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.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stories that Change People

"Stories in one form or another convey a message or learning about a particular problem... with the intention of instructing or advising the listener, the story becomes for that person a METAPHOR... [throwing] new light on the character of what is being described." David Gordon, Therapeutic Metaphors
As with Sufi teaching tales and the Zen tradition of Koans, such metaphors are powerful because they act on the unconscious mind.

A few years ago, I coached a grad student I'll call Phil, who wanted to find more productive ways to organize his dissertation and overcome what he felt were negative aspects of his Enneagram Style Four. In our first conversation he seemed surprised by and appreciative of my emphasis on the gifts of Fours, who are often innovative thinkers, able to see things from a fresh perspective, and understandably frustrated when others can't see what they see. 

This was precisely why Phil had been blocked from finishing his dissertation, which relied on approval by two separate and somewhat mutually exclusive academic disciplines, both of which were also quite conservative. Phil was feeling the angst of trying to satisfy the status quo considerations of both departments, which mirrored a dynamic I often see with Fours they try to explain things from a new slant, only to be frustrated by resistance from people who are still operating in an old paradigm.

I likened the two disciplines to railroad stations. One would only accept blue cars, the other would only accept red cars. "If you believe the blue car can add something, but you want it to be accepted at the red station, you need to paint it red. Once you get the car into the red station, it will be easier to show its blue value."

The same was true, of course, for having a red car accepted at the blue station, and Phil was inspired by this metaphor to create his own way to bridge the intellectual barriers between departments.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Perfect Match

One of the ways I mentor coaches is showing how to listen for Enneagram style in people's language and how to match them for greater rapport. This is especially important early in the relationship, when you want to meet clients and potential clients where they are, not where they will be when not boxed in by their personality style.

My apocryphal story is about a client who said on our first phone call he wanted me to teach people how to stand up to him. I thought Eight but didn't pour it in concrete until he met me at the airport for a day of interviews with his staff. We’d been in his truck for about three minutes when he said, "After you talk to my people, just lay it on me. I don't want you giving me any bullshit." So at the end of the day, as he was driving me back to the airport and asked how bad it was, I said, "People shrivel up like raisins in your presence." 

I would NEVER have spoken to another Enneagram personality that way, not style One, for example, with whom a coach needs to be thoughtful and descriptive in giving feedback. But my client with style Eight loved it. He knew from that one comment that I had a sense of humor, could stand up to him without attack, would be blunt and straight and not wishy-washy. 

The Enneagram is a splendid tool for making good guesses that provide quick access to someone’s worldview (and – not incidentally – provide the level of rapport that encourages them to hire you). I address developing rapport in the last chapter of Out of the Box: Coaching with the Enneagram. The highlights that follow draw from what you can hear, and should be helpful whether you coach in person or by phone:
  1. From Enneagram style Ones you’ll hear evidence of hard work, black and white language (right/wrong, good/bad), self-criticism. They may sound over-controlled and, as you develop trust, will often describe how their comments have hurt others. Heard from Ones: I know I'm right, why should I have to compromise? I’m my own worst critic. My whole career, I've been brought in to fix things. You’ll match Ones when you’re prompt and considerate, follow the rules, use humor, give very descriptive feedback and avoid labels, latch onto and encourage their ideals. 

  2. Enneagram style Twos will use “helpful” words and relationship language with fairly high decibels of emotion and vivid descriptions, and an excellent understanding of people, especially if healthy. They’ll show a focus on others’ needs, including yours. Heard from Twos: I think it's important to always focus on what we need to do to serve others. Was that helpful? Of all the people the CEO could have called, he called me! You’ll match Twos when you’re personal and emotionally present, genuinely appreciative, and avoid intellectualizing, especially early in the relationship. 

  3. You’ll hear style Threes talk about what they’ve accomplished in results-oriented language: checking off to-do lists, talking about “success.” They may also use sports metaphors, “game” words, competitive language, self-promotion, with less attention to team work unless very healthy. Their speech will be fast-paced and they may show impatience with pauses. Heard from Threes: I like seeing success breed upon success. I have to be the lead dog in the pack. I have a shelf full of trophies. You’ll match Threes when you’re prepared, stress action and results, move the meeting along fairly briskly, and show approval. 
  4. Style Fours will emphasize their difference from others, either feeling out of it or frustrated that others are so stuck in the status quo. You’ll hear innovative ideas, emotionality, and some holding on to old history. Heard from Fours: People call me because they know I’ll come at things from a different angle. I seem to feel things more deeply than others. I’ve always felt like an outsider. You’ll match Fours when you pay attention to process, ask how they feel, use symbols and metaphors, honor their unique way of seeing things. 

  5. With people of style Five there will be a desire to understand, admiration for insights, intellectual jousting, a somewhat formal style, less emotional content, a quiet pace with pauses, words like “curious,” “interesting,” “thought-provoking.” They may expound at length on a topic of expertise and/or engage in debate. Heard from Fives: I have a really deep knowledge of this industry. I think meetings are a waste of time. I’d like to read every book that was ever written. You’ll match Fives when you prepare them in advance with relevant data, bolster their knowledge, ask what they think, give them time to mull things over. 

