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.