People are wonderful; people are difficult. The Enneagram helps us make sense of both these statements. Learning about the nine personality types opens up our ability to tolerate, appreciate and love people who are different from us. There’s a lot to like about each type; human diversity really is wonderful.”Peter O’Hanrahan
Note: My new online course on the Enneagram, Insight to Integration, is now open for enrollment.
Who doesn’t want deeper connection and deeply connecting experiences?
To know and be known; to resonate deeply with something, or someone: this is a universal longing.
Because connection is so highly prized from so early on, the way we connect tends to be something that gets very interfered with (or shaped by) our egos.
From those first moments that we perceive the value in connecting (safety, dignity and belonging) we mold ourselves to secure it; a priority that keeps us in an internal state of division. The Social self comes into being at around the same time as the Shadow self.
The process of becoming aware of – and feeling the pain of – that internal disconnect is a common inspiration behind developmental work. We form the desire to bring our needs for connection with others and for connection with ourselves into some sort of congruence.
I am a fan of using the Enneagram to support such inner work, including for the intention of creating and sustaining the internal conditions for deeper connection with ourselves and others. I believe that self-awareness is 80% of what’s involved in connecting with others (the other 20% I’d identify as interpersonal intelligence or awareness).
Using the Enneagram to connect with ourselves is basically what this previous post addressed.
This post considers connection with others through the lens of the Enneagram, and offers some suggested areas of focus if you care to use the Enneagram to support deeper connection with others.
It assumes some knowledge of the Enneagram, and in the second part of the article, I get quite industrious with the lingo! So I do recommend reading the other post first.
How we connect
Although connection does have observable manifestations, we cannot really know whether connection is present inside someone’s consciousness. Connection is subjective, or if you’re familiar with integral theory, an aspect of the upper left quadrant.
Our Enneagram types definitely point to the things and people we will connect over and with (and I’ll get to that). However, as I already spoke to, the way we connect is something that has been shaped by multiple factors, for example, culture and family dynamics.
One way to come to know how you connect at a granular level is to try to observe your individual ‘See, Go and Check’ for connection (this is a piece of coaching technology). I’ll demo mine and then I suggest you do yours.
How you ‘see’ is what you believe about connection, how you ‘go’ is what you actually do to get your connection needs met, and how you ‘check’ is how you know connection is there.
Note that the below descriptors apply to how I approach connection with others. The language would be a lot different for how I approach connection with myself.
How I See Go Check in relation to Connection with others
See – “Connection happens whenever my attention is available to the other person, and theirs is available to me (they take an interest and listen). Connection feels quite available to me. Deeper connection is always possible when the other person is willing and open.“
Your turn: Try to name a few statements that represent your beliefs about connection. Is connection easy or hard to come by? Why? What priority do you give connection?
Go – “I move towards people with openness and friendliness. I try not to intimidate or make uncomfortable. Ask questions. Listen. Listen for the underlying want, need, feeling tone. Share my experience and thinking with them.“
Again, identify a few behaviors of yours. Are you a cool cat or a puppy dog like me? How specifically do you try to connect? What do you try to show with your eyes and body language?
Check- “Are we both present? Is there eye contact, curiosity, listening?“
Now you: Identify your personal checks. Do you wait for something on someone’s face, or words of affirmation? Where do you check for connection internally?
The way you answer these questions should build a profile of you in relation to connection.
I noticed as I did the exercise that my See, Go, Check for connection has changed a little over the years. Either I have relaxed the criteria on what makes a satisfying connection or I’ve lowered my standards – I can’t decide!
It’s undeniable that my ‘felt sense’ of connection is most alive when I am in an intimate exchange of ideas. But as I’ve used the Enneagram alongside inner work, I’ve widened my capacity to experience deeper connection beyond those times when I am having a fascinating discussion.
I’ve learned that a deeper connection does not have to entail a deeper conversation. This has made connecting with family members that do not share my hunger for depth on topics a possibility.
