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December 22, 2022

The Enneagram – Know Your Motivations

Melanie Bell

The new year is just around the corner, and with it, the season of self-reflection. As we evaluate our progress and set goals, it's helpful to have a good understanding of ourselves. What motivates you to do your best work? What are your strengths, and how can you keep going when the going gets tough?

Many personality frameworks describe differences between people. One model, the Enneagram, offers targeted insight into how people work, and into motivations we may not be conscious of.

The Enneagram is a dynamic nine-type framework about the "whys" of human nature. It aims to raise our awareness of ourselves and others, to help us pay attention as we go about our daily lives. And with all our meetings and busy schedules, a little extra attention doesn't go amiss.

Here's a brief introduction to the Enneagram's nine motivation styles, to get your self-reflection started. As you read these descriptors, think about what motivates you most, and ask yourself if anything sounds like you. You might recognize a colleague or two in the type descriptions, too, so there are also tips for collaborating with each personality type.

1. The Reformer

This personality type adheres to a set of internalized principles and standards and seeks to improve their world in ways that match these ideals. When balanced, Ones bring conscientious integrity to their actions. When things get tougher, they can struggle with perfectionism and a loud inner critic. Working with a One? Speak their language: what principles do you share? Encourage them to relax and not take themselves too seriously.

2. The Helper

This interpersonal personality type is motivated by building close relationships and demonstrating caring through acts of service. They want to care and be cared about, which means they bring a personal touch and excel at meeting people's needs. Challenges come when stressed Twos focus on others at their own expense. To connect with Two colleagues, show your appreciation and help them to meet their own needs, too.

3. The Achiever

Threes are driven by desires for success and validation. They seek to embody the ideals of their environment, whether that's being the best businessperson or a paragon parent. Threes are adaptable, efficient, and excel at presenting and persuading. When stressed, they might overwork or cut corners. When working with this personality type, encourage work-life balance and authenticity – being their whole selves.

4. The Individualist

Got a teammate with an artistic temperament? You might be looking at a Four. These sensitive people are motivated by self-expression, seeking to be true to themselves and distinct from others. This can result in unique and inspired contributions, as well as emotional awareness. Under stress, Fours can get mired in their feelings and struggle to get things done – so encourage them to stay structured and grounded.

5. The Investigator

Fives are driven by the need to understand the world and offer a competent contribution. They often seek mastery of a specific area of interest. This makes them great specialists on your team, bringing both curiosity and a focus on innovation. On an off day, this reserved personality type might struggle to deal with people. When working with Fives, help them to manage making connections without being overwhelmed.

6. The Loyalist

Sixes seek security, and once they've found something they believe in, they'll show loyalty in return. They're naturally skeptical, which makes them excellent troubleshooters. As leaders, they value equality and advocate courageously. Stressed Sixes can over-worry and catastrophize. When working with this personality type, help them to focus on self-belief and optimizing their chances of success rather than minimizing failure.

7. The Enthusiast

Future-oriented Sevens focus on possibilities. Motivated toward a sense of freedom, these people often wear many hats proficiently. They're engaging and adaptable, and if one thing doesn't work out, they can move on to the next. Given their multifaceted attention, stressed Sevens can struggle to focus or commit. When working with colleagues of this type, support them in following through when needed.

8. The Challenger

Who’s in charge? If your Eight colleague isn't, they might want to be. This personality type is motivated by power, driven to make a big impact. Executive presence comes naturally – and, at their best, Eights empower others, too. Stress brings out their intimidating side; Eights don't always realize how strongly they come off. When working with this type, match their energy, and let them know that vulnerability is welcome too.

9. The Peacemaker

Nines seek a sense of connection and unity. They naturally consider all sides of an issue and tend to make good mediators. Their accepting energy puts others at ease and, in the workplace, Nines might find themselves promoted because everyone likes them. While listening to everyone else, stressed Nines can struggle to know their own mind and enact their will. Seek these colleagues' input and support them in asserting themselves.

Learn More About the Enneagram

Because the Enneagram is about human motivation, you'll probably find you're motivated by all nine of these factors at points. Look for the pattern that fits you most often – the one you do repeatedly without thinking about it, on bad days as well as good ones.

If these descriptions piqued your interest, there's a lot of information about the Enneagram that goes into further depth. The more you learn about the model, the more useful it can become. Books by Enneagram pioneers Don Riso and Russ Hudson or Helen Palmer make for good starting points, but even a little self-knowledge can go a long way.

What's your Enneagram type? Do you recognize any other types in your team? Let us know in the comments, below!


Melanie Bell

About the Author:

Mind Tools content editor/writer Melanie Bell is the author of "The Modern Enneagram," and a certified teacher of the Enneagram, a personality typology that illuminates people's core motivations.

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