Friday, April 22, 2016

Coaches R Us

In the "Creating Room to Play" section of Out of the Box Coaching (Chapter 13) we described ways to develop right brain tactics. Expanding on this, I've sometimes invited coaches to devise metaphorical gifts that break through a client's key Enneagram pattern. Below, in italics, are coach John Porcari's ideas, offered in hopes they'll stimulate your own thinking:
  1. An articulate, creative, but perfectionistic employee has lost three jobs because of chastising others when they're wrong. Metaphorical gift: A pair of rose-colored glasses or a magnifying glass, suggesting the client notice what is good or magnify positive traits.
  2. A department head in a social service agency mentors everyone who works for her, but discourages promotions because she doesn't think they're ready to leave her. Metaphorical gift: A dog leash, with the story of the country dog and the city dog: The country dog roams freely, and you often will find him coming to sit by the master on the porch because the freedom engenders loyalty; in the city the master holds the dog tightly on a leash, assuming the dog would otherwise bolt and run. You want to be in a relationship that builds country dog loyalty.
  3. A highly successful entrepreneur keeps referring to his work with you as "a rite of passage." Metaphorical gift:  A big, squeezy heart with a tiny ribbon on it, as a reminder that achievements are only a small change compared to the big change of heart that's possible.
  4. A melancholy graphic artist moodily withdraws from the reality of his organization's aggressive, hierarchical culture. Metaphorical gift:  A Teflon pan: You can stay in the heat but you don't have to have any of the junk stick to you. 
  5. An extremely introverted CEO wants to walk around the halls more and get to know people, but finds it difficult. Metaphorical gift: A toy bomb, with the inscription: "Prolonged time in office will trigger detonation!"
  6. A conflicted forty-year-old agonizes over his relationship with the woman who lives with him. Sometimes he raves about her good points. At other times he worries whether or not she loves him. Metaphorical gift: A combination pocket tape measure and level, with the suggestion that when he's measuring the success of the relationship and is conflicted to look for the balance -- not too high, not too low.
  7. A passionately optimistic team member tends to become defensive when you give her feedback. Metaphorical gift: A life preserver: I'm not here to judge; I'm here to help.
  8. An strong-willed business owner is protective of his family but becomes angry and domineering if challenged. When his wife tries to tell him their children are intimidated, he says she's over-reacting. Metaphorical gift: A shepherd's shaft and the image of a shepherd holding a frightened lamb in his arms, knowing the calm beating of his heart will calm the lamb with the inscription Don't let the beating of your voice prevent your children from hearing the beating of your heart.
  9. A nurse says it's impossible for her to stay focused and finish things she's started. "It's like I have ADD" she says. Metaphorical gift: A mocked-up doctor's prescription page or a prescription bottle with the instructions: Take two pauses and come back in five minutes. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

One, Two, Three, Grow

I was in the “City of Power Politics” with vested interests and terrified people intent on maintaining the status quo. Though I could do a cost-benefit analysis and was pretty good at organization, I had absolutely no idea what was really going on, why, or how to change it. This was crazy, and I didn’t have the foggiest idea of how to deal with crazy. For sheer survival, if no other reason, I concluded I needed to understand crazy (Ed Morler, Preface, Finally Growing Up: Living an Authentic Empowered Life).
My day brightened considerably when I read those words. In a world of thieving investment bankers, human trafficking, and strategically planned warfare, I applaud Morler’s conclusion that the ultimate causal factor in human behavior is integrity, or the lack of it.  

Growing Up, which integrates the Enneagram with his Six Levels of Emotional Maturity, is about “consciously choosing to be responsible, and in that process, doing our best to discover and live our noble potential.” Morler recognizes increasing self-awareness as the path to greater emotional maturity:Integration is the result of a willingness to face and go through our fear, an exponential expansion of our willingness to be responsible and behave proactively, which broadens and deepens our sense of empowerment. It often tends to manifest as a dramatic, positive shift in our awareness of our being, doing and having. It is thus a major letting go of the compulsive, limiting aspects of personality (p. 216).

Morler proposes six levels of perceiving and responding to life’s situations, each level with characteristic emotions and set of filters, with 26 categories in each such as "Chronic Patterns" and "Willingness to Confront. Along the path of emotional maturity, he suggests, our questions change from “Am I getting enough?” to “Am I good enough?” to “Am I learning, growing, being enough?” to the secure realization, “I am enough.”

In this article I’ll illustrate the growing up of “Jake,” an Enneagram style Six, as an example of how Morler’s categories are grounded in real life. I do this in part because I learn best by trying things out, which – by the way – places me in Morler’s category of Learning Capacity somewhere between Level 6 (“...quick study”) and Level 5 (“Open to concepts supported by experience...”). So for today, I feel emotionally mature. [Sometimes, when confronted with highly theoretical abstractions, I dip to “rejecting new concepts as threatening” (Level 3) or even “It’s impossible, why bother?” (Level 1).]

