How Does the Enneagram Improve Emotional Intelligence in Organizations?

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on October 19, 2022

For decades, if not centuries, the philosophy of business was to check your emotions at the door. The only skill welcome at work was one of practical action or logical analysis. Since the publication of Daniel Goleman’s seminal work Emotional Intelligence in 1995, there has been a realization of the importance of emotional intelligence to our work-related success. Since then, organizations have slowly been shifting towards valuing those skills and encouraging their development. 

But organizational change takes time. It is not a matter of simply saying “emotions are now welcome,” but is a shift away from the old approaches to leadership and managing people, a shift in how we listen, what conversations we encourage and how we respond when someone is emotionally reactive. Every interaction we have with someone at work shapes the culture of the workplace – either reinforcing it or reshaping it. 

The Enneagram is excellent at encouraging and increasing emotional intelligence at work. Let’s explore what that looks like in practice. 

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and to respond sensitively to the emotions of the people around you. If you have spent time honing your emotional intelligence, most of the time, you will know what you’re feeling, what those feelings mean and how they can affect other people. 

When you can manage how you express your emotions and how you react to unexpected feelings, you will be better at:

  • Managing and releasing your stress
  • Improving your interactions and communication with others
  • Empathizing with others’ emotions and challenges
  • Smoothly navigating obstacles as they arise
  • Defusing conflict, within yourself and with others  

For many people, especially those in knowledge-based industries, work happens with and through people. It happens in our interactions and relationships – with colleagues, customers and the community. For these people, work is not about making a single part of a single widget. Being successful at work requires collaboration. And the more emotional intelligence you have, the more of an effective collaborator you will be. 

How does the Enneagram increase emotional intelligence?

There are four elements to emotional intelligence. They are:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management or self-regulation
  3. Social-awareness or empathy
  4. Relationship management 

Let’s take a look at each element and explore how the Enneagram helps individuals and organizations develop each one. 

  1. Self-awareness 

Self-awareness is defined as the ability to recognize your emotions as you are experiencing them, and understand how they are affecting your thoughts and actions. It is also the ability to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses.

The Enneagram describes nine common patterns of emotions and how we react to them. Some types tend to dial down their emotions while other types experience their feelings intensely. Some types experience emotions as sensations rather than feelings, and others analyze their emotions instead of actually feeling them.  

By understanding our default emotional patterns, we can start to build self-awareness of our emotional experience and how we react to emotions when they arise. 

We constantly experience emotions at work. We might be worried and anxious before a performance review meeting, or nervous before a presentation. We might be irritated that our project did not receive the funding we hoped, or frustrated that our project didn't go to plan. We might be disappointed we didn't get the promotion we hoped for or disillusioned by a change in direction the organization is taking. We can also be thankful for the team we work on, optimistic about future plans and feel secure in our job. 

When we are aware of our emotional experiences as they happen, we can see those feelings as information. Now, we can pause and explore them further, rather than reacting to the emotion in a way we might regret later. 

When an organization encourages and develops self-awareness in their staff, their culture tends to be more solutions focused. That’s because staff are more confident in their strengths and can pause before reacting, so they spend less time blaming or criticizing others when things go wrong.

  1. Self-management 

Once we are able to recognize our emotions, we need to be able to express them in healthy ways. That doesn’t mean controlling them, suppressing them, or ignoring them – that’s unhealthy emotional management. Instead, we want to recognize what is behind the emotion and use that to take initiative, follow through on commitments, or adapt to changing circumstances. 

The Enneagram describes how each of the nine types react to four primary emotions – anger, sadness, fear and happiness. 

Let’s use anger as an example. Some types are quick to show their anger. Others express it in a more passive-resistant or passive-aggressive way, such as saying ‘yes’ when they mean ‘no’ or not offering their opinion when asked for one. Neither of these reactions are healthy. When we experience anger – including lesser forms such as irritation, frustration or resentment – our feelings are telling us our boundaries have been crossed in some way. 

