Uncovering your Enneagram type isn’t always easy. Every type shares similarities with the other eight, so figuring out which one reflects your core motivation can be tricky. 

Like most people, when I first learnt about the Enneagram I went online and found a free test. I tested as a Type Five. The description didn’t resonate with me so I took the same test again and then a different test. Still a Five. And, while some aspects of the Five sounded like me, it didn’t truly land. So I let it sit for a few years, not really worrying about what it all meant.

Then I picked up a copy of Beatrice Chestnut’s Nine Types of Leadership book, hoping it would help me in my work. When I (finally) took the time to read the Enneagram type descriptions in depth, and eliminated all of the other options, I realized that I was a Seven. The description of the Seven’s desire to avoid pain and suffering really hit home for me and I knew I had found my type, even though I did not match the stereotypical Seven description.  

If you are currently stuck deciding between two types, here are some suggestions to help you break the tie. 

1. Take a different test

There are many Enneagram indicators available, some free, some paid. As they are written by different people, the different questions may reveal a different perspective. 

Or try taking the same test at a different time or in a different environment when you feel calm and most like yourself. You can get started with Truity’s free Enneagram test here

2. Do your research

Don’t rely on the test results alone – they are indicators more than definitive answers. Dive into a book like the Enneagram Guide to Waking Up or a podcast like the Enneagram 2.0 to gain additional insights. 

You can also watch videos of panel interviews with all of the types or listen to interviews with people of different types and subtypes to get a sense of what each type looks like in action, off the page. 

3. Explore different aspects of the Enneagram

Go beyond the general description of each type in action. There are many layers to the Enneagram and each can reveal something a little different. Explore the defenses of each type, centers of intelligence, passions and fixations, to name a few. 

4. Dive into the instinctual subtypes

Many of the types can behave in similar ways to the other types, but for different reasons. Exploring the instinctual subtypes can help tease apart these differences. They explain why Nines can look like Sevens or Twos, why Fours can look like Eights or Sixes, and why Sixes can look like Ones or Twos. You can read more about subtypes here, and look at the breakdowns for the 27 subtypes here, here, and here.

And if you are really stuck, I highly recommend looking at the nine countertypes. 

5. Look at the differences not the similarities 

When comparing two Enneagram types, we often focus on how we “match” or are like each of the types. Instead focus on what isn’t like you - how your actions, thoughts and feelings differ from each description. 

Get hold of a thorough description of each type, and ideally subtype, and grab two highlighters. For each line, mark whether it’s like you or not like you. Basically you're making one long list of ticks and crosses – you can even add them up at the end and see which one has the most of each. (That’s what I did when comparing my subtypes!).

6. Ask a family member or close friend

Find someone you have spent a lot of time with, don’t worry if they know much about the Enneagram. Give them a copy of the two type or subtype descriptions you are stuck between (Note: the subtype descriptions in this book are useful for this activity). Ask them for their honest opinion as to which they see as being more like you. 

Often people who have spent a lot of time with us can see our flaws and foibles more easily than we can. They can shed light on a pattern of behavior described by the Enneagram in a way you might not see. 

7. Attend a workshop 

It also helps to learn about the Enneagram with other people. You can see other types in action, ask them questions and ask the teacher questions. 

Live workshops, whether online or in person, will give you a chance to observe panel discussion and join small breakout groups. And if you aren’t sure of your type, you often get to join groups for both types you are exploring as a way of “trying them on” and seeing if it feels like a good fit for you.

I know that whenever I am in a group of Sevens I just light up with excitement, with little effort on my part. I am sure other types have a similar (but different) experience when spending time with people of their type. 

8. Do a conversational typing interview with a certified Enneagram coach 

Having a certified Enneagram coach who takes you through a conversational typing interview can also reveal patterns of thinking, feeling and actions that you can’t easily see yourself. They can look for things a written test can’t, such as body language, tone of voice, posture and what you seem to be overly attached to, sensitive or inflexible about. 

But make sure you do this process with a qualified professional, otherwise they are just guessing. CP Enneagram and Narrative Enneagram both offer typing interview certifications.

9. Have patience

Finally, have patience. For some people, determining their Enneagram type is a multi-year process. And that's okay. It isn’t time wasted, rather it’s an important part of the self-discovery and development process. 

Accept wherever you are at right now and focus on what you do know. Sometimes embodying one type for a while and working with its growth path, even if it’s not your correct Enneagram type, can be a worthwhile exercise.

Samantha Mackay

Samantha Mackay is a certified Enneagram and leadership development coach who believes work should be energizing, not draining. She combines the Enneagram with her experience of recovering from burnout twice to help leaders and teams thrive during stressful times. Connect with Samantha at www.samanthamackay.com