Because Jake’s self-realization in this particular aspect of his life centered on his willingness to confront, the following outline will provide a frame of reference for his progress. Here are Morler’s six levels of emotional maturity in the category of Chronic Patterns, as well as descriptions of each level in Willingness to Confront, and Enneagram-specific descriptions for style Six:
Level 6 – LEADER Chronic Patterns: “High integrity. Comfortable presence. Clear focus. Big picture. Considerate of real needs. Positive action and results. Appreciates and enjoys life. Life is an adventure. Humor.” Willingness to confront: “Will confront whatever needs to be dealt with. Observational abilities finely tuned. Willingness to explore other beliefs and reassess one’s own. Great presence.”

Enneagram Six at Level 6: “Creator of security in and for others. Dynamic interdependence. Open. Perspective. Committed. Engaging. Playful. Integrates primarily to positive 9 and also to positive 3.

Level 5 – DOER Chronic Patterns: “Conscientious. Positive, provided claims are substantiated. Pleasant. Proactive devil’s advocate.” Willingness to confront:“Selectively confronts. Fair to good observational abilities. Cautious progress.”

Enneagram Six at Level 5: “Highly practical. Organizationally effective. Analyses. Tenacious. Troubleshooter. Constructive critic. Devil’s advocate.”

Level 4 – COPER Chronic Patterns: “More an observer than a participant. Casual, mellow. Takes the path of least resistance. Careless.” Willingness to confront:“Minimally confronts. Observational skills minimal. Difficult situations are avoided or ignored.”

Enneagram Six at Level 4: “Dutiful. Cautious. Security oriented. Skeptic. Ambivalent. Indecisive. Evasive.”

Level 3 – OPPOSER Chronic Patterns: “Sees world as hostile, threatening. Narrow emotional range. Best defense is an offense. Angry person. The debater.” Willingness to confront: “Attacks others to avoid confronting own irresponsibility. Tends to back down quickly when threats do not work.”

Enneagram Six at Level 3:“Phobic – Anxious. Pessimistic. Defensive. Looks toauthority figure. OR Counter-Phobic – Daredevil. Cynic. Blamer. Rebel. Antagonistic.”

Level 2 – MANIPULATOR Chronic Patterns: “World is so threatening that must hide own fear, hostile intentions and behaviors. Highly self-absorbed. The con man. The gossip. The martyr. The two-face.“ Willingness to confront: “Covertly manipulates and misdirects to avoid confronting and owning any responsibility.”

Enneagram Six at Level 2: “High anxiety. Immediately discounting of anything positive.  Everything is a crisis. Self-disparagement. Denial.”

Level 1 – VICTIM Chronic Patterns: “Cry-baby. Complainer. Whiner or just numbed out. Poor me. Yes man. The victim.” Willingness to confront: “Avoids almost all issues. Too inwardly focused to observe much at all.”

Enneagram Six at Level 1: “Whiner. ‘Continual unsolvable problems.’ Masochistic.Persecuted persecutor. Projection. Disintegrates primarily to negative 3 and also to negative 9.”
When Jake first sought coaching, he was new to the Enneagram. As he identified with the Six’s driving force of fear, he reported times in earlier years when he’d accepted others’ negative attributions of him, endured several emotional crises, and suffered high anxiety, sometimes to the point of depression, all more characteristic of levels 2-4 of the Six’s emotional maturity. Subsequently, through his own tenacity and desire to outgrow his fears, Jake had developed many Level 5 qualities, celebrating outstanding successes as an expert in his field. In addition, he’s extremely bright and self-aware and his life experiences had created great readiness to learn more about himself and to develop his full potential.

Primarily a phobic Six, Jake explored his behavioral patterns in the context of the Enneagram, particularly some ambivalence about his career choices – which had opened up the possibility of much greater responsibility based on his past successes. As he learned how to be more present, he had many moments of facing and moving through his fears. On the strength of that foundation, Jake embraced the opportunity to take an executive position in a turn-around situation, and entered that job at a level of self-awareness that placed him solidly in the 5th level of emotional maturity, with some signs of level 6, particularly in his desire to be a manager of others instead of a lone troubleshooter. We’d supported this vision and anticipated his new level of responsibility by exploring, rehearsing, and reinforcing the attributes and responsibilities of leadership.

During the first six months of Jake’s new job, however, the organizational dynamics threatened to trap him in the City of Power Politics described by Morler. The following comments capture Jake’s description of his shift into empowerment during his first six months on the job, as he continues to deepen his self-awareness and broaden his perspective.

“I realized I was very scared around people at higher levels in the company,” Jake began (illustrating his self-observation that he’d been selectively confronting at Level 5). “There are several very, very angry, insistent senior VPs in the company, and some of them I’ve known for ten years or more. But now that they’re at the top, I found myself saying “Yes, sir!” Jake was not the only one reacting to the organization’s top-down culture: “I got to the root of why the company is messed up – when they see something dysfunctional they ask the person reporting to them to find out what’s wrong and how to fix it. That results in many hours to prepare a summary, then the VP casts off what they’ve brought and says “You have to do twice as much.” People reporting to VPs say “Yes sir,” and then go flog the troops.” 

