During my first year out of college, I completed a social justice fellowship that was pretty much like spiritual Real World. A cross between social justice-based community organizing and living in intentional community, there was a lot of sharing. We spent a ton of time in conversation with one another, and went to great lengths to try to get to know each other as individuals and understand where we were coming from. And if the experience taught me anything, it’s that people are nuanced, and it’s nearly impossible to fit everyone into a single ‘personality’ type. While tools like the Myers-Briggs test do a decent job of helping to break down patterns in people, these types of personality tests often miss a ton of the meaty, deeper insights that make up who we are as people. If you really want to get to know someone, and why they do the things they do, this is the personality test you should be using.
It’s called The Enneagram, but the word ‘test’ really doesn’t do it justice. It’s best to think of the Enneagram as more of a chart, or a visual path for understanding why we do the things we do. One of the most fascinating things about the Enneagram is how much it varies from person to person. Two people with the same Myers-Briggs type can have vastly different Enneagrams, and the "wings" of our Enneagram offer even deeper insight below that.
The Enneagram is made up of nine "core" types, with other elements and deviations built in to account for the nuances in our personality. While this overview from the Enneagram Institute is very high-level, it gives you an a sense for each of the nine types at their most basic level.
Type One is principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and perfectionistic.
Type Two is generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing, and possessive.
Type Three is adaptable, excelling, driven, and image-conscious.
Type Four is expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental.
Type Five is perceptive, innovative, secretive, and isolated.
Type Six is engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.
Type Seven is spontaneous, versatile, acquisitive, and scattered.
Type Eight is self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational.
Type Nine is receptive, reassuring, complacent, and resigned.
If you find yourself saying something like, "big deal. I could answer yes to all of those," recognize that that's kind of the point! It's normal to see yourself in several of the types (I'm a 4/7 split) and the Enneagram is even designed to cater to these different facets of our personalities. Interested in getting to know yourself or someone around you on a deeper level? Here are seven reasons why you should toss out that personality test and spend some time studying the Enneagram instead.
1. It’s More Representative Than Myers-Briggs
Unlike personality typing systems that cast individuals into one definitive type, the Enneagram accounts for the nuances of the total person by also including “wings." Because no person could possibly fit a certain "type" to a tee, the Enneagram type also identifies the adjacent type you most align with. Wings represent less central parts of your personality, contextualize your main type, and add more specificity to certain situations. Aka, they’re hyper-specific, and totally helpful.
2. It Focuses Less On Habits, And More On Motivation
As Ennea-expert Ian Cron explains, the Enneagram goes beyond surface-level traits. Unlike personality-typing systems, the Enneagram bypasses mere personality traits and looks at the total person as a complete chart. Further, it zeroes in the motivations that drive our traits and habits, and how we wind up there. Most of what you’ll find in the Enneagram is an explanation of what causes our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, which is super helpful when trying to understand the choices we make.
3. It Helps Other People Understand You Better, Too
And on that note, these insights aren’t just useful for understanding ourselves — they’re great for understanding other people, too. The Enneagram takes decision patterns and ties them to reason and logic, which helps paint a more complete picture of why we do the things we do. Further, it arms us with some dialogue for explaining or understanding behavioral choices in tough situations. This makes the Enneagram especially helpful in relationships.
4. It Describes How You Tend To Act At Your Best And Worst
Thanks to its inclusion of both an “Integration” and “Disintegration” point, the Enneagram is able to help you identify and work with the patterns that tend to come out when you’re at your best and your worse. These elements show how you deal with stress, and highlights the tendencies you start to embody when you really feel empowered.
5. It Helps You Build Better Relationships
The Enneagram is an especially useful tool for relationships. It’s particularly helpful in navigating romantic relationships (in much the same way that the Love Language system is) in that is speaks to the motivations and fears that drive our understanding and application of instinct, intimacy, sharing, and the like. If you can spend some time studying your partner’s Enneagram, you’ll have a better chance of meeting them in the middle on big decisions, compromises, and disagreements.
6. It Makes You A Better Co-Worker
In that same vein, the Enneagram is also a powerful tool for professional teams. Understanding someone’s Enneagram can provide valuable context for why they advocated for certain ideas, why they say "no" to others, and how they even wound up at the idea in the first place. It gives insight into how people like to lead and be led, what someone might really be trying to communicate in that vague statement (the Enneagram is no crystal ball, but it is helpful in sussing out subtext and meaning).
7. It Makes You Healthier
Taking the time to study your Enneagram can also be a game-changer for managing mental health. Ever wondered why it’s so hard for you to stay in one place? Not sure why you prefer to listen than talk? Does the idea of going to the work holiday party make you completely anxious? Wish you could finally put an end to your people-pleasing? Need some help unpacking all that resentment and fear you’ve been carrying around? The Enneagram offers so much insight into the tricky, lesser-known parts of ourselves that are especially tough to navigate. When viewed through the Enneagram lens, things like anxiety and fear start to feel more manageable, and thus, a lot less overwhelming.