More on why I think the Enneagram helps with deeper connection
Learning and using what you know about your Enneagram type makes it more possible to see when you are getting in your own way of deeper connection.
It does that by supporting you to define your self-limiting stances precisely, which helps you to identify them as they happen. When combined with witnessing consciousness, this identification helps us to disengage from limiting habits.
If you take things a step further and learn about all the types, then Enneagram work will help you to become empathetic of others. Even when we don’t know someone’s type, Enneagram wisdom trains us to feel beneath the type and enjoy a heart to heart (or essence to essence) exchange. Conversation becomes more rich and beautiful.We need thoughtful and nuanced descriptions of all the Enneagram types, rather than their nicknames. Click To Tweet
Another important benefit that I won’t go into in this post is that the Enneagram gives us all this language for ourselves, which helps us to show others who we are. That can be a huge shortcut when it comes to deeper connection.
Likewise, the Enneagram can give you some information on how best to communicate with other types.
Again I won’t go into that here as I want to keep the focus internal. If you’re after specific tips for relating to each type (rather than simply connecting with them), this article is fantastic.
Does the Enneagram ever get in the way of deeper connection?
I have to mention that the Enneagram can be quite a big obstacle to empathy and connection. This has been an issue for me.
If you go off into analysis whilst other people are talking, you aren’t actually being with them, and neither of you are going to feel connected. Some of this is okay if you are in a coaching or therapy role, and are using the Enneagram with clients. But for our people in real life, it is not really okay.
If your head is full of Enneagram learning, be mindful of not poking people with cognitive curiosity. I think this is something all newcomers to the Enneagram are prone to, and maybe Head Types – Enneagram types Five, Six, and Seven – especially.
Being a Head Type myself, one of my practices is to be present with people and stay in touch with my heart and body as I do.
It is a bit counter-intuitive, but we learn the Enneagram so it can go into the background. Or “in order to forget it”, as Enneagram teacher Michael Goldberg says.
Also know that many types, and perhaps especially Countertypes, do not resonate with the prevailing descriptions of their types.
So even if you know someone’s type or they told you, avoid making sweeping generalizations (or at least vocalizing them!) It won’t do you any favors with connection. Trust me, I have the t-shirt.
What the Enneagram says about how we connect
The Enneagram is rife with information about what we connect over and why.
Of course, we connect through and with our egos (which is what the nine Enneagram types are FYI) and most people gravitate towards similarity, for friendship anyway. I think it is a little different with attraction.
I don’t mean that we look for the same types: I think that we can find commonality with every single Enneagram type.
The main indicators of where there is likely to be natural connection are where two people share the same dominant Instinct, and where they are part of the same Center of Intelligence.
Those who share the same dominant Instinct, whatever the type, have what is equivalent of the same values system.
The same applies, although I believe to a lesser extent, with the Centers of Intelligence. Those who share the same Center as us may feel familiar on a level. They may also trigger us, given each type in the same Center of Intelligence has a different way of relating to that Center.
There are other clusters of commonality too, which I’ve included in a graphic just for titillation (they are from Enneagram Beyond the Basics by Herb Pearce.)
Clusters are interesting and can help with identifying a person’s type. But for me, Instincts and the Centers are the most instrumental to connection, as when we share those, we need to do less in terms of abandoning our own perspective.
When we can observe these automatic patterns, it opens up the possibility of moving towards people we can learn from, instead of feel safe with.
This seems like a good idea at this current moment in time.
Enneagram clusters according to Herb Pearce
Be warned: these descriptors don’t exactly warm the cockles…
How specifically to use the Enneagram for Deeper Connection
Here’s where, for me, the rubber hits the road on this topic.
1. Use the Enneagram to connect with yourself
I know it hasn’t been the focus of this post, but I really advise using the Enneagram primarily for deeper connection with yourself before turning to deeper connection with others.
If you focus on the second thing first or exclusively, you are only allowing yourself to access a teeny amount of the Enneagram’s potential. This also may be an expression of your personality in Fixation (Twos, Sixes, Sevens, Eights, Nines, listen up! You all have different motivations for wanting to focus on others and not yourself.)