Jake related this dynamic to “child abuse” and we talked about how he was beginning to think systemically (Level 6’s “finely tuned observational abilities”). We identified what Peter Senge  (The Fifth Discipline) would call the organization’s archetype as most likely a version of “Fixes that Fail.” In this archetype, managers aim their responses at the symptoms rather than spending time identifying the underlying, systemic problem; with the unintended consequence that the quick fix exacerbates the initial problem symptom (William Braun, The System Archetypes).

Having analyzed the organization’s dysfunctional pattern, Jake found the courage to confront the VP: “If we look back at the insecurities I had, they were coming from all those people asking me to do things my gut told me not to do. So this week I’d been silently sitting there, taking a beating, when I finally decided the worst thing he could do was fire me. And I stood up to the VP, with my boss in the room. I acknowledged the company’s needs and the urgency, then said, ‘Here’s the reality of the organization you have today. . .’ I told him what we can do, which is focus on things with the broadest appeal and realize it may not be perfect immediately. The room was silent. The VP then turned his attention to someone else and started yelling at him!” Note that the VP – at best – was operating from Level 3, OPPOSER, in Morler’s lexicon of emotional maturity (“Best defense is an offense. . . Tends to back down quickly when threats do not work”).

As Jake’s story continues, you can see him gaining firmer ground in Level 6 (“Will confront whatever needs to be dealt with...”): “I stood up to the VP,” he said, “because it was the right thing to do. And it worked! So I started doing it with everybody. My boss asked me for some calculations, which had left no time to do my job. So I told him ‘I’ll be glad to keep you posted, but from now on, I’m going to spend my time doing what you hired me to do.’”

I asked Jake how he came to respond with such integrity. “There were a whole bunch of things I did,” he acknowledged, “but one sea change – I said what I believed to be true instead of holding back out of fear.”

Jake then planned a five-day team building agenda. He would bring his whole team in from around the world to be face-to-face, some of them for the first time. We agreed he would facilitate the session instead of bringing me in, to support his role as coach, not boss. He would embody empowerment and model a change from the historically hierarchical culture to one of collaborative interdependence. 

After exploring several concepts of team building, he adopted the Drexler Sibbet team performance model, addressing the first five stages during their week together: (1) Orientation (WHY am I here?), (2) Trust Building (WHO are you?), (3) Goal clarification (WHAT are we doing?), (4) Commitment (HOW will we do it?), (5) Implementation (WHO does WHAT, WHEN, WHERE?), (6) High Performance (WOW!), (7) Renewal (WHY continue?).

After the team’s week together, Jake’s e-mail to schedule a meeting with me was short and sweet: “The week went tremendously! Very interesting culture.” From the moment I picked up the phone it was evident he was enjoying Level 6 qualities (“High integrity. Comfortable presence. Clear focus. Big picture. Considerate of real needs. Positive action and results. Appreciates and enjoys life. Life is an adventure. Humor”). 

He started our conversation by joking, “I think they were afraid I was going to come in with Velcro suits and foam bats, so it was a little scary on Monday morning, but I used a simple, get-acquainted exercise where they interviewed each other in twos, then reported out about the person they’ve been talking to.” During Monday afternoon and all day and evening Tuesday, Jake brought in the company Vice Presidents to “to say directly why my team’s mission matters.” (He had been smart enough to give each of the VPs 30 minutes and talking points in advance; the rest of their time was to be for discussion.) “That turned things around,” he said, “to see that I had the VPs’ trust and the VPs took time to talk and answer any questions from team members.”

“I told my team the goal was for each person to have ownership in the results, and by the end of the week to have an entire plan with everyone knowing what they own and how they’re going to do it. Then they all sat at attention waiting for me to tell them what to do! I acknowledged that empowerment had not been the culture here, and said we had to completely let go of the way we’d been doing business: 'You’ve been told we have to do these things by these dates. I’m turning the meeting over to you now to solve these problems and decide how you want to be set up as an organization in order to do it.’ And it worked! I didn’t realize until the middle of the week how important it was to them to be treated like professionals. I kept in mind to model empowerment and, when they saw me not taking over, it would reinforce what I said. So I intentionally stepped out of the meeting more and more as the week wore on.” 

You can see evidence in the following comments of Jake’s moving back and forth between Level 5 (DOER) and Level 6 (LEADER): “I did find I had to keep monitoring myself. I kept wanting to solve problems that were on the table, but I think I did OK on that. At the beginning of the week I found myself diving in too much. Then as a gauge, I knew when I was feeling frustrated it was time to step back.” Describing the week’s outcomes, Jakes summarized: “We had two difficult things we needed to get done: to determine how long it would take to meet our goals, and how much it would cost. In the beginning, everyone on the team said we could not accomplish what we were expected to do in the given time frame, but by the end of the week they’d figured out how to do it! We’re still on a scary precipice, but as long as the family is tight and they know where they stand on things, we’ll be able to accomplish what we need to do.”

Jake also coached his team on how to do what he had done to interrupt the old pattern of top-down blaming and time lost preparing reams of reports. “I believe I’ve taught them how to respond when upper management starts getting on our backs again: ‘If you’re not proactive, they’ll keep doing it more.’”