When we can acknowledge our reactive impulse, we can pause to ask ourselves what line has been crossed and what would be an effective way to deal with it. Sometimes that means talking to someone, saying ‘no’, or speaking up on behalf of others or of yourself. It is a call to take action. The outcome will be far more effective when we can use the anger as a motivation for positive actions rather than reactive ones. 

Organizations with higher levels of self-regulation can communicate more effectively, experience less stress, and have increased productivity from not worrying about things not said or actions not taken.

  1. Social awareness 

Social awareness is having empathy and compassion for other people’s experiences, even when they don’t match your own. When you have developed your skill in social awareness, you can pick up on cues about the emotions, needs and concerns of others. You also will feel more comfortable in social groups and recognize power dynamics in a group or your organization.   

At the heart of each of the Enneagram’s nine types is a core challenge – a false belief developed in childhood that our personality has developed around. And none of those false beliefs are pretty. Whether someone’s childhood was straightforward or difficult, we all had needs that went unmet, which means we are all struggling with a false belief of some kind. This leads us to see the world through a single lens and defend that lens to others. 

Basically, the Enneagram teaches us that we are all struggling in one way or another. That helps us have greater compassion for ourselves and others. Knowing that we are all in the same boat helps us realize that no one is better or worse than us; we just see the world very differently. 

When we have compassion for others, it helps us take the time to understand their perspective. We see beyond the surface reaction and ask ourselves what might be happening beneath. 

Organizations with higher levels of social awareness have greater levels of customer satisfaction, employee engagement, employee retention, and diversity and inclusion. The more we can hear each other and value our differences, the more engaged everyone can be. 

  1. Relationship Management

Relationship management is the ability to develop and maintain good working relationships, communicate clearly, work well in a team, inspire and influence others, and manage conflict. 

The Enneagram highlights the strengths and challenges of each type, and thus of the individuals within your team. Simply, the Enneagram can be used as a shared language to manage different strengths and blind spots.

For example, a Type Eight is quick to take action, which is sometimes very necessary, but they struggle to slow down and analyze information first. Type Fives prefer to analyze information and assess the options but can struggle to take action. Together the pair can make a great combination, as long as they are able to recognize the differing needs and strengths and work together in a way that honors both. 

Organizations with higher levels of relationship management can really take advantage of cognitive diversity. They can bring together people with varying skills, perspectives and experiences, knowing they will be able to listen to each other, share different points of view, and work together to navigate different obstacles as they arise, all the while empathizing with the other’s perspectives and seeing the value in them, not just in their own.

Using the Enneagram with your team or organization

When introducing your team or organization to the Enneagram, look for a test that provides a thorough report on topics such as communication, leadership, working together and stress. Ensure that everyone has time to read through the report before offering an individual debrief and/or group workshop. 

The Enneagram can make people a little uncomfortable at first, as it reveals weaknesses or blind spots we aren't really aware of. So ensure that whoever is facilitating the debriefs or the workshop offers a lot of understanding and compassion throughout the process. 

If your team decides to adopt the Enneagram as a shared language for navigating challenges, it’s best to set some ground rules as to how the framework will be used, ensuring everyone agrees to use it in a neutral context and not as a weapon. 

Truity’s Enneagram in the Workplace report describes each type at work, how to work with others, improve your communication, manage your stress and develop an effective leadership style. We also offer a facilitated team workshop that takes your team through each of the nine types and applies the Enneagram to your team, exploring insights about your team based on your test results. If you are interested in learning more, sign up for a session here.

Samantha Mackay

Samantha is the Lead Trainer at Truity and is Enneagram Coach, certified by CP Enneagram Academy. She believes knowing your personality is the key to navigating life's hurdles. Samantha is an ENTP and Enneagram 7, who is always surrounded by a pile of books, a steaming cup of tea and a block of her favourite chocolate. Find her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/samanthamackay/. Check out her course "Unlocking the Power of Your Personality" at www.truity.com/training

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.

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