Out of the Box Coaching and
Breakthroughs with the Enneagram, Mary R. Bast, Ph.D. 
Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved. Revised: October 16, 2014






A Hitchhiker's Guide

In the second chapter of Out of the Box, Clarence Thomson and I give examples of how coaching for behavioral results alone might provide only a temporary solution. If you coach Ones to stop lecturing others by using more active listening, for example, you may both feel you’ve succeeded but could actually reinforce their existing framework if they try to be more perfect, to ‘fix’ themselves. 

I once had a two-hour feedback session by phone with a manager who – like many Ones – could tap into a deep vein of humor. I said, "I don’t think change efforts have to be work. In particular, using metaphors to stimulate change can be a very playful process." We talked about how he tended to go into a teaching/preaching mode with his team, and explored together how to play with that pattern in a way that would loosen it without focusing on “fixing.”  

I asked him to think of situations where he didn’t take the teacher role. "I used to hitchhike in the Sixties," he recalled, "and I learned a lot from those conversations." He began to imagine himself “hitching a ride” in meetings, conversing with people who work for him as if they’re traveling companions. It made a world of difference.

He was also curious about how he could coach his people according to Enneagram style, so I gave him a set of business-friendly descriptions, drawn primarily from our book and our coaching experience; also from Michael Goldberg’s The 9 Ways of Working. 

The goal is to help employees break free of their automatic patterns, but managers can start with first-order interventions until they develop sufficient rapport. Continuing with the example of Ones, the guidelines to develop rapport include honoring proper channels, being prompt and considerate, using gentle humor, giving behaviorally specific feedback vs. negative labels, and latching onto and encouraging their ideals. Ones learn best in the beginning by paying close attention, making checklists, knowing the “rules.” I give managers these items as examples of how they might coach Ones in the early phases:

  • Be especially clear with expectations, guidelines.
  • Be precise and descriptive with feedback; Ones have a severe inner critic, so criticism from others can invoke defensiveness.
  • Provide them with resources to manage their “tirades” better.

Once rapport is developed, managers can encourage examination of underlying Enneagram patterns and open the possibility of second-order change. I ask them to envision self-aware Ones as idealistic employees, open to imaginative possibilities and alternative frameworks, serene and at ease with themselves, patient and relaxed with others, and responding only where intervention is absolutely necessary. 

The gift of Ones is to see and work toward perfection. This can narrow their focus of attention so they see only what’s wrong, what needs fixing, and they may rigidly demand one right way of doing things. The manager’s overarching goal, then, is to coach Ones to observe how their perfectionistic patterns operate and to experiment with playful ways to interrupt those patterns. This is the checklist I offer to help spot Ones' key dynamics: 

  • Coach them to observe their “shoulds” (for self and others); see how black/white, either/or, right/wrong thinking shows up in their language; reframe the meaning of being “right” – sometimes mistakes are necessary for learning.

  • Help them become aware of their self-critic and how it drives them and others to undue perfectionism; teach them to use appreciative feedback (focusing on progress toward a goal vs. what’s not happening) and to be specific and nonjudgmental.

  • Show how their rigid views of someone or something keep them from seeing positive aspects; ask “What rule has that person broken?” “Under what conditions might that be acceptable?”

  • Help them prioritize rules; distinguish between essential and auxiliary rules (all rules are not of equal value); this helps with their black and white thinking.

  • Encourage creative thinking and breaking the “rules” in creative ways; help expand their judgment criteria in complex situations; when they insist there’s “one right way,” brainstorm at least three options and distill positive portions of each.

  • Coach them to encourage creativity and initiative with people who work for them; explore the distinction between giving “assignments” and truly “delegating.”

  • Help them see the bigger picture beyond the details – not all details are of equal importance.

  • Use humor and encourage their humor; even comically exaggerate.

I asked a One client what her self-critical voice looked like. She said, "It looks like me, but sounds like my mother." When I asked, “How is she dressed?” the client burst out laughing: “She’s dressed like Minnie Pearl from the Grand Ole Opry.” 

You know this woman will never again respond to her inner judge in the same way. How could she? She’ll be picturing the words coming from a sassy comedian wearing a big straw hat with a $1.98 price tag hanging from the side!