In follow-up conversations there was every indication the collaborative change Jake encouraged and modeled was holding. “When I came back to work the following week,” he reported, “everyone was working and invigorated. I’d been wondering how to present to upper management what we’d done, and when I walked into my office found a presentation on my desk from one of my team members!” 

“My biggest challenge,” he concluded, “is to change this culture, and to do it by example, as if I’ve walked into a black and white company and I’m able to pour color all over it.” 



Saturday, March 12, 2016

Collaborative Consulting

What's the best way to work with clients who want their problems solved, when our goal is to help them learn how to solve their own problems? Social science research suggests they'll learn best if we collaborate with them instead of offering expert recommendations. The more the change process is self-defined, self-monitored, self-evaluated, and self-reinforced by those who have to make the changes, the greater the likelihood of enduring effects.

These same values predominate in other fields, as well. Collaboration has been embraced by many practitioners of medicine (mutual participation), leadership (motivational management), teaching (student-centered), and psychotherapy (client-centered). Why? Because taking the expert role in any of these situations can stifle self-initiated action. Medical patients, for example, are less likely to comply with a treatment regimen if they're told what to do without being involved in the process.

But there's a problem. If we value collaboration, we expect to work conjointly with people to diagnose, plan, and carry out actions that will solve their problems, resulting (we hope) in their greater commitment to the process of change and stronger ownership of results. We also assume the process of collaboration itself will generalize to other relationships. Historically, however, most organizations have been competitive in orientation and authoritarian in implicit expectations (some organizations still use such terms as chain of command).

Thus, if a client system is hierarchical and authoritarian, we might as well acknowledge that we're attempting a revolution.

As it turns out, that's not an issue very often, because we often fail to develop the kind of collaboration we believe in. And when we fail, we too often blame our clients; citing their resistance, for example. Instead, we need to look at the subtle ways we contribute to the problem by unwittingly taking an expert role.

The dictionary defines collaboration in two ways:
  • Where people cooperate voluntarily it means working together or acting jointly.
  • Where values are different, as when a conquering government takes over a country, to collaborate means to comply with.
It is in this second sense that collaboration in consulting situations can be compliance with the coach or consultant's wishes, because our clients often operate implicitly from more traditional, hierarchical modes of interaction.

How does that happen? Because we value collaboration so much we tend to insist on it, missing the point that this very behavior constitutes a bid for dominance. Telling someone "We're going to collaborate" is a paradoxical communication: clients are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they "collaborate" by going along with us, we may be praising them for in fact doing as they're told (this is a do as I say, not as I do scenarios). If they choose not to collaborate, we give them a negative label (resistance) for taking self-initiated action, the very outcome we say we're seeking. No wonder our clients sometimes seem confused.

I believe it's important to create an integrated set of values, building on the initial beliefs and expectations of both. It's possible, then, to negotiate an approach where collaboration occurs in the process of uncovering and integrating differences.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Beyond Active Listening

We all want to coach our clients to be present enough to see how their habitual patterns operate, to respond out of free choice instead of reacting automatically. To do this well, we don't just instruct; we model by being fully present ourselves.

This goes way beyond active listening or even empathic listening. As described in Co-Active Coaching, "You listen at 360 degrees... as though you're surrounded by a force field that contains you, the client, and a space of knowing... and see what emerges."

Similarly, Otto Scharmer (Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges) describes a deep level of listening ("Listening 4") that requires full presence, frees us from habitual thinking, and opens new possibilities.
  • Listening 1 (from habits): Habits of judgment that lead to reconfirming old opinions and judgments.
  • Listening 2 (from outside): Factual listening and noticing differences that lead to new data.
  • Listening 3 (from within): Empathic listening that leads to seeing through another's eyes and emotional connection.
  • Listening 4 (from Source): Generative listening that connects us with an emerging future and shifts our identity/self. As a coach I hold the intention to be present at the deepest level of listening and to help clients notice how Listening 1, 2, and 3 operate as they move into Listening 4.
For example, Jane is in love with Bob. Both with busy lives, they've carved out a two-hour walk together, when Bob's phone rings with a desperate call from his sister Maggie that her heat is off and she's freezing. Although Jane agrees to go to Maggie's with Bob, she also notices her Listening 1 ("There's never enough time for me!"). Instead of reacting from that level, she probes for facts (Listening 2): Bob is the older brother of several sisters who relied on him before Jane came into the picture and she and Bob have talked about how to gradually balance that with his commitment to her. He's told Jane he wants to check in quickly and then continue their walk.

Still not reacting, simply being present, while at Maggie's house Jane engages Listening 3, putting herself in Bob's and Maggie's shoes ("Look how affectionate he is with his sister. That's the same fountain of compassion I love and respect in him"). She continues to stay present, now aware at Listening 4 ("What is there to know beyond my habitual understanding?"). In this place of full presence, she sees that her initial reaction came from a fundamental patterned belief, "There will never be enough for me." She shifts to a different sense of identify "I am not my pattern" and its hold on her is released. She is fully present.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

What Is Inside the Drum?


There was once a small boy who banged a drum all day and loved every moment of it. 

He would not be quiet, no matter what anyone else said or did.

Various well-wishers were asked to do something about the child.



  • The first told the boy if he continued to make so much noise he would perforate his eardrums.

