On Mistyping Others by Peter McNab

On Mistyping Others by Peter McNab

The Enneagram community is rife with those who telling other people which type they are or even telling them that they have mistyped themselves; they are also often the very people who castigate others who do the same thing. At the recent IEA Global Conference in Burlingame, CA, I was even told by one Enneagram teacher of another who shouldn’t be allowed to teach the Enneagram because this person had mistyped himself or herself. And I include myself in this habit, although I am doing my best to kick it. It’s nearly as hard as giving up smoking all those years ago, but not quite.

If you check out many of the Enneagram Facebook pages you can see the ridiculous levels this gets to with people arguing over the typing of people they know little or nothing about. A recent example was viewed as particularly odd from a UK perspective as we watched people from around the world try to type our “royal family”. As the arguments were based on public appearances by people trained from birth about how to behave in front of the press, it is little wonder that speculation wandered far and wide, as people whose views were being challenged went to further and further lengths to uphold their points of view.

As someone who has been teaching the Enneagram for over twenty years, I know the temptations and I also know the costs of succumbing to the these temptations; I know that I have upset a lot of people on my Enneagram journey by “typing”, or, just as likely, “mistyping” them.

There are certain hypotheses that we can make based on other people’s non-verbal communication, their tonal marking, and the content of what they say (and as an INLPTA Master Trainer with over a quarter of a century of experience in this, I do know how powerful such information can be), but, and this is a huge but, in my opinion, we can never know what is going on inside someone else’s head. There are even question marks about how much I understand about what’s going on inside my own head.

Ken Wilber, amongst others, talks about the two gazes that we have when considering others, the Monological Gaze and the Duological Gaze. The former is when the observation is one-sided and consists of what we can see and hear; we use this gaze to look at the external world and to ascertain the facts about a situation. We need the latter, however, to get a fuller picture of the situation, which also includes the internal world, and the only way that we can do this is to engage in dialogue with the Other. My learning is that I can only get so far with the Monological Gaze.

“So what?” I ask myself. Given that I cannot engage in dialogue with others all of the time and given that I have upset many people in the past by typing them (or more likely, mistyping them), how useful is this thing we call the Enneagram? I have developed a strategy that seems to work for me and I thought that I’d share it.

In the UK I have two friends, one of whom is an Enneagram teacher, who, I believe, have mistyped themselves. I have now learned not to tell them this, as I know from personal experience what it is like to be told that you don’t know who you are; it feels intrusive and rude. What I do instead is make my hypothesis and act upon it without sharing it with my friends (and on a good day with no one else either).

My female friend identifies as a Nine (and given the culture that she lives in, this makes perfect sense) but I believe that she is a Transmitting Five. Once I made this connection, there was a huge shift in me; not only could I start to relax but I also became much more forgiving. I could now understand why I was being given a huge amount of detail in our conversations; what had formerly felt as something being “inflicted” upon me could now be construed as a compliment. The “lectures” still irritate to some degree, but now that I know where it coming from I am more able to let go of the irritation.

My male friend identifies as a One and I used to respond to him in the same way that I respond to other One friends, but I found from experience that he reacted very badly to this. One friends and Ones I coach really like direct feedback so that we can move on quickly, whereas this friend needed a lot more support before being able to confront issues, and group harmony and inclusion seems to be much more important. My huge learning with this dear friend was when I finally realized that he might be a Nine. Now that I “know” this about him, (and, of course, I know nothing of the sort, I am merely making a hypothesis), our relationship runs much more smoothly and it is much easier to achieve and maintain rapport with him.

Whether or not I am “right” in these two examples seems irrelevant to me as the results that I am now getting matter much more to me. In NLP terms, “the meaning of my communication is the response that I get.”

This does mean that I have had to let go of the very enjoyable hobby of typing everyone else (although I still tend to do this internally, of course), but the resultant benefits more than compensate.

I’d love to hear about your experiences of typing friends and colleagues and what you do with this information.


3 Responses to On Mistyping Others by Peter McNab

  1. Mario Sikora says:

    Great article, Peter. This whole topic poses a challenge. I agree that it is at best intrusive and at worst abusive to challenge a person’s self-assessment if they don’t request your input. I’m conflicted regarding public figures–it’s at best a thought experiment and can help one hone one’s skills at identifying Ennea-type, but one can’t really know. Flippant typing, based on very little data, is as dangerous as it is boring. At the same time, I like to see a well-reasoned assessment of the Ennea-type of public figures as long as they are fully caveated and provisional pending new data.

    For Enneagram teachers or those who use the tool in their work with clients, it gets trickier–is there value in letting a client follow the wrong path when they seem to be mistyped? I’m reluctant to do so with my clients, but I will not insist that they are something they don’t take themselves to be. When clients see themselves a different Ennea-type than I do, I just let go of the model and focus on the issue at hand. If someone who I think is a Five thinks he’s an Eight but his issue is getting out and talking to subordinates, I focus on getting them out and talking to subordinates. The Enneagram is only helpful when it is not a distraction.

    I find it to be a real challenge when someone teaching the Enneagram seems to be mistyped. I’ve frequently seen people who identified themselves as one type and then change it, sometimes after teaching for a number of years. While I think this is admirable on the part of the person who sees more clearly and publicly admits to having made a mistake, I wonder what it does to the credibility of the Enneagram when there is an obvious disconnect between what a person is describing and what they are demonstrating. Is the person spreading misinformation and thus confusing a whole new generation of students?