  6. Those with style Six will use group-oriented language, search for hidden agendas, focus on what could go wrong, and criticize higher ups. With trust, they’ll admit to self-doubt and/or fear. Heard from Sixes: I’ve been loyal to this organization for 25 years. I don’t think we have very competent management. I wish we could work better as a team. You’ll match Sixes when you’re open and concrete, justify their concerns instead of reassuring them, and emphasize your role as partner, not authority. 

  7. Enneagram style Sevens will be charming, funny, and upbeat, tell stories and anecdotes, keep an energetic pace, and show a lack of attention to and/or interest in details. Heard from Sevens: I always see the bright side of things. If you understand a few basic principles, you can run just about anything. I’m always the one to figure out what we’ll do for fun. You’ll match Sevens when you’re playful, inventive, animated, ask questions to get them to talk, and sign onto their vision. 

  8. The language and manner of style Eight will be blunt, direct (what you see is what you get), and often loud, with evidence of taking charge and emphasis on imperatives. Heard from Eights: I’ve always been responsible. I have a hard time asking for help – I’ll just charge ahead and do it myself. I can’t think of a time when I was afraid. You’ll match Eights when you’re succinct, say what you mean, show respect but hold boundaries, help them feel they’re in charge. 
  9. Their quiet voices and laid-back style identify Enneagram style Nines, who will hold a variety of viewpoints, wander in conversation, and rarely offer strongly stated positions. Heard from Nines: I’m pretty easy-going. My career just kind of fell together. I try to pick the right moment to speak up in meetings. You’ll match Nines when you collaborate, confirm their value, help them focus, offer alternatives, clarify possibilities, find the no behind the yes, summarize and follow up.

    ( For more, see 2015 edition of Out of the Box Coaching with the Enneagram )

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Somebody? Nobody? The Enneagram, Mindfulness and Life's Unfolding

This book is a great contribution and resource
for those using the Enneagram on the path
of awakening.”
Russ Hudson, co-author,
The Wisdom of the Enneagram

By letting individuals speak through and about their personality styles, the book reveals their struggles and solutions. Plus it guides readers down their own road to growing and changing and living a more complete life. Tom Condon, The Changeworks
In Paths Beyond Ego John Engler wrote, "You have to be somebody before you can be nobody," suggesting we can't surrender our ego-patterns until we've developed a sense of self and can begin to see how that self operates. 

This strikes me as a great truth and explains what CJ Fitzsimons and I found in the interviews we offer and discuss in this book. Respondents typically grow into their personalities before they can begin to surrender. And having surrendered, these personalities mutiny again at some point. Indeed, people seem to go in and out of somebody and nobody, depending upon the particular aspect of self under scrutiny and the nature of their worldview and life experience.

One client said, for example, "My parents had been critical, and my husband cut me down all the time. I was miserable, even thinking about taking my life. But I realized, Hey I've got four children. I have to find a shrink! Until therapy, no one in my lifetime had ever told me I was sensitive and caring. That was transforming." She was clearly become somebody.

Another client with the same personality style said, "My worldview has become far more expansive. I've let go of a lot of control needs. I'm in a relationship predicated on health and respect for individuality." This sounds more like becoming nobody, but for all we know that could have been simply a peak in his lifelong trek.
Much like old friends catching up on a cozy couch after a long time of not seeing one another, Mary and CJ hold a space for you to share the journey of self-reflection with a gentle tug. So, pull up a chair, tuck in your feet, and bring yourself to this book with the presence of mind it implores. Inside, each human exemplar speaks with a candor that lends an utterly truthful tone to the telling of "type." You will find this a compelling avenue to bring you back inside yourself. Susan Olesek, Founder, Enneagram Prison Project

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Going Where No One Has Gone Before

My client Barb had come to a coaching call dismayed to have realized, half-way through a conversation with a new acquaintance about a mutual friend, that she was focusing only on the negative. 

"I was just awful. Why do I have to be so critical of others?" An Enneagram Style One, her self-critic was also quite analytical: "I'm probably trying to avoid self-criticism by projecting it onto others."

"Does it work?" I asked.

"Well, no, now I'm criticizing myself for being so critical!" She laughed and continued, "I'm even ashamed that I need to use a defense mechanism as crude as projection."

"You're right, projection is pretty common," I agreed. "What would be a more sophisticated defense mechanism?" I was grinning, too, by now.

Her sense of humor was in full force: "Reaction formation!" she blurted.

After some discussion we mutually defined reaction formation as publicly criticizing what you privately desire and agreed she'd pay attention to her use of this "more refined" defense mechanism before our next talk. 

Notice how we broke through her self-criticism by validating her worldview and at the same time gently disturbing it with humor. From our perspective of "the more defense mechanisms, the merrier," we created a facilitative double bind: "You can only be perfect by being imperfect."

For useful actions a client can take between sessions, consider fieldwork that will stimulate a worldview shift, as in the above example, when Barb moved from judging herself for evidence of a defense mechanism to laughing about having even another form of defense. When new experiences are incompatible with old worldviews, the link that binds habitual programs begins to loosen.