  • The second told him drum beating was a sacred activity and should be carried out only on special occasions.

  • The third offered the neighbors plugs for their ears.

  • The fourth gave the boy a book.

  • The fifth gave the neighbors a method to control anger through biofeedback.

  • The sixth gave the boy meditation exercises to make him placid and explained that all reality is imagination.

Each of these remedies worked for a short while, but none for long.

Eventually, a Sufi came along. He looked at the situation, handed the boy a hammer and chisel, and said, “I wonder what is INSIDE the drum?”

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Transcending Personality

In Masterful Coaching Robert Hargrove distinguishes between incremental learning (embodying new skills and capabilities), reframing (reshaping patterns of thinking), and transformational learning (shifting frame of reference):

While change at the incremental and reframing levels is quite common among my clients, I've found transformational change to be more of a challenge. Among the many reasons,
  • it's difficult to see implicit patterns that underlie our human systems,
  • seeing these patterns "unmasks" us, shows how what we've been doing isn't working, and
  • we resist facing up to anything at odds with our self-image.
The Enneagram is a powerful tool to help us see and transcend those personality patterns. The following three levels of learning illustrate each stage of potential change (new skills, shift in attitudes/behavior, shift in point of view) as exemplified by a client with Enneagram style Six:
  1. Incremental (Single-Loop) Learning refers to learning new skills and capabilities through incremental improvement, doing something better without examining or challenging underlying beliefs and assumptions. Let's say "Joe" is concerned because his boss sees him as negative, and he agrees to practice a creative problem solving technique. Instead of saying, "That won't work because it will take too long," Joe learns to incorporate his concerns into a solution statement ("I think that could solve our problem. Let's talk about how we can shorten the production time.") His boss compliments him on being more positive and Joe's happy to no longer be criticized. He may still tend to focus on the negative side of things, but he knows how to mask that behavior and keep himself off the hook in his job.
  2. Reframing (Double-Loop Learning) occurs by fundamentally reshaping the underlying patterns of our thinking and behavior so we’re capable of doing different things. This level of learning often enfolds single-loop or incremental learning, but goes beyond it. This is the level of process analysis where people become observers of themselves, asking, What's going on here? What are the patterns? It's still largely an act/react cycle, but it can get the underlying psychological superstructure to start wobbling. This is where most individual and/or organizational change takes place. This is also where the Enneagram provides a powerful road map for what to observe.
Joe, for example, might become aware of his general tendency to focus on what could go wrong, to look for hidden agendas. So, in addition to learning how to approach problems with solutions, he begins to see how his pattern of thinking tends to leave out what could go right. Now he's able to step outside himself a bit and notice how he filters out the positive. He's no longer defending himself from his boss's criticism – he "gets it" that in this way, he is negative.
When he finds himself focusing only on the negative, Joe might take out a piece of paper, write down all the negative possibilities in the left-hand column and counter these with positive possibilities in the right-hand column (a single-loop skill applied in a double-loop context).
As Joe observes this pattern consistently over time, he may spontaneously notice both sides of the equation and show this change in his language and in problem-solving capabilities. If so, the experience of reshaping his thinking and behavior has automatically taken him to the transformational or triple-loop level. In this one respect he is no longer the same person he was. Joe now experiences himself and his environment differently.
  1. Transformational (Triple-Loop) Learning is a shift in our context or point of view about ourselves. Something we thought and felt (and had manifested in our behavior) has come into question. We may feel exhilarated, stunned, shocked, humiliated, disoriented, and/or depressed at points during this process; the change may happen gradually or all of a sudden; but in this particular context, we will never be the same (there are other contexts by which we operate and which are still open areas for exploring assumptions, etc.).
Joe, for example, may have felt embarrassed to own up to his negative focus because he's always seen himself as optimistic. When he continues to observe this habitual pattern as it occurs, he'll find he begins to notice it without judgment, and eventually will see things differently, as indicated above. Or, he might worry about it for days, putting himself in a tailspin because his self-image is suffering. If Joe stays stuck in this place, he won't make the shift from reframing (double-loop) to transformational (triple-loop) learning. He might conceivably even deny the validity of the feedback he's been given and shift back to the level of single-loop learning, still able to use the new techniques he's learned, but accusing his boss of being unfair, or defending himself from the possibility that he isn't who he thought he was.
Some clients have the tenacity and guts to hang in and incorporate these unfamiliar and often unwanted aspects of themselves. For those who might otherwise be stuck, it helps to reassure them that what they're feeling is natural because they're letting go, in part, of an idealized self-image that has helped them cope since childhood. This difficult part of the passage can be reframed in a positive light. You might say, for example, "This is great. This means you've really shaken up a part of yourself that served you well in the past, but has been keeping you from using your full potential. Your whole view of yourself is changing, and this is exactly where you should be. You’ll find your perception of the world and feelings about yourself shifting in a very positive way."

I always hold it as my goal to encourage transformational learning. Rather than marketing "the Enneagram," I consider it a tool to aid in the process, emphasizing its practicality, describing my own experience, and sharing anonymous examples of how others have benefited. 

