Myers and Briggs vs Enneagram: What's Different and What's the Same?

Personality typing is a system of categorizing people depending on how they think and act in certain situations - but there are clear differences between different personality type systems and what they can tell you about yourself.

The Myers and Briggs personality system and the Enneagram of Personality are two leading personality typing systems that are used around the world. Both systems help people gain a better insight into their career possibilities, the dynamics of their relationships, the working patterns of their employees and even their own thought patterns.

Some personality typologists prefer to use one system over the other but the two systems are often used together. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses - but how do the systems differ and where do they overlap? 

Let’s dive into four key comparisons.

1. The 9 vs 16 type system

To categorize and describe different personalities, both the Myers and Briggs system and Enneagram use ‘types’ or categories.

Myers and Briggs has 16 possible personality types, resulting from four opposing personality functions, also called dichotomies, preferences or scales. Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers developed the system in the 1960s, believing that a greater understanding of different personality types would help people to better understand their own strengths and weaknesses.

In the Myers-Briggs system, each personality type is a combination of different qualities. For example, The ISTJ type - also known as The Inspector type - is a combination of ‘Introverted’, ‘Sensing’, ‘Thinking’ and ‘Judging’ qualities. This unique 4-part combination adds up to a personality type driven by a sense of responsibility and the desire ‘to create order out of chaos’.

At first glance, the Enneagram has only 9 different personality types. Each Enneagram type is defined by a particular core belief about how the world works and what an individual’s role in the world should be. 

However, all of the 9 types are deeply interconnected and fluid. Each type is neighbored by wings relating to two adjacent Enneagram types and these can influence the characteristics of the core Enneagram type. For example, a Type Seven person (‘The Enthusiast’ type), who is extroverted, optimistic and spontaneous, might also have a ‘wing’ onto Type Eight - the self-confident, decisive and confrontational ‘Challenger’ - resulting in a combination of creativity, boldness and entrepreneurial spirit. 

There are 27 Enneagram subtypes in total, making the Enneagram typology a deeper and more unique insight into an individual’s personality. While the Myers and Briggs system describes personality traits ‘as is’, with just sixteen possible categories a personality can fall into, Enneagram offers a deeper and more holistic understanding of every individual with many more possibilities.

2. 4 dichotomies vs 3 triads

It’s not just the number of personality type options that are different about Myers and Briggs and Enneagram - it’s also the way these categorizations are constructed.

The Myers and Briggs system is built off of 4 dichotomies - a binary choice between two contrasting qualities - that are used to make a type evaluation. Combining these 4 dichotomies in different ways, results in 16 combinations or the 16 personality types we discussed above.

Here are the 4 dichotomies:

  • Extraverted vs Introverted
  • Sensing vs Intuition
  • Thinking vs Feeling
  • Judging vs Perceiving

You’ll notice that these qualities are mostly to do with ways of thinking rather than emotional traits. They focus on how an individual understands the world around them and interacts with others.

In contrast, the Enneagram separates types according to 3 centers of intelligence: the ‘head’, ‘heart’ and ‘body’.

  • Heart types rely on their hearts - their emotional intelligence - to understand the world and they are driven by a desire for emotional connection and inclusion.
  • Head types use their intellect to approach the world and are motivated by objective, rational choices, focusing on analysis and a desire to control.
  • Body types go on their gut instinct, reacting to the world based on bodily feeling and a desire for comfort.

These categories help to provide an insight into why a person acts the way they do by analyzing their core emotions and motivations.

Each type has a main, intense emotion associated with it that emerge when someone is under stress:

  • Heart types feel Shame
  • Head types feel Fear
  • Gut types feel Rage

By separating people into these 3 triads, Enneagram helps us to understand someone’s core driving force and their strongest, deepest emotions that lead them to act in certain ways.

3. Personality traits vs emotions

As well as the differences in the structures of the different personality typing systems, they also have different aims.

In the Myers and Briggs system we evaluate a personality based on those 16 combinations. From these combinations we get a whole personality type that describes how a person thinks, behaves and interacts with others. 

This makes the Myers and Briggs personality type system really useful in management contexts for examining strengths and weaknesses of individuals in a workplace and how they work best with one another. It’s also helpful for analyzing people in relationships - like your partner or your parents.

On the flip side, the Enneagram personality type system is less focused on traits and more on the emotions behind a personality. It explores the motivations, fixations, fears and desires of individuals to analyze what drives a person. This gives us a sense of how a person thinks, reacts and behaves but also why they do so in that specific way. 

This difference makes the Enneagram system a more intense and emotional insight into personality that can help an individual understand themselves more clearly, as well as the people around them.

4. Healthy vs Extremes

To understand the difference between Enneagram and Myers Briggs, we can look at the central philosophy of each system too.

At its most basic, Enneagram highlights the extreme or 'unhealthy' examples of each type whereas Myers and Briggs focuses on a balance of strengths and weaknesses for each type.

It’s important to add that both personality systems highlight the idea that there are no good or bad personality types. Each type is equally valid. 

The Myers and Briggs system presents each personality type with a balance of strengths and weaknesses. It can also be a useful reminder that nobody’s perfect and of the importance of working with people as they are rather than spending time and energy trying to change them.

The Enneagram system looks at ‘Levels of Development’ of a personality, highlighting the extremes of each type as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ outcomes. There’s more mobility within personality types - meaning more space for a person to address and overcome their personality flaws over time. 

Looking at the ways people can move between these Levels of Development helps to predict how people may react in stressful or uncomfortable situations as they are driven by fear-based motivations. The Levels of Development and their presentation of the ‘unhealthy’ outcomes also allows people to see and understand the best and worst versions of themselves, giving them agency over their personal development. A person can always change their type.

Understanding the two personality typing systems

Both the Myers and Briggs and Enneagram personality type systems can be extremely useful for understanding yourself and the people around you. While there are some general overlaps between the two personality typing methods, their methodology and applications are quite different. 

With the more emotion-focused Enneagram typology, you can get an insight into your own fears and desires and what bearing they have on their personality. It’s useful in a broad range of ways - not just career insight but also relationships, therapy, daily life and more. 

The Myers-Briggs system is more rigid and limited in its definition but it gives a precise indication of how you process information and make decisions, as well as how you interact with other people, helping you to understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and how you can work to the best of your abilities.

Elizabeth Harris

Elizabeth is a freelance writer and ghostwriter. She’s an anthropologist at heart and loves using social theory to get deeper into the topics she writes about. Born in the UK, Elizabeth has lived in Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Dubai before moving most recently to Budapest, Hungary. She’s an ENTJ with ENFJ leanings. Find out more about her work at bethharris.com

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