A friend once told me a story–apocryphal, I’m sure–about someone following their GPS so literally that they drove off the road and into a small stream.
I was reminded of this story the other day while talking to another coach about the dangers of relying too heavily on the Enneagram as a prescriptive map or recipe for development. The Enneagram is such a powerful descriptive model that it is easy to become overly focused on it; to become so fixated on the map that we don’t see the territory in front of us.
It is tempting to rely on the Enneagram as a literal and rigid map, to assume that because someone is, say, a Three that she will do x under specific circumstances and must therefore do y as a remedy. The problem with such thinking, of course, is that people are complex and don’t always do what the models say they will do. Threes often do x under said circumstances, but not always. I’ve coached all kinds of people of all different Ennea-types who have continually surprised me by doing things that are atypical. Yet I continually run into coaches who fall victim to the most unsubtle of stereotypical assumptions–Sevens are promiscuous and can’t focus on their work, Eights don’t read and are explosive bullies, Threes are deceptive and dishonest, etc. While each of these stereotypes may be true in some instances, and it is all to easy to confirm one’s biases if one digs hard enough and contorts the interpretation of events enough to fit the bias, such universal thinking is handicapping to the coach and insulting to the client.
Interacting with people on the assumption that they are rigidly following the map that you think they are following can lead you both into a ditch. Therefore, beware of overly prescriptive advice on how to coach people of any given type; humans have an annoying habit of going off script more often than we think.
For a coach, the Enneagram is best when used like the road map to which it is analogous–take it out to plot a general course and refer to it when you are lost, but keep your eyes on the road and when you don’t need it, fold the map and put it back in the glove box and enjoy the view.