Clients are eager to learn more about themselves and what makes other people tick, in the hope of reducing frustration and making their lives more fulfilling. So it's fairly easy to achieve double-loop learning. 

Transformational learning may take a while. For one example, read "Take Time to Celebrate," where I applaud a client of more than six years, recognizing the time and effort involved in truly freeing herself, how she can breathe a little deeper each time she expands the confines of her personality's box. For other examples, read the eighteen stories in Somebody? Nobody? that show how observing and releasing habitual patterns is a complex and continuing journey.


(More about the three levels of learning in Chapter Two of Out of the Box Coaching with the Enneagram


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Laying Down the Armor

Each Enneagram worldview has some consistent patterns when in the box. For example, unexamined style Eights tend to view the world as a war zone and seek power to avoid feeling vulnerable. There's typically some toggle-switch thinking (“Whose side are you on?”), a fair amount of confrontation (it’s actually a search for truth), and a tendency to believe they’re seeking justice when in fact they want revenge.

All Enneagram styles operate from either/or polarities that maintain their worldviews. Here, it's "Either I'm strong or I'm weak." One coach described a female with these patterns who didn't know why everyone thought she was so tough and asked, "Do I have to bleed all over everyone to be vulnerable?" This sounds like a challenge, but it also reveals the weakness/strength polarity. Notice how she went to an extreme. If she isn’t strong, she’ll “bleed all over everyone.” Clients with this style respond well to humor: “Maybe just a cup of blood!”

One of my clients tried to engage her style Eight husband in a conversation about being less aggressive with friends and business associates. He replied, “What do you want me to do, jump off a cliff?” A natural tendency, in the face of such a response, is to presume the person is ridiculing the issue, or simply being ridiculous. Not so. Underneath their tough exterior, these are the most vulnerable of all the nine Enneagram styles. Hence the need to bluster. They’re reluctant to show vulnerability because they think it really might require jumping off a cliff. 

They like it when you're direct. You could reflect back their either/or assumption and suggest, “Let’s talk about how showing vulnerability can be a strength.” 

Another client I’ll call Mike said, “I’m working with a therapist who believes I have MUCH anger suppressed in me. As I was mulling this over, I remembered reading we're an anger-based type. I don’t really feel angry. Nor do my close friends see anger in me or from me. How do I access and/or release my anger?” Style Eights who lack awareness of their inner workings don’t understand how anger motivates their behavior. For example, they might criticize someone harshly without being aware of any inner rancor, yet the recipient experiences them as fierce and hostile. They may be surprised and apologize if people who feel attacked reveal their pain, because usually they don’t intend to hurt.

Mike said his friends didn’t see him as angry. A key pattern of this style is to be protective, even compassionate with a few trusted others, so he probably shows his vulnerability and not his anger to his closest friends. I recommended he seek specific feedback from people who aren’t close to him and who therefore may not typically experience his softer side: “You can pay close attention to others’ nonverbal reactions to you and probe for specifics; e.g., ‘I can tell by the look on your face, you’re struggling with what I just said. Is it the content that’s troubling, or how I said it, or something else?’" 

Asking for descriptive feedback is a good idea for all of us. We can’t know for sure how we come across until we can see ourselves through others’ eyes. This is especially important for style Eight. These clients typically feel innocent inside, as Mike did, yet their intimidating demeanor may keep others from giving them the feedback they need. 

I affirmed this with Mike, and suggested he could help people be honest with him by saying something like, "I have somewhat of a weakness in understanding what makes people tick, and I need your help." I also told him: "LISTEN to their feedback without a rebuttal. Ask for specific examples and don’t argue with them." 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Coaching in Action

Below are some behavioral strategies I've found useful with each Enneagram style. Remember to enfold these and other pattern-breaking experiments within each client's overarching transpersonal vision: 
  1. Style One clients move from seeing primarily what's wrong to developing nuance and options. You could suggest they make a list of their rules, then choose one to throw away or modify. Get them to laugh about this; make it playful.

  2. Instead of losing themselves by taking care of others, clients with style Two become loving and learn to give without strings. To clients with this style, I've suggested a reality check on their tendency to read minds: Write down what you assume about someone's needs, then check it out with the other person. Listen humbly to any differences.

  3. Style Threes shift from succeeding at any price to being inner-directed and communal. Help them discover what they're feeling. You might start with a physical sensation because style Threes often don't know how to label their feelings: Is it more a good feeling or a bad feeling? If it's good is it really, really good, or just kind of good? Do you think it could be mild pleasure, or even joy? 

  4. Style Four clients, who tend to be moody/blocked by melancholy when in their box, become effective in the external world. Metaphors work with all Enneagram styles, but especially well with this one; journaling about and discussing their dreams can also lead to fascinating discoveries. 

  5. Style Fives move from a reserved/reserving style to integrating action with thinking and becoming generous. These clients will benefit from observing how their comfort level changes when (1) sitting or standing at varying distances from people, (2) looking people in the eye for shorter or longer periods of time. By staying present during these experiments, they can develop more comfort with emotional contact. 
  6. The suspiciousness and self-doubt of style Six is transformed into trust of self and others, as well as self-assured action. These clients tend to focus on what can go wrong. They can be coached to incorporate their concerns into a solution statement. For example, instead of, "That won't work because it will take too long," they might learn to say, "I think that could solve our problem; let's talk about how we can shorten the production time."

