Using the Enneagram with Judith Searle


© 1996 by Judith Searle

Arthur Schnitzler's comedy La Ronde consists of ten love scenes with overlapping characters who represent a cross-section of Viennese society in the first decade of the 20th century. In this roundelay of sex, we see first a scene between a soldier and a prostitute, second a scene between the same soldier and a parlor maid, third a scene between the same maid and her wealthy employer, fourth a scene between the same wealthy man and his mistress, and so forth, ending with a scene in which the prostitute of the first scene appears again.

It seems to me an analogous situation exists with the Enneagram. I've observed that individuals commonly feel a strong affinity with people of the Enneagram point that is four points clockwise around the diagram from their own. Thus for myself as a One there is a special affinity with Five--a Perfectionist's admiration for the Observer's coolness, perspective, and command of intellectual resources. This affinity does not seem reciprocal, however. Fives appear to have more rapport with their own Four-Point-On, the Nine (who of all the Enneagram points is least likely to intrude on the Five's fiercely guarded privacy). But the Nine, rather than reciprocating the Five's interest, is more focused on the Four (since merging with the Four's depth of feeling allows Nine to feel focused and authentic). Again, there is a lack of reciprocity, and Four's most intense attraction is to Eight (whose daring and sexual aggressiveness are a powerful lure for the self-dramatizing Four). Eight, however, feels more affinity with Three (whose effectiveness in the world the power-centered Eight respects). Three feels more connection with Seven (whose bright ideas Three can co-opt and commercialize), while Seven connects more with Two (the Helper devoted to supporting and grounding Seven's visionary flights of ideas). Two finds a special appeal in Six (the insecure and fearful person in need of the support that Two needs to give). Completing the roundelay, Six feels a strong attraction to One (not surprising, since for the Six issues of trust and authority are central, and the One is scrupulous and respectful of others' boundaries).

The lack of a natural reciprocity between points fuels a kind of perpetual-motion machine that is a model for life itself. This Enneagram version of La Ronde might also be aptly titled The Divine (or Human) Comedy.

Theories are all very well, but the most important measure of their value is their applicability to real-life situations. How can this Four-Point-On hypothesis help us gain insight into troubled relationships and take practical steps toward solving problems in communities and organizations? Let me offer as an example a situation I recently witnessed in the church I attend.

On a Sunday morning in the spring of last year I learned that the pastor of our small Methodist congregation in a California community had decided to leave the church in six weeks to take an assignment involving inner-city churches. On learning they would be losing their beloved minister, whom I'll call Greg, after 22 years, the congregation expressed grief, anger, fear, and a pervasive sense of betrayal. The tenor of their responses confirmed my impression that this congregation, known for its liberal politics and unorthodox approach to religion, is basically a Six organization, preoccupied with issues of authority, loyalty, and trust.

Given my hypothesis about the Four-Point-On connection, you will probably not be surprised to learn that Greg, the pastor seeking a new position from which he could more effectively perfect the world, is a One. The Six, remember, has a natural affinity for the One, being especially appreciative of his trustworthiness, his pragmatism, and his skill in sorting out moral and ethical questions. And so this Six organization had grown to trust and depend on its charismatic, idealistic minister (who was also for a time mayor of the medium-size city in which the church is located).

But after 22 years of service, Greg's choosing to leave was a red flag to an organization that places a premium on loyalty. So betrayal was a strong issue on that difficult Sunday morning: "How could you do this to us?" "Don't you care about us?" "We need you." "I'm trying to process this, but I'm in deep grief." Also fear: "We all know the church takes in more money on the Sundays Greg preaches; will we be able to meet our obligations?" And the enormous issue of authority: "Don't we have any choice in who Greg's replacement will be?" (According to Methodist rules, the congregation is assigned a minister by the District Supervisor and has the option only of accepting or rejecting the Supervisor's choice.) "Maybe we should think about disaffiliating with the Methodist Church and going out on our own." (Greg gulped when he heard this, but said: "Well, that's certainly one option.") "But then we wouldn't be able to use this building," someone said, "we'd have to find another place to meet."

The membership of the church had for many years been heavily gay and (especially) lesbian, with a strong activist, feminist and multicultural orientation. Services were deliberately ecumenical--many Jewish holidays (Passover, Purim) and Black-oriented celebrations (Kwannza) were observed, along with the usual Christian feasts. The "G" word was rarely uttered at Sunday services, the "J" word was considered out of bounds altogether, and even the word spiritual was suspect. The singing consisted mostly of songs with a distinct political flavor, with few conventional hymns. Although a typical Sunday morning mix included couples with and without children (the church provides child care during the service) and people of all ages, I rarely saw a black face in the congregation.

