This blog post is part of our Truity at Work series for those who are new to people management. In these posts, we’re creating useful content for managers and teams alike, helping you to understand personality, improve communication, and navigate conflict and change with ease. For an overview of the series, start with our introductory post here.
In the era of knowledge work, being able to effectively communicate with your staff is key to productivity and achieving outcomes. While we have all been communicating since we were born, that doesn't mean we have mastered it as a skill.
Effective communication requires the ability to listen effectively to others. It requires being able to communicate tactfully but also clearly, with a sense of purpose. It needs both parties being able to discuss an issue until they are clear on what needs to be done. And you have to be able to communicate with tone, facial expression and body language, as well as words.
Each Enneagram type has a talent for some of those things, but not for all. Some types are excellent listeners; others struggle not to interrupt. Some are very effective at expressing themselves non-verbally, and others can be monotone and stiff. Some types are practiced at having a clear purpose and saying that directly, while others can be more vague about what to focus on.
As a manager, you will have a sense of your own strengths and challenges, of what you need to start practicing to become a more effective communicator. That said, it’s also helpful to adapt your style, or know how to adapt your style, to increase your effectiveness with each type. Once you know the Enneagram type of your team, practice using some of the following approaches to communicate more authentically with your staff.
Looking for a short version you can share with a coworker? Take a look at this video.
Body Types - Walk the talk
Eights, Nines and Ones are Body types, relying on kinesthetic intelligence to navigate the world. Since they trust actions more than feelings or words, they want to see you walking the talk and will be quick to know when you aren’t. They are looking for managers that are consistent, congruent and fair. They expect managers to take responsibility for their actions and create order out of chaos in some way.
While the communication strategy for each of the Body types differs, they do have these themes in common. If your team has a lot of Body types on it, but you’re not one of them, practice doing what you say you will and being more consistent between your words and actions.
When communicating with an Enneagram Eight, be mindful of being indirect, sugar coating, or waffling. If you are worried about offending them, then definitely aim to communicate your main point in 10 seconds or less and send emails in the form of short bullet points. Be direct, to the point, and don’t hold back key information.
If you do need to confront them, do so in private and hold your ground. If you disagree, say so. While they may feel angry and intimidating to you, that may not be their experience. They may see themselves as passionate, not realizing the impact they have on others.
When communicating with an Enneagram Nine, focus on creating rapport and harmony first. Avoid going straight to the point; for example, ask how they are doing and how their weekend went. It’s important to a Nine to feel heard and included, so avoid interrupting them when they are speaking. This is a great time to practice your listening skills.
When you get to the topic at hand, be concrete and practical about what needs to be done, but don’t impose anything onto them. Ask them to say in their own words what they agree with, and wrap up by discussing what you are both committing to do and by when.
When communicating with an Enneagram One, it’s essential to be specific, detailed and sequential. Talk about what needs to happen by when, what the final product looks like, and what’s expected of them. Allow them to interrupt you with suggestions for improvements and concerns over where mistakes might occur or quality could be compromised.
Heart Types - Be personal and relatable
Twos, Threes and Fours use their emotional intelligence to navigate the world. Hence, they rely on feelings more than actions or words, and they want to see you being personal and relatable. You will need to take time to connect with them and provide validation, approach and recognition in the form of compliments and positive feedback.
Heart types trust people who say what they feel and who express their emotions at work – verbally and physically, through facial expressions and body language. And while the approach differs slightly for each of the Heart types, they do have these themes in common. If your team has a lot of Heart types on it and you’re not one of them, start to get in touch with your emotions and practice sharing personal stories and experiences.
When communicating with an Enneagram Two, be informal and personal. Talk about how you are feeling, what’s going on for you, and ask them to do the same. Aim to be positive and upbeat, while also being sincere. Make sure you provide them with specific positive feedback about their work and contributions. They need to know how people feel about them, otherwise they can be anxious which fuels a need to be needed.
When communicating with an Enneagram Three, be practical and straightforward. While they are a Heart type, and are very emotional beneath the surface, they are pushing those feelings aside in order to be productive. Think of your conversations in terms of elevator pitches: start with the most important thing first and follow up with what success looks like for them and for you. Make sure you communicate what a great result looks like and how it will be rewarded.
When communicating with an Enneagram Four, be authentic and emotional. Listen deeply to their story, not interrupting them or dismissing their feelings. They need to be seen and understood by you before they can take practical action. Avoid any indication that their feelings are too much or too intense for you. That will quickly put the type Four off. And give them compliments that are specific to them, often about the unique or creative value they have added.
Head types - Discuss the alternatives
Fives, Sixes and Sevens are Head types who rely on their analytical intelligence to navigate the world. They trust their thoughts, ideas and words, more than feelings or actions, hence they want you to take the time to talk through the options, getting to know your thoughts and what you are thinking.
Head types are looking for managers who will analyze a situation with them and be open to discussing it. They want to test you and the options before committing to action. They are looking to anticipate all the possible issues, within the context of the bigger picture, in order to create certainty and safety for themselves.
While the communication strategy for each of the Head types differs, they do have these themes in common. If your team has a lot of Head types on it, but you’re not one of them, make time for transparent communication and discussion.
When communicating with an Enneagram Five, have your research ready. Aim to engage them in a discussion based on data, knowledge, information and facts. If it's a topic they are interested in, they may consider themselves an expert on the topic. Acknowledge that expertise.
Listen to their concerns about the analysis done so far and what other research might be required. Enable them to share their knowledge and expertise with you, but don’t try to lock them down to a final decision or opinion on the spot. Allow them to mull it over for a few days, and then come back to you. Then focus on testing different options and assessing the data.
When communicating with an Enneagram Six, it's essential to be transparent. Don’t hide anything or hold back information. They will be able to sense something is amiss, which will instantly raise their suspicions. Talk through the various scenarios they anticipate happening. Listen to their worries, and allow yourself to be concerned. That will help to reassure them that you take the issues seriously. Then make a plan together for how to test each scenario to determine what is a real threat and what is imagined.
When communicating with an Enneagram Seven, allow time for brainstorming and tangents. It is essential that Sevens can talk through all the possibilities and options they’re seeing in relation to the proposal you are discussing. Avoid shutting those down too soon, but when you get a sense they are slowing down, ask them how they want to prioritize which option to take forward, and then make a plan together. But make sure the Seven is clear on what they are committing to.
The only way to improve our communication is through practice. Develop a mini communication strategy for each team member (or each type in your team) with a couple of tiny practices you can implement immediately. Don’t make it overwhelming. Improving our communication skills takes constant practice, so aim to start small and be as consistent as possible. And check in with your staff to see how you’re doing.