Monday, April 27, 2009

How the Enneagram enriches your experience

This is the first in a series of entries that will give examples of what changes in your experience as you filter it through the lens of the Enneagram.

On the weekend, I was at a conference listening to a speaker who was explaining quite a complicated system in ways that sometimes made it hard to follow and sometimes simply made it more complicated. I found I had a lot of common ground with the principles of his system and much less interest in the details, particularly since the details seemed to involve some mixed or quirky metaphors. On the other hand, the change work that he demonstrated was good work, and the presenter was also communicating strongly that he was the kind of person it would be fun to get to know.

In terms of most communication theories, including NLP, this was a recipe for dissonance: two different perceptions fighting for attention. Dissonance generally leaves human beings distracted and edgy: it's not comfortable to be the rope in a tug-of-war between different thoughts.

Here's what happened instead. I found myself thinking: he's a 1 with a 2 wing. (The point in this case is not whether that was accurate because this example is about how that acknowledgement changed my response to him. ) What I was thinking, for readers unfamiliar with the Enneagram, was that I was listening to someone who had a lot of different voices (or maybe just one) insisting that he get things just right - that he build a system that was inclusive and logical and perfect. And he was also someone who found his place in the world by helping others. As a trainer of a systems-based model, he was being pulled between the desire to modify his explanations to help his audience find the particular understandings they required and the voices in his head insisting on a clean and perfect explanation of the requirements of the system.

Now step back and look at what has changed in the relationship between the presenter and the lady at the back of the room. I am no longer fighting with his material: as I explore the Enneagram, I am also shifting from understanding the content to connecting with the presenter. It's quite a different focus, and one that has immediate implication for non-verbal communication. The result was that we began to connect, that we actually had some opportunities to chat, and that I walked away from the seminar with a strongly positive reaction. As the description above will demonstrate, I didn't change my mind about the material presented. I did shift my own experience of being a captive audience.

Would it be useful in your experience to make strong positive connections without softening your evaluation of ideas or proposals? The Enneagram doesn't mean giving up what you think in order to connect: it does offer you shifts in perspective so that you can begin to notice the usefulness of building connection (empathy if that word works for you).

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