After the service, one of the board members showed me a "Clergy Profile" for the new pastor that the group had drawn up the same evening Greg had told them of his plan to resign. The document indicated that the church was seeking a woman minister, "preferably black and lesbian," who could accept a "Reconciling" congregation (one that contained people of all sexual orientations) and who was progressive politically, interested in social action, feminist, and non-traditional in theological orientation. The new minister should also "see sermons as dialogues," encourage discussion, and be comfortable in casual dress ("no heels, ties or robes").

The crisis in this organization resembled that of a dysfunctional family--surely no surprise, given the fact that many of the congregation are themselves products of alcoholic and/or abusive family situations. The responses to Greg's announcement reflected a belief that no one who had not had the same kind of disadvantaged background could understand this group, and I suspect that this belief was at the root of the board's request that a black lesbian (disadvantaged socially both because of skin color and sexual orientation) be appointed.

This qualification also relates to Six's issues with authority: only those who could be trusted not to set themselves up as authority figures should be allowed to take on positions of leadership. There seemed to be an underlying anxiety in the group that an outsider--one not privy to the dark family secrets--might be appointed and might expose the Byzantine interrelationships of the organization to the critical eyes of the Methodist hierarchy (already seen as the enemy because the larger church organization had repeatedly refused to condone same-sex relationships).

There is also a thread in this web that links the Six organization to another Enneagram point. I suggested earlier that, while a Six group is especially likely to feel comfortable with a One leader, the Two individual is likely to feel especially attracted to Six--and this applies, I believe, to both organizations and individuals. In the upheaval on the morning of Greg's announcement that he was leaving, there were also many Two voices seeking to help and comfort, holding the hands of people who were weeping, expressing hope that the group would "give the new minister a chance." The congregation includes quite a few psychotherapists, teachers, social workers, and labor organizers--all natural Two professions--and during this volatile encounter I observed among these Helpers--especially those of the social subtype--a spirit of excitement at being challenged to exercise their professional skills. Many of the Twos actually seemed pleased that the crisis allowed them to demonstrate their helpfulness. A complex and in some ways symbiotic relationship.

A few weeks after this traumatic event, the church board announced that a new minister had been appointed: a woman who had been pastor of a thoroughly conventional congregation. On private inquiry, I learned that the new pastor, whom I'll call Denise, was white, heterosexual (though unmarried), and 33 years old.

When I went to hear her first sermon I saw a tall, gangly-looking young woman (who appeared understandably nervous) using flip charts to illustrate her talk, which she had obviously prepared as if it were a corporate presentation. There was discussion afterward among the congregation about "giving her a chance," but over the next few months many people dropped out and those who remained had frequent meetings in small groups to address their "mourning issues" over the loss of Greg.

Because of work commitments, I had no opportunity to go back to the church for almost five months. When I next heard Denise preach I sensed she was carving a niche for herself in this maverick congregation. Though about a quarter of the church's members had dropped out since Greg's departure, there were a number of new people, including some young couples with children (formerly a tiny subgroup in this congregation).

In her sermon Denise talked about obsessions, compulsions, and the shame that underlies them, acknowledging her own history of a violent home life as background to her personal experience of these debilitating psychological problems. Her style was distinctly different from Greg's. Where he was more authoritative, more intellectual, more polished, she was more psychologically-oriented, more tentative, more vulnerable. She charmed the group by acknowledging her own fears and made some effective jokes at her own expense. During the group discussion after her sermon, I noticed that members of the congregation spoke less about their political and sexual-orientation agendas (something I had formerly found tiresome) and more about their personal lives.

Listening to what Denise had to say and watching her body language, I feel fairly certain she is a Six. My guess is that she will continue to rebuild this congregation in a distinctive (and perhaps more compassionate) spirit.

A few further thoughts about Six organizations: I would guess that many nonprofit organizations might fall into this category, since nonprofits generally seek to provide social benefit to their members and to the society at large. And I suspect that the leadership and rank-and-file of these groups would resemble the patterns I've observed in this unconventional Methodist congregation.

I think that for organizational consultants the success of a One leader in a Six organization is worth noting; if one were able to make a assessment that a company or agency had basic Six characteristics, a One would often be a strong choice as CEO. As would a Six. And the abundance of Twos in a Six organization could be an even greater asset if the importance of their contribution were acknowledged and provided for in the organization's structure.

I also believe that the patterns I've observed in Six organizations could fruitfully be applied to the analysis of organizations characterized by other Enneagram points, with my Four-Point-On hypothesis in mind. Since I believe this theory is relevant to business and government as well as to nonprofit groups, I hope others will explore the applicability of these ideas to a variety of organizations and will report on their usefulness.


The above article was published in the July 1996 issue of Enneagram Monthly.