  7. Style Sevens can be scattered and unreliable; they break through as visionaries who are realistically enthusiastic. One of the best ways for these clients to learn to stay with something painful is to coach them to solicit feedback about themselves and to respond without defensiveness: by finding some part to agree with, then probing for examples (encourage them to give no explanation in response; just to understand what the other person is saying). 

  8. From being driven by a war mentality and power seeking, style Eights become compassionate and just. When I catch these clients being soft I give them lots of encouragement. If they're business leaders an article from the Center for Creative Leadership on Forceful and Enabling Leadership is useful. They see how to develop an integrated style instead of "either I'm strong or I'm weak."

  9. Immobile and indecisive style Nines become focused and initiating, remaining inclusive while remembering their own agenda. Clients with style Nine patterns are often unaware of their anger, so I sometimes recommend a daily log to raise their consciousness by asking "If I were to have been at all angry today, what might have caused it?"


Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Paradoxical Approach to Problem Solving

In a recent blog post "Alter the Interaction, Not the Other Person," I describe a couple caught up in a self-fulfilling negative cycle, and how to interrupt that particular dynamic with paradoxical problem solving. 

Below are key components of this approach, drawn from work at Stanford's Mental Research Institute (The Tactics of Change, Fisch, Weakland, and Segal).

The Importance of Reframing
  • Sometimes "more of the same" increases resistance to change; e.g., a colleague who resents you telling her what she should do will not be easily influenced by your telling her she should not resent your comments. Your attempted solution is part of the problem, creating more of the same dynamic.
  • Far more effective is to lift yourself out of the situation and examine all behaviors, including the usual attempted solution, as problems to be solved.
  • Reality is only what a sufficient number of people agree is real. Paradoxical problem-solving redefines or "reframes" reality in a way that's compatible with the worldview of each person involved.
  • Paradoxical problem solving depends on the element of the unexpected. In the example above, asking your colleague what she thinks should be done is far more likely to be a source of influence than telling her what she should do.
  • Reframing a situation actually changes your perception of it. You're finding ways to influence the other person more effectively; at the same time you're being influenced as you come to see the world from the other's perspective.

Underlying Assumptions
  • It isn't necessary to find fault.
  • Nobody has to win; nobody has to lose. (People who come from win/lose positions are polarized ("Either I do what I want, or I'll have to do what you want"), which blocks the possibility of an unanticipated, creative option.
  • If what you're doing isn't working, do something else.

Some Paradoxical Change Strategies

  • Less of the Same: When a pattern maintains the status quo instead of bringing about change, systematically discontinue it, interrupt it, do something different.
  • Making the Covert Overt: Covert behavior has enormous power to maintain and reinforce an adversary relationship, and people are reluctant to talk about conflict openly, even when the problem is apparent. Often this is because we're not aware of how our own behavior contributes to the situation. Use this tactic only if you're willing to hear about and examine your own behavior.  :-) 
  • The Tai Chi Method (also called Prescribing the Symptom): Instead of fighting a particular behavior, consciously engage in it.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Whistling in the Dark

A coach I mentored described a client I’ll name Mike whose behavior threatened to compromise his law partnership. He’d cancel lucrative cases to work on high-risk, low-pay cases.  

When his partners tried to talk him out of these risky cases, he'd insist he could win. Instead of seeing their concern for the partnership's viability, he thought they were trying to get rid of him. 

His coach thought Mike was probably Enneagram style Six and I agreed. His insisting he could win cases no one else would risk seemed to me a combination of fighting for the underdog and whistling in the dark. ("I can win this case! I can do it!")

With style Six patterns it's often helpful to be very specific, leaving no room for interpretation. I suggested this coach be crystal clear if Mike started defending his focus on low-pay, high risk cases: "Well, you can't do that and stay here." She also decided to elicit his understanding of the problem and get him to be specific: "What are your options? What are you going to do about it?" 

You can sometimes use a pattern to break a pattern; in this case, using worry to break through the tendency to worry by asking "What's the worst thing that can happen?" Mike’s coach rehearsed what she might say in response to his belief the partners were trying to get rid of him: "You’re probably right. I suspect they will find a way to get rid of you unless you change." 

Once faced with stark reality, such clients may talk themselves into changing ("Now that I know the worst, I can do something about it") or they may decide they’ll be better off somewhere else. It’s important to leave the choice up to them. Keep their focus on finding their inner power (but don't tell them that; they'll hear it as advice and unconsciously rebel against it). Get them to oppose themselves, not others they perceive to be in authority, including you.

Early in my career I coached a similar client, who worked in Labor Relations and whose boss had told him repeatedly he had to change his outdated, aggressive negotiating stance with the unions. I tried everything I could think of to help my client hear the feedback and figure out why he was rebelling against the change. Yes, he disagreed with the new, more collaborative approach, but logically he understood it was now a requirement of his job, and he knew how to do it, so his resistance was not due to lack of skill. He simply didn't want to do it. 

