratitude. 

All of us, no matter what our personality style or key emotions, can benefit from being mindful of gratitude. How do we do that? Phillip Moffitt suggests, "When you are contracted due to self-pity, fear, or anger, more than likely gratitude isn't present, so notice those things for which you are grateful."
When you are contracted due to self-pity, fear, or anger, more than likely gratitude isn’t present, so notice those things for which you are grateful. Respond to a difficult situation by acknowledging it as such, and then say to yourself, "Yes, this is terrible, and I am grateful for…” An example would be, "I am angry at this moment, and I am grateful I have a mind which knows this is so and can deal with it." - See more at:
When you are contracted due to self-pity, fear, or anger, more than likely gratitude isn’t present, so notice those things for which you are grateful. Respond to a difficult situation by acknowledging it as such, and then say to yourself, "Yes, this is terrible, and I am grateful for…” An example would be, "I am angry at this moment, and I am grateful I have a mind which knows this is so and can deal with it." - See more at:
When you are contracted due to self-pity, fear, or anger, more than likely gratitude isn’t present, so notice those things for which you are grateful. Respond to a difficult situation by acknowledging it as such, and then say to yourself, "Yes, this is terrible, and I am grateful for…” An example would be, "I am angry at this moment, and I am grateful I have a mind which knows this is so and can deal with it." - See more at:
When you are contracted due to self-pity, fear, or anger, more than likely gratitude isn’t present, so notice those things for which you are grateful. Respond to a difficult situation by acknowledging it as such, and then say to yourself, "Yes, this is terrible, and I am grateful for…” An example would be, "I am angry at this moment, and I am grateful I have a mind which knows this is so and can deal with it." - See more at:

This is not the same as positive thinking. Instead of denying the difficulties of life, the practice of gratitude is rather a way to turn the mind. Instead of moving too quickly to erase the reality of the moment, stay with the emotions you're experiencing: I'm despairing at this moment and grateful I can observe this and know I am not my emotions.

In “Meditation, Happiness, and The Trap of the Intellect,” Eric Armstrong described the transient quality of grateful feelings:
“As powerful as the feelings were, however, on each occasion they dissipated. It was rather disheartening. I mean, there I was—enlightened! And now it was gone.”
The trap of the intellect is a focus on what’s missing, so the ego can kick in by criticizing our inability to maintain a meditative focus as yet another sign of incompetence and yet another reason to despair of ever finding happiness. 

We can learn to observe this pattern and move through it, to continue the practice of gratitude even though its effects come and go. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hitchhiking to the Grand Ole Opry

I don’t think change efforts have to be work. In particular, using metaphors to stimulate change can be a very playful process.

In a coaching session with a manager who was a bit of a perfectionist, he and I talked about problems his team described when his teaching mode slipped into preaching. While exploring together how to loosen that pattern playfully, I asked him to think of situations where he didn’t take the teacher role. 

"I used to hitchhike in the Sixties," he recalled, "and I learned a lot from conversations with people who gave me a ride." 

When he began to imagine himself in meetings as “hitching a ride,” conversing with people who work for him as if they’re traveling companions, it made a world of difference. 

*     *     *

Asked to consider who her inner critic resembled, another client I'll call Elsa said, "She looks like me, but sounds like my mother."

When I asked “How is she dressed?” Elsa burst out laughing: “She’s dressed like Minnie Pearl from the Grand Ole Opry.” 

You know Elsa will never again respond to her inner judge in the same way. How could she? She’ll be picturing the words coming from a sassy comedian wearing a big straw hat with a $1.98 price tag hanging from the side!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Mind-Bending Metaphors

In What is Metaphor and How Can Metaphor Resolve Problems and Conflicts? Thomas H. Smith wrote,"Metaphor is a primary way we frame, categorize and conceptualize... drawing attention to unnoticed similarities and connections, offering new ways to perceive and understand."

One of my clients wanted coaching on how to approach her landlord about necessary repairs to the house she was renting. She knew how to ask for what she wanted without attacking. But that didn't relieve her concern.

"I don't like confrontation," she said. "It's not fear, it's anger. I don't want to go into a rage. In my last e-mail I gave him the facts and said, 'I'm sick of it.' Now I dread looking for his e-mail response."

Operating on intuition, I asked, "If your landlord were an animal, what animal would he be?"

