Out of the Box Coaching and
Breakthroughs with the Enneagram, Mary R. Bast, Ph.D. 
Copyright 1999. All rights reserved. Revised: January 20, 2015




Stepping Into a Parallel Universe

I've never chewed anybody's ass, and I won't accept getting my ass chewed!  When somebody tries, I just don't play the game.  I focus on what's important and say, '"What are we trying to accomplish here?  Because the way you're acting isn't working, and I'm not going to take the bait!"

So spoke Irving K. as we discussed his relationship with a co-worker.

I have great zeal for helping people learn how to work together more effectively instead of vying for power and control. But frankly, most people I meet get hooked in interpersonal power plays - in large part because we usually don't see how our own behavior plays a role in the difficulties that arise in relationships. Instead, we tend to blame others for their behavior. We lose sight of the fact that the very act of "blaming" makes us players in the power game!

In The Fifth Discipline Peter Senge describes how the underlying structure of a human system "causes its own behavior." We have the power to alter these structures and create new patterns, but our interaction systems are subtle: we usually don't see the structures at play. This idea, of course, can be fruitfully applied to our personality styles.

In particular we don't see how our own behavior helps maintain the status quo in relationships. Changing such patterns requires a complete change in context -- it requires that we step into a parallel universe of human interaction where the old, unexamined rules no longer compel us to act in certain ways, where we ask new questions:

"What's behind this other person's behavior?"

"What am I doing that keeps this dysfunctional pattern of interaction repeating itself?"

"What could the pay-off possibly be for me to have things remain the same?"

"How might either of us do something different?"

I learned to ask some of these questions in a workshop with Claudio Naranjo and Suzanne Stroke (read Naranjo's The End of Patriarchy).

Although my patterns are now easier for me to catch, I still get hooked by certain situations and act avoidant or passive-aggressive. For my clients, too, when things start going downhill in an interaction they tend to react from their own deeply engrained style. We can begin to break these patterns by asking,

"What's going on with the other person?"

"What am I doing that may be contributing to our problems?"

"What are my assumptions?"

"What are we trying to accomplish? Is it working?"

So I was delighted to hear in Irving's own inimitable words how he steps aside from the pattern of "ass-chewing." Irving's story was simple: "I grew up in a family of brothers who fought all the time, and it didn't change anything! So I figured if I was going to change things, I'd have to find a better way." (Irving is an Enneagram Four, by the way, so we shouldn't be surprised at his unique way of looking at things.)

Well, that's exactly my point of view. If we're going to change things, we'll have to find a better way - we'll have to discover parallels: same people, same events, different context.