The most admired people in the workplace are often the ones who are able to handle conflict with ease. Whether they are involved directly or helping to mediate, they can manage their emotional reactions to the conflict situation, assist others to manage theirs, and find common ground between those involved.
In this article – the first of a two-part series – we’ll explore common triggers for each Enneagram type and suggest how each type can learn to manage their reactions. In tomorrow’s article, we’ll explore each Enneagram type’s conflict-resolution strengths and provide some tips to help them relate to other Enneagam types in conflict.
If you would like to read more about how different Myers-Briggs types react to conflict, based on the five Thomas-Killman conflict-resolution styles, check out this article.
We all experience conflict differently
What you define as conflict is not what I might define as conflict. What makes me feel icky and squeamish and worried is not necessarily the same for you. And those might not even be the words that you would use to describe your sensations of conflict.
Conflict may not be what you think it is
I recently worked with an Enneagram Seven senior leader. She was surprised by her test results, having been sure she was an Eight. As we read over her report, she said “I am great at resolving conflict, the Seven’s conflict avoidance just doesn't make sense to me.”
As we dived deeper, she started to see how what she thought of as conflict, wasn’t really conflict. And that she was a Seven after all.
What's not conflict?
Conflict is NOT:
- Having an issue you feel confident resolving.
- Disagreeing with someone about the plan, but feeling psychologically safe to explore the issues together.
- Walking away from a conversation feeling heard and knowing you will be able to find a resolution in the future.
- A situation where disagreement includes tension, a lack of harmony and friction.
- When you don't feel heard or replay the conversation again and again in your head.
- Where the issue feels unresolved and the other person “just needs to come around to your point of view.”
- A perception (even if only you are experiencing it) triggered by feeling you have something to lose in some way.
When you feel this sort of tension, how do you react?
As a Seven, for me it feels icky and squeamish, like a kaleidoscope of scared butterflies madly flying round inside me. I feel nervous and angry. I have loud, angry thoughts with many “how dare they!” reactions. And I have worried thoughts about being able to flee the situation: “How can I escape without a suitcase, I better buy one now!” And then I tend to withdraw and become more silent.
But how I react at home is not how I react at work. I generally feel more secure in work-based situations, so instead of withdrawing, I tend to want to confront or talk about those issues as quickly as possible. I feel anxious and the quickest way to relieve that tension (in my perception) is to talk it out – although those icky sensations spiral when the people I want to talk to are unavailable.
When it comes to learning how to manage your reactivity, it’s important to become more aware of what you define as conflict and how you react to it.
- When you experience a sense of inner tension and a perception of being in conflict with someone else, how do you react? (List sensations, feelings, thoughts and behaviors.)
- What situations commonly trigger that sense of unease?
- How do your reactions differ between work and home?
What your Enneagram type can reveal about your reaction to conflict
As each Enneagram type focuses on different things, it is more likely to be triggered by something related to that domain.
But you might also relate to what triggers other Enneagram types, so as you read through each description, ask yourself:
- When was the last time I was triggered by that?
- What happened?
- How did I react?
- What was my deeper motivation underlying that reaction?
When it comes to learning how to manage your reactions to conflict, just focus on the suggestions for your type. Those strategies are designed to work with your Enneagram type’s defenses and personality structure. And if you aren’t sure about your Enneagram type, you can take Truity’s Enneagram test here.
Enneagram Type One: The Perfectionist
The One focuses on “being good” by “doing things the right way.”
They pay attention to rules and standard procedures. They notice errors and are quick to correct them. They want to behave appropriately for the situation and act with integrity at all times. Maintaining high standards is very important to them.
That means they are more likely to experience conflict when any of the following happen:
- Someone breaks the rules,
- Someone doesn't act appropriately for the situation, or
- They disagree about the right or correct way to complete a task.
If you are a One, aim to become more aware of the irritation you feel when triggered. Notice what you do with that irritation. How does it direct you to act? For example, do you become more polite? More critical? Or try to teach people the right way?
One’s manage their reactivity when they can regularly practice:
- Acknowledging there being more than one right way.
- Meeting people in the middle and compromising.
- Being more flexible and lightening up.
Enneagram Two: The Giver
The Two focuses on “being liked” by “creating positive experiences for people.”
They focus on creating a fun working environment and supporting others to be successful. They like to build relationships and network across the organization. And they are good at providing positive feedback and affirmation.
That means Twos are more likely to experience conflict when any of the following occur:
- They feel unappreciated,
- They feel rejected or unliked, or
- They feel excluded.
If you are a Two, notice how hurt and deflated you feel when these things occur. Start to notice what happens with those feelings. How does that hurt lead you to react? Do you express that emotionally with others or keep it to yourself? Do you react by becoming more strategic about getting someone’s approval?
Two’s manage their reactivity when they can regularly practice:
- Learning to say “no” or “maybe” to prevent overgiving.
- Being more aware of their underlying emotions.
- Noticing when they are avoiding conflict and spending time thinking about what’s happening.
Enneagram Threes: The Achiever
Threes focus on “gaining rewards” by “quickly achieving goals or tasks.”
They are quick to figure out how to reach a goal and work hard to get it. They might enjoy competing to win or striving to be the best. They are good at selling and marketing, adapting on the spot to the requirements of their audience.
That means they tend to experience conflict when:
- There is an obstacle between them and the goal,
- Others slow them down or waste their time, or
- They look bad in front of others.
If you are a Three, become more aware of the frustration you feel and the underlying sense of insecurity or sadness. How do those feelings direct you to act? For example, do you take responsibility or blame others? Do you work harder? Do you cut corners? Do you become more focused on being admired by others?
Three’s manage their reactivity when they can regularly practice:
- Being more patient when working toward important goals.
- Connecting with their underlying emotions and desires.
