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Understanding Enneagrams Will Improve Employee Communication

Posted by Sandy Yu on 9.17.2019


The Enneagram, a nine-point personality type system, is used to determine people’s basic personality types. There is an internal structure within each of the nine personalities. That structure is the continuum of behaviors, attitudes, defenses, and motivations. It’s safe to assume, then, that Enneagram types can determine how employees communicate with authoritative figures, especially company leaders.

While you can’t be certain of your employees’ exact Enneagram type (some people study their own Enneagram for months), you can pick out the basics of each personality type. Then, compare to your employees’ behaviors and mannerisms to make an educated guess on how to improve employee communication. 

Before moving forward, it’s important to understand that no Enneagram is considered better or worse than any other. Each has its own unique assets and liabilities. Start by structuring your communication strategy from this viewpoint. Your employees are all unique and require specific nurturing when it comes to their relationships with leaders. 

Below are the nine Enneagram types and how you can improve your communication efforts with each:

The nine personality types

For a deeper understanding of the nine Enneagrams or to learn yours, visit the Enneagram Institute

1. The Reformer

The Rational, Idealistic Type: Principled, Purposeful, Self-Controlled, and Perfectionistic

Employees categorized as ‘reformers’ have basic desires to be good, show integrity, and find balance. They have a strong sense of mission and want to be right so they’re not condemned by others. 

Reformers, or Ones, need all communication tied directly to their purpose at your company. In each interaction, discuss what they’re doing well and how it’s improving the company’s momentum. Deliver constructive criticism with follow-up tasks to help these perfectionists move forward with intention. 

Also, check in with reformers frequently. Their idea of being the perfect employee often leaves them on the edge of burnout. Direct instruction and daily feedback helps them stay in touch with reality.

2. The Helper

The Caring, Interpersonal Type: Demonstrative, Generous, People-Pleasing, and Possessive

Empathetic and caring, almost to a fault, these employees are classified as ‘helpers,’ or Twos. They need to be loved and often fear they don’t deserve to be. Even in the office, they’re constantly searching for ways to please people. 

Offer weekly lists of tasks they need to complete with a bit of time worked in each day for them to help others. This gives them direction and satisfaction when tasks are complete, but also time to fulfill their need to spontaneously help peers. 

Helpers need frequent recognition for their efforts. Offer a quick email or compliment them in passing for their continued hard work.

3. The Achiever

The Success-Oriented, Pragmatic Type: Adaptive, Excelling, Driven, and Image-Conscious

When at their best ‘achievers,’ or Threes, are role models who inspire others. They’re not egotistical but are driven to excel. These are the employees you can count on to adapt to any situation you throw at them. 

Employee communication with ‘achievers’ is best used to discuss development. Ask them to divulge their career and personal goals. Then on a monthly basis, discuss where they are in hitting those goals and how the company can help the employee accomplish them.

4. The Individualist

The Sensitive, Withdrawn Type: Expressive, Dramatic, Self-Absorbed, and Temperamental

Employees holding ‘individualist,’ or Four, personality types are often misunderstood. Behind their temperamental and dramatic nature are insecurities. 

‘Individualists’ are fearful of being insignificant and never finding themselves. More than other personalities, they need leaders to help them on the journey to self-discovery. 

To do this, hold frequent conversations about their current role and satisfaction. Ask questions that show you’re trying to understand their unique nature. 

  • Are their natural abilities being put to their best use? 
  • What do they like about this role? 
  • What do they dislike? 
  • What accomplishments are they proud of this month? 

Use their responses to build the framework of their future careers. Use these frameworks or maps to show these employees their unique identities are needed at the company.

5. The Investigator

The Intense, Cerebral Type: Perceptive, Innovative, Secretive, and Isolated

Investigators, or Fives, just want to be helpful. Unfortunately, they constantly fear they’re actually useless. That’s why they’re constantly trying to learn and innovate. 

Employee communication with ‘investigators’ must come with space. They need time to process and contemplate. Give them this time after offering insight into why they’re a critical part of your team. 

For example, share how their innovative thinking greatly improved a project. Give this information early in the morning so they have time to process it throughout the day and gain confidence in their abilities.

6. The Loyalist

The Committed, Security-Oriented Type: Engaging, Responsible, Anxious, and Suspicious

These are your ‘go down with the ship’ employees. They’re loyal to both people and their beliefs. This can sometimes lead to anxiety when changes come about. ‘Loyalists,’ or Sixes, may fear that change means they’ll be left without support. 

Their fear of losing support is directly connected to a lack of self-confidence. Give these employees the healthy support they need -- a boost in confidence. Suggest mentors who you know are prepared to offer guidance and praise before sending a peer on their way.

7. The Enthusiast

The Busy, Fun-Loving Type: Spontaneous, Versatile, Distractible, and Scattered

Your ‘enthusiasts,’ or Sevens, are always on the go. These are the employees who are there when you need them and always say yes to helping. When not properly approached in the workplace, however, these traits lead to distraction and burnout. 

Keep employee communication open with ‘enthusiasts.’ Encourage them to explain how their day needs to be structured to help them improve productivity. Lay out clear plans for them to remain focused while also putting their wide array of skills to use each day.

8. The Challenger

The Powerful, Dominating Type: Self-Confident, Decisive, Willful, and Confrontational

‘Challengers,’ or Eights, are strong. They’re confident in their decisions and aren’t afraid to let others know it. The most important thing to know to improve employee communication with ‘challengers’ is they’re actually afraid. Being in constant control is a way to protect themselves from being harmed or controlled by others. 

Put your ‘challengers’ in the communication driver's seat. Allow them to direct conversations in a way that makes them feel safe and in control. 

However, once the conversation gets going, give them space to be vulnerable. For example, if someone says they’re working hard on a project and can’t understand why co-workers seem unappreciative, ask how that makes them feel.

9. The Peacemaker

The Easygoing, Self-Effacing Type: Receptive, Reassuring, Agreeable, and Complacent

Your ‘peacemakers,’ or Nines, are just looking to bring others together. They want harmony in their lives, including the workplace. Their receptive and agreeable nature can, unfortunately, harm them if they’re not careful. ‘Peacemakers’ have a tendency to put themselves above others. 

Keep in check with your ‘peacemaker’ employees. Encourage them to take time for themselves to re-energize outside of the influence of others. Also, ensure these employees feel safe saying ‘no’ to their peers -- and even you. Tell them about a time in the company when conflict actually led to improvement to show they don’t have to constantly fight for peace. 

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Topics: workplace communication, communication trends, leadership communication

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