Traps to Avoid when Coaching Each Enneagram Type

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on September 01, 2022
Category: Enneagram

Whether we mean to or not, all coaching clients subconsciously undermine the coaching or therapy process in some way. Maybe we are anxious about sharing personal information with someone we are still building trust with. Or maybe we are trying to manage the impression our coach or therapist has of us. Or maybe we are frustrated that the process doesn’t seem to be yielding results fast enough.      

Over time, we learn to observe and catch these responses as they happen and raise them with our coach or therapist. But in the interim, these are things our coach needs to be on the lookout for and manage accordingly. 

As a coach, what should you watch for? How do you respond when you see it happening? Let’s take a look at one common issue for each Enneagram type and analyze how to adjust your approach when it arises. 

Enneagram Type Nine

As Type Nines go to sleep on their own priorities, agenda and goals, they can find it hard to shape, and then remember, their goals as part of the coaching process. 

To a coach, that can look like:

  • Forgetting to do their homework between sessions
  • Asking the coach to tell them what to do
  • Passively resisting when an agenda or direction is imposed on them
  • Not playing an active role in the coaching process 

When you observe any of these happening, it’s important to remember that Nines know what they want, they just lack the practice of “self-remembering.” To help them do this, incorporate the following into your coaching process:

  • Slow down to the Nine's pace (no matter how slow that feels to you)
  • Ask the Nine what they want to prioritize right now
  • Help them rule out what they don’t want
  • Never tell them what to do

Enneagram Type Eight

To avoid feeling vulnerable or weak, Type Eights focus on taking control and taking action. This makes it hard to gain awareness of their actions and what they need to change.

To a coach that can look like:

  • Avoiding sharing personal stories 
  • Jumping too quickly into decisions or actions
  • Denying there is a problem
  • Being rigid or rebelling against the coach

When you observe any of these happening, it's important to remember that Eights have a very soft vulnerable center they are protecting. And they lack practice in exposing even tiny bits of it to others. To help them do this, incorporate the following into your coaching practice:

  • Go straight to the point about their strengths and flaws
  • Be transparent about what you are observing
  • Help them understand the impact they are having on others
  • Be confident in your own power and strength 

Enneagram Type Seven

Type Sevens like to avoid things that feel “icky” such as constraints, negative data or darker feelings. Hence they find it hard to focus on a single coaching goal or accept why an obstacle is really an obstacle. 

To a coach that can look like:

  • Wanting to have multiple goals, but making little traction on any of them
  • Getting distracted when touching on delicate issues
  • Rationalizing problems to avoid discomfort  
  • Entertaining or charming the coach

When you observe any of these happening, it’s important to remember that Sevens can look at the negative, they just don’t have much practice in it. To help them do this, incorporate the following into your coaching process:

  • Constantly focus on the positive, so they can see the negative
  • Help them prioritize and focus on what they really want
  • Observe when they are reframing and rationalizing 
  • Don’t stay in discomfort or negative data for too long  

Enneagram Type Six

Type Sixes aren’t always aware of their own fear and anxiety. Being in a constant state of fight, flight or seeking protection can make it difficult to build a trusted relationship with their coach, which is an essential part of the process. 

To a coach that can look like:

  • Being skeptical that the tasks or process will produce the desired results
  • Questioning the process or coach excessively
  • Constantly playing devil’s advocate or engaging in contrary thinking
  • Being reluctant to take action without analyzing all aspects of the situation 

When you observe any of these happening, it’s important to remember that Sixes are quick to forget their own strengths, successes and personal authority. To help them reclaim their own authority, incorporate the following into your coaching process: 

  • Tell them what is going to happen and why
  • Validate their fears, then help them figure out what is real and what is imagined
  • Help them argue both sides to get clarity
  • Give feedback on what is going well every session

Enneagram Type Five

Type Fives aim to know everything. But they can overlook the value of data gained from feelings and sensations and can struggle to value this aspect of the coaching process. 