- Listening more fully to others without focusing on the goal.
Enneagram Four: The Individualist
Fours focus on “being understood” by “creating unique work.”
Hence, they tend to take a creative approach to problem-solving and often have a clear creative vision. There is a desire for work to be authentic and unique. They have a deep emotional awareness and sensitivity so they tend to have a lot of patience dealing with difficult people issues.
That means they tend to experience conflict when:
- They feel misunderstood,
- Their creative vision is not respected, or
- People are inauthentic with them.
If you are a Four, become more aware of how you react when you feel triggered. Do you work harder to prove yourself? Do you get moody and sad about what’s missing? Do you get angry and competitive? Four’s responses to conflict differ widely, so it's useful to know what reaction is more common for you.
Fours manage their reactivity when they can regularly practice:
- Processing their feelings before talking to others.
- Being patient with others’ lack of understanding.
- Appreciating that others are not as connected to, or comfortable with, deep or intense feelings.
Enneagram Fives: the Investigator
Fives focus on being “knowledgeable” through “in-depth research.”
Hence, they tend to be subject-matter experts in their chosen field of interest. They focus on gathering information to provide insightful, rational and objective analysis. They prefer to work alone for long periods so they can fully immerse themselves in understanding complex problems and systems without interruption.
Fives are more likely to experience conflict when:
- They don’t have enough time or space to think things through,
- They lack access to information,
- They are pulled into others emotional issues, or
- They are pressed to share more information than they want to.
If you are a Five, you are likely already aware of just how sensitive you are to what’s going on around you, and the need to control your time, space and energy levels. When you feel triggered, do you become more withdrawn and hard to reach? Do you become impatient, defensive or controlling? Or do you express your reaction through art-making or crafting something?
Fives manage their reactivity when they regularly practice:
- Sharing more of what they are thinking and feeling in the moment.
- Staying engaged without withdrawing.
- Building stronger relationships with others.
Enneagram Sixes: The Skeptic
Sixes focus on “being safe” by “planning scenarios to manage risks.”
Sixes are good at assessing and managing risks. They anticipate potential problems and troubleshoot issues as they arise. They are good at asking questions and playing devil’s advocate to uncover potential issues and risks.
They are more likely to experience conflict when:
- They are unable to ask questions,
- People are inconsistent or unethical,
- Projects are greenlit without careful consideration, or
- Authorities misuse their power.
If you are a Six, you are likely to react to this tension in one of three ways. Some Sixes become more doubting and questioning. Other Sixes can stop questioning and become too certain of the rules. And other Sixes will rebel, stirring up trouble or taking risky actions.
Sixes manage their reactivity when they can regularly practice:
- Becoming more aware of the underlying fear and anxiety.
- Trusting people sooner.
- Voicing concerns and providing potential solutions.
Enneagram Sevens: The Enthusiast
Sevens focus on “avoiding pain and suffering” by “imagining pleasurable future experiences.”
They focus on finding the positive in the negative and use their enthusiasm to inspire others. They envision future possibilities and make plans to bring those ideas into fruition. They are out-of-the-box thinkers who enjoy celebrating successes.
This means they are more likely to experience conflict when:
- They are required to focus on what’s not working,
- Their ideas are dismissed or not asked for, or
- They feel constrained or that their options are limited.
If you are a Seven, start to become aware of the underlying anxiety and fear of being trapped. How does that fear direct you to act? Do you speed up or slow down? Do you become more opportunistic? Do you become more scattered or indecisive? Do you become even more positive?
Sevens manage their reactivity when they can regularly practice:
- Becoming more aware of underlying anxiety and their reaction to it.
- Staying present when difficult situations arise.
- Following through on plans without getting distracted.
Enneagram Eights: The Challenger
Eights focus on “being strong” by “taking charge.”
That means that unless they feel someone is firmly in charge, they will easily step into a managerial role. They tend to see the big picture easily and want to have an impact. They are decisive and move things forward quickly. They are comfortable confronting others, but don’t always realize the impact their big energy has on others.
Hence Eights tend to experience conflict when:
- Others don’t agree with the actions they want to take,
- They see people as being indecisive or incompetent, or
- People aren't honest with them or go behind their backs.
If you are an Eight, become more aware of how your energy becomes bigger at times like these. What does the energy drive you to do? Do you act without telling anyone about it? Do you become more protective of others, possibly in a pushy or bossy way? Or do you become more rebellious or controlling?
Eights manage their reactivity when they can regularly practice:
- Slowing down and listening to others more.
- Pausing before making decisions or taking action.
- Seeing all perspectives as equally valid.
Enneagram Nines: The Peacemaker
Nines focus on being “calm” by “maintaining harmony” within themselves and in the environment around them.
They want work to be tension free and focus on creating inclusive environments where everyone feels heard and respected. They aim to create consensus before making any decisions and want to hear all sides of an issue. They are friendly, humble and support others to succeed. And when the conflict isn’t directed at them, they help diffuse tense situations.
They experience conflict when:
- Others are disrespected or not supported,
- They are overlooked or not consulted, or
- They are told what to do.
If you are a Nine, start to notice what happens when you experience tension. Do you withdraw and become more stubborn or passive resistant? Do you find it hard to slow down and work even harder? Do you become less in touch with your own preferences and opinions?
Nines manage their reactivity when they can regularly practice:
- Learning to tolerate tension and conflict when it arises.
- Remembering that conflict can be a good thing.
- Being more in touch with their own opinions and emotions.
Being adept at conflict is key
All relationships and teams experience conflict. It is a natural part of life. How we react to it can be constructive or destructive. The key is being able to repair after conflict arises. And to do that, we need to be aware of our own reactions to conflict and learn how to manage it in a healthy way – without suppressing, controlling or denying.