She answered without hesitation, "A hyena! They're scavengers, annoying, bottom-feeders, goofy-looking."

"And what animal represents you?" I asked.

"I'm a tiger. I may purr and be all kitty-cat, but If you piss me off I'll bare my teeth."

When we talked the following week, after her meeting with the landlord, she said, "It was kind of matter-of-fact. When he started pointing the finger at me, I was angry, but then I visualized him as a hyena, realized that was his M.O. to throw people off. And I was fine."

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Terrified of Being Typed

Do not be overly confident, and do not despair if you have mistaken one style for another. You will learn as you go that typing is an art, not a science. It is difficult, subtle, and in many ways foreign to our usual way of thinking. Typing is an inference, not a linear conclusion. Be aware of these common traps: looking for one or two traits, typing too quickly, noticing behavior instead of motives, basing your notion on one or two examples, not getting enough information, having too narrow a definition. Mary Bast and Clarence Thomson, Out of the Box: Coaching with the Enneagram.
Many of the coaches I mentor want a tried and true way to help clients determine their Enneagram style. But different coaches have their own ways of knowing. Some rely on tests, others have a checklist of behaviors. Clarence Thomson has people answer twelve symbolic questions and then talks with them, confident of a conclusion within one call. He has more years of experience than most of us and that approach works well for him.

I don't trust any of the tests completely, and it works for me to listen closely to the content, pace, and tone of their language. From my 25+ years of experience, I may hear more in the first call than coaches new to the Enneagram, but my approach works if you trust your intuition and listen deeply. Even so, I always stay open to possibilities over several sessions, waiting for clients to know what's right for them.

Here's an example of a recent client who talked nervously and fairly rapidly about a variety of things. He had identified his ‘type’ years ago while working with an Enneagram therapist but found the books he'd read to be so focused on the negative that knowing his style “terrified him.” If he was that awful, he said, how could he possibly change? He couldn't even remember the specific number identified as his.

Already I had a hint, from the height of his emotion, he’s probably not an Eight (wouldn’t so readily admit terror), or Seven (possibly, but only if said with humor), or Five (would have used more intellectual language), or Four (usually curious about self-discovery), or Nine (typically quieter, slower style of speech and not so dramatic), or Three (not so in touch with feelings), or One (he’s not at all rigid, doesn’t use right/wrong, black/white language).

So within minutes I was guessing Two or Six. Then he told me of a dream about “talking too much” and said “I don’t know why I talk so much; I don’t have that much to say.” As we explored the over-talking, he continued, “Sometimes I think it’s a territorial position, an alertness, like this feral dog I have that paces and paces like a dingo or a coyote.”

You’ll read in Enneagram books that Sixes sometimes talk nervously, in almost a manic way. Tom Condon writes about Nicholas Cage's role as Charlie in the film Adaptation: 
"Charlie's Sixness is communicated through tormented voice-over monologues... 'Maybe it's my brain chemistry. Maybe that's what wrong with me. Bad chemistry. All my problems and anxiety can be reduced to a chemical imbalance or some kind of misfiring synapses. I need to get help for that. But I'll still be ugly though. Nothing's gonna change that...'"
Charlie goes on and on with his anxieties and interpretations, to the degree that one of my Six clients says she can only watch five minutes of the movie at a time.

So isn’t it fascinating to hear my new client describe this nervous chatter as “a territorial position”? I think it could represent another way for the Six’s scanners to be in operation, a kind of verbal “pacing and pacing.” And it now seems more likely to me that he’s an Enneagram Six. I’m still open to other possibilities, but confident we’ve left the not-types behind, and after another session or two I’ll be more certain we're on target. 

By the way, I’m not pushing the Enneagram, but am emphasizing the positives so he might be more ready to consider it as a guide at some future point. For example, when we talked about his abusive father, we found a little boy who was in grave danger. I connected this with his comment “If I see someone being mean to an animal I’m The Avenger,” and I said, with truly felt emotion in my voice, “I LOVE that little boy! He’s like a guerrilla fighter; he had to be to protect himself.” Then I casually mentioned this was an example of what Enneagram theory refers to as Sixes identifying with and fighting for underdog causes.

Most important, I’m never expressly searching for Enneagram style, just getting to know new clients, diving deep into their issues and patterns, looking for areas where coaching might help, and coincidentally listening for Enneagram clues.