To a coach that can look like:

  • Focusing only on theoretical or abstract information
  • Insisting the process be more mental or logical
  • Avoiding sharing personal stories
  • Mentally checking out during sessions

When you observe any of these happening, it’s important to remember that Fives can get in touch with their emotions, they just don’t have much practice - especially in front of another person. To help them, incorporate the following into your coaching process: 

  • Let them control how much emotion they display
  • Ask them to reflect on their feelings between sessions
  • Help them see that knowledge isn’t all there is
  • Focus on talking and understanding (with feelings in mind)

Enneagram Type Four

As Type Fours naturally focus on what is missing, they can undermine the coaching process by being too negative or too idealistic. 

To a coach that can look like:

  • Being excessively critical of their current situation
  • Being too idealistic about their coaching goals
  • Thinking the coaching process is insufficient 
  • Undermining their own success by focusing on what isn’t good enough  

When you observe any of these happening, it’s important to remember that Fours feel deeply misunderstood and need to practice stepping out of their emotions and analyzing their situation objectively. To help them, incorporate the following into your coaching process: 

  • Reaffirm their positive qualities continuously 
  • Build a relationship based on deep understanding
  • Wholeheartedly believe in their goodness
  • Explain that feelings only last 15 seconds 

Enneagram Type Three

Type Threes are skilled at finding the most efficient way to get to a goal. Yet in coaching, that often requires getting in touch with one’s feelings to understand the true obstacles to an objective, which Three’s often want to avoid.

To a coach that can look like: 

  • Wanting to speed up the process
  • Trying to win at coaching
  • Being too busy for sessions
  • Seeing the coaching process as unproductive

When you observe any of these happening, it’s important to remember that Three’s are the most emotional type on the Enneagram, they just lack practice being with their feelings. To help them, incorporate the following into your coaching process: 

  • Help them slow down their pace
  • Use humor and warmth
  • Role model success in coaching
  • Recognize and affirm any display of emotion, including fear and anger (and know they feel more deeply than they appear) 

Enneagram Type Two

As Type Twos focus on being liked and being likable, they worry about what the coach thinks of them. It can be hard to get in touch with their needs and feelings if they are focused on the coach approving of them.

To a coach that can look like:

  • Acting like everything is fine
  • Denying their blindspots
  • Talking more about other people than themselves  
  • Needing a lot of recognition from the coach 

When you observe any of these happening, it’s important to remember that 

Twos have very little practice tuning into themselves - particularly their needs and feelings. They need support and permission to be a little selfish, but that needs to happen through a trusted relationship. To help them, incorporate the following into your coaching process: 

  • Allow them to talk it out and to be emotional 
  • Ask about what they needed in a key relationship 
  • Help them get in touch with their emotions
  • Role model setting good boundaries 

Enneagram Type One

Type Ones naturally focus on quality control, meaning they have very high standards for themselves, others and by extension their coach and the coaching process. This can mean they focus more on the quality of the process, rather than engaging in the process itself. 

To a coach that can look like:

  • Improving themselves becomes their newest responsibility
  • Doubting they can be helped
  • Using assignments to criticize themselves
  • Being intolerant of changes in the process or the coach's mistakes 

When you observe any of these happening, it’s important to remember that 

Ones are already highly critical of themselves and subconsciously want to avoid being blamed for not measuring up. They simply lack the practice of empathizing with themselves and responding to mistakes with humor. To help them, incorporate the following into your coaching process: 

  • Role model playfulness and warmth
  • Help them see that everyone has their own version of "rightness”
  • Be very non-judgmental 
  • Reframe perfection, or their high standards, to what’s appropriate for the situation 

Next Steps

As coaches, it can be hard to watch a client undermine their own success. By knowing their Enneagram type, we can catch their self-sabotaging behaviors early, seeing them for what they are. That can help us manage our own responses, such as frustration or impatience, and change tack in the coaching process to work with what we are seeing. 

To learn more about using the Enneagram in coaching, invest in a program that specializes in teaching those skills. There are many schools that offer that, so look for one that aligns with your values. To get you started with your research, take a look at CP Enneagram, Narrative Enneagram and Deep Coaching Institute. 

And to use the Enneagram with your clients, take a look at Truity’s platform for coaches. Getting started is easy, and you'll get instant access to in-depth Enneagram tests that can help your clients move forward. 

Samantha Mackay

Samantha is the Lead Trainer at Truity and will shortly be a certified Enneagram Coach. She believes knowing your personality is the key to navigating life's strangest 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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