NOTE: A double-bind communication contains two contradictory messages. In a facilitative double-bind, clients' habitual thinking patterns are of no use -- they must break free.

(A version of this example appears in Chapter 13 of Out of the Box: Coaching with the Enneagram)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Coaching: An Inside Job

Take this to heart as a coach: change always occurs. You can influence and accelerate that process. Give yourself time and appreciation as you try out suggestions below that may be new to you – and remember to have fun. 

My approach to coaching is not always linear. I use examples, stories, symbolic behaviors, and metaphors. The following three principles can inform your work no matter what coaching model you follow:
Acknowledge and Validate the Client's Worldview: Transformational change is more likely to occur in a coaching relationship where there's deep rapport – where clients feel known. Accessing their inner worlds gives you both insight and compassion. Paradoxically, they'll be more open to change when they feel accepted exactly as they are. Once they have that assurance, you can help them recognize and change patterns of behavior based on subconscious, outmoded beliefs.

Help Shift That Worldview: Most people will come to you having tried to avoid or overcome something they don't like about themselves. That approach tends to block positive energy. In contrast, your clients will release energy for change when they learn to observe their patterns of thought and behavior without judgment. Such compassionate self- awareness may be enough to support spontaneous changes. In addition, there are many inventive, even playful ways to help them alter the patterns they observe.

Focus on Solutions, Tapping Their Resources, Experience, and Ideas: Sometimes a solution focus means merely encouraging more of what works. It can also mean framing the problem in the past and the solution in the present or future. Change occurs when a problem is specific enough that it can be solved, when it's seen as a positive vision for the future.
These principles are spelled out with examples in the last chapter of my coaching book. As I've mentored coaches over the years, I've also found it helps to have a concrete, how-to summary. The table below summarizes the components of coaching for transformational change. This link takes you to an Enneagram-specific version. 

Skill                               Definition                                        Notes

1. Develop rapport          Acknowledge and
                                     validate client's worldview
                                     without judgment or
                                     prescription; share human
                                     to human responses.

2. Hold enlightened        Reflect second-order changes
    vision                        that occur in interaction
                                     with you.

3. Presuppose                Make statements that embed
    positive outcomes      a positive expectation,
                                     assume a desired change. 

4. Teach self-                Show clients how to observe
    observation               patterns without judgment;
                                    reinforce evidence of 
                                    neutrality and change. 

5. Use possibility           Restate problems in the past,
    language                   solutions in the present
                                    and/or future. 

6. Focus on                   Elicit brief problem description;
    solutions                   ask how solution will look
                                    (videospeak); find exceptions
                                    to the problem, ask how they
                                    do it, do more of what works;
                                    if no exceptions, create
                                    achievable steps as fieldwork. 

7. Help shift from          Identify the "X" and "Y" that are
    either/or to              apparently incompatible.
    both/and                  Explore existing parameters.

    thinking                    Ask "How can you do both 
                                    X and Y?"

8. Honor "resistance"     Use everything that happens
    as energy for             as grist for the mill, including
    change; stay in          all blocks, tasks not done,
    in flow                      relapses, etc.

9. Use right-brain          Engage clients through
    tactics                      stories, metaphors, humor,
                                    spontaneity, inventiveness,
                                    playfulness; bypass logic's

10. Invent ground-        Co-create fieldwork that
     breaking field-         breaks old patterns with
     work                        new responses; take them
                                    to their edge (doing
                                    anything different, how-
                                    ever small, can promote
                                    significant change).

11. Make process           Comment on interactions
     observations             with you as source of
                                     learning about patterns.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Taste of Sadness

Ay, in the very temple of Delight
       Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
               Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
       Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
               And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
                 John Keats, Ode on Melancholy
“As a matter of interest,” announced an Enneagram Four client, “I now know the difference between depression and melancholy. Melancholy is a sweet sadness I don’t mind. Depression is a much darker place, a deeper pit of despair and hopelessness.”  

This level of attention to the nuances of anguish doesn’t make me uneasy. Indeed, it attracts me. In 2000, I began an ill-fated love affair that took me to ecstatic highs and tragic lows. In spite of the great pain I suffered, I always think of that lost relationship with joy. The reason? I thought I’d experienced the full range of feelings, and I had. But I hadn’t yet experienced the full intensity of feelings, an intensity that’s now more available to me. I find this to be especially true when I’m coaching someone with more mercurial moods than typical of my quieter, Enneagram style Nine personality.

It’s easier now for me to establish rapport with clients in pain, to tap into my previous experiences with symphonic overtones and authentically affirm the heartbreak they're enduring. 

But something else may happen that I need to attend to – I can sometimes merge so much I begin to lose my objectivity as a coach, showing too much empathy, indulging in the thrill of feeling what clients are feeling. This won’t help them move from being stuck in their emotions to becoming effective in the external world.  

Some years ago I left a workshop with the commitment to “live life with passion.” After my roller-coaster love affair I renewed that commitment, but reworded it slightly: “to live my own life with passion.” 

I encourage you to think about what clients you’re drawn to and why, and to notice when your own personality patterns may help or hinder the coaching relationship.