I met with the two of them to see if some dynamic in their interaction was the problem. The boss was clear but my client was being so defensive he couldn't hear what was being said. I did get him to repeat back exactly what was being asked of him, but he was too busy explaining himself to integrate the message that this was not negotiable.

A few weeks later I gave up and told him, "I can't think of any way to help. You know exactly what’s expected and you choose not to do it. If you don't respond to your boss’s requests, you're going to be fired in 30 days. It's up to you. You can change or not change. Nobody else can do it for you. I wish I could help, but I'm out of ideas."

He changed immediately, kept his job, and credits me with saving his career! What did I do? Nothing. And in doing nothing I gave his power back to him. He had no advice to rebel against, no expectations to counter. He had to rely on himself.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Bite the Bullet

I’ll have to bite the bullet,” said Sandy, an entrepreneur who hated day-to-day paperwork. He transformed that negative, energy-draining metaphor to one he, who loves Jeeps, could use to greater advantage: "I'll jump in the Jeep!" How did he do that? By going on a creative excursion, a symbolic side trip into an arena seemingly unrelated to his stated problem. 

There are three key steps in this technique: 
First, identify the elements of a problem you haven’t been able to solve. Sandy was impassioned about a new project but bored with the mundane details of his business plan. “I guess I’ll have to bite the bullet,” he repeatedly groused. He knew the phrase refers to how soldiers took their minds off surgical pain before anesthetics were available. In parallel, he found it agonizingly painful to take those necessary steps to achieve his goal and had to “bite down” to help himself bear it. He wanted to break through his pattern of avoiding those details.
Second, go on a mental excursion for several minutes, letting your imagination explore a seemingly unrelated arena. If you need to stimulate ideas, you can brainstorm a list of anything imaginable – such as archaeology, biology, cooking, espionage, oceanography, parenting, space travel, transportation – then pick one arena that feels intuitively interesting. Sandy picked "transportation," and settled on cars. As he played with aspects of driving a car – velocity, heading toward a destination, traveling in an enjoyable way – he exclaimed, “I love Jeeps!”

Third, do a force fit; bring the novel ideas gained in the symbolic excursion to apply to the original problem. Sandy explored the similarities and differences of a bullet and a Jeep. Drawing on the image of enjoying a Jeep ride across bumpy ground, he created the metaphor "jump in the Jeep" to replace "bite the bullet." Same benefit a reminder to get busy exploring some difficult terrain but with an image that attracted him. This seemingly small shift released new energy in Sandy to approach the nitty-gritty details with more pleasurable anticipation.
Now look for the above three steps in this additional example:
New coach Alicia had completed her coach certification, was clear about her business vision, had defined her target market, and was working on her web site. “I’m on overload,” she sighed. “I see a lot of coaches farther along than I am in marketing to my target audience – they have their web sites, their newsletters; they’ve been there for so long. What does little start-up me have to offer that hasn’t already been said?” Alicia identified her key issue as "exhaustion with the process." She took a symbolic side trip into areas of experience where exhaustion occurs in pursuit of a goal.
A picture came to her mind of a mountain and a peak. "I think I was brought here," she said, "because I enjoy hiking and backpacking. There's always this mind game of 'Oh, it's so far' but once I get up there, the feeling I'm going to have!" Alicia let this picture work in her mind. "There's no short-cut," she concluded. "You can take a helicopter or drive your car up, but when you make the climb on your own, you're so much more proud of yourself."


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Lick and a Promise

From Marge Piercy’s poem, “For Strong Women,” I’d guessed she might be Enneagram style Eight. But her autobiography Sleeping with Cats suggests she's more likely to be style Two

Piercy describes herself as having taken care of people surrounding her much of her life – including earning a living for herself and the rest of the people in a ménage à quatre in her second marriage. This level of responsibility could also be true of style Eight, but the group marriage arrangement might be a better fit for style Two’s murky sexual boundaries (as would her attraction to the writer Colette). 

Also, Piercy bemoans – in a way that conveys a sense of betrayal – the fact that people have abandoned her when she needed them, which is less likely to be style Eights' complaint. Here's a fascinating passage about adopting two cats after her Siamese died:

“Woody [her third husband, Ira Wood] and I pursued an ad in the Boston Globe. There we found heaps of Burmese... in piles of rich dark brown fur cuddling one another, except for two exiles: two big sable cats she said were three months old, but I could tell they were six or eight at least... A male at stud had escaped from his cage and impregnated his daughter... Woody had fallen in love with them at once... Woody named the male Jim Beam, and I named the female Colette. I have always loved Colette’s writing. Jim Beam was immediately interested and friendly, but Colette hid under a chair... I captured her, held her and licked her like a mother cat. She was astonished and began to purr. From then on, except when she was angry with me, she was my cat. She fell in love that night. It was hardly sanitary, but it conveyed affection and trust in a language she understood.”

Licking a kitten, the way a mother cat would, captures much we need to know about style Two, and is the kind of metaphorical behavior that helps identify core Enneagram patterns. 

But I don't know Marge Piercy, and don't intend this to be a definition of her personality, only to provide examples of how we begin to make good guesses about someone's Enneagram motivations.