And don’t end with understanding: use the Enneagram to practice self-compassion with all the parts of you. Here as well, relationship with others is an extension of the relationship we have to self. If we judge ourselves, then we will find it impossible not to project judgment onto others.Richard Rohr says if the Enneagram hasn't made you more compassionate with yourself, then it hasn't transformed you yet. Click To Tweet
2. Use the Enneagram to surface your potential empathy blind spots
As I go into in the previous post, each type has a pattern called a Fixation. It is the key thing to know about your type as on the other side of Fixation is freedom.
The following empathy blocks are patterns that two Enneagram experts have identified as flowing from that main pattern of type.
The nine blocks to empathy (according to Beatrice Chesnut and Uranio Paes)
Enneagram type One – Constantly seeing what is wrong; being intolerant of own and others’ mistakes; waiting to point out the wrongs; not accepting own emotions; habitually over-controlling themselves.
Practices: Recognizing multiple right ways, and being with people as they are.
Enneagram type Two – Having a hidden agenda behind empathy; strategic conditional empathy; over-empathy, which leads to self-neglect. (NB: Empathy is a gift-quality for Twos).
Practices: Accept and own feelings and witness the self.
Enneagram type Three – Trying to run away from feelings; performing; disconnecting with people to go do. (NB: Threes usually have a lot of natural capacity to empathize).
Practices: Slow down, pay attention to relationships as much as performance and welcome more feelings.
Enneagram type Four – Going inside and staying there; self-referencing; difficult to have empathy as they internalize other people’s experiences. Don’t deploy full capacity.
Practices: Being out there with the person. Feeling into what is happening from the person’s shoes, without introjecting content.
Enneagram type Five – Disconnecting from emotions and being full of own ideas. Distancing further when others share feelings. Thinking about feelings. Privileging thinking over feeling. NB: Many Fives have their work cut out in this developmental area.
Practices: Integrating the heart.
Enneagram type Six – Start doubting and seeing what’s hidden and protecting themselves. Analysis paralysis and contrarian tendencies.
Practices: Use head less and be less anxious.
Enneagram type Seven – Self-absorbed and self-referencing; share own ideas and not listening; have ideas when talking rather than listening, compulsively bringing positive spins. Avert their gaze from what’s there on an emotional level.
Practices: Patience, a less distractable way, concentrating.
Enneagram type Eight – Intending to see what’s unfair or what’s wrong, making assumptions, assuming negative agendas. Not having time to listen. Not being able to be with weakness or vulnerability.
Practices: Vulnerability, and slowing down.
Enneagram type Nine – Listening without being fully there. Absorbing without bringing in the heart. Passive about what is really going on. Go against without vocalizing disagreement.
Practices: Stay in touch with yourself when being empathic, and offer feedback.
3. Allow the other types to touch you
Finally, I really recommend connecting with each type structure on your own, privately. Take them into your heart.
I have found it great to move between deepening my work on my own type and understanding one or two of the other types. There is a natural incentive to understand the types of those closest to you.Make a point to connect with something about each type. Click To Tweet
It is actually not that hard to let the Enneagram to touch your heart, as it is a rich roadmap of humanity. All of the Enneagram types kind of break your heart. But there is also the ability to be judgmental if we cannot experience the types emotionally.
Circling back to a point I made earlier, you have to take a lot of care not to just learn about a type, but experience the world through their eyes.
If connecting with others is an aspect of life that is edgy for you in some way, I really encourage you to know your own way of being with connection as a standalone exploration, before bringing in the Enneagram.
As and when you do bring in the Enneagram to support you in connecting with others, be aware of the potential for it to block your goal of empathy and connection. It is so easy for that to happen, even if you have the best of intentions.
Keep the main focus on staying connected with you, and having compassion for yourself. Speculate on your own empathy blind spots – and keep that exploration light!
Finally, geek out on the other types.
And don’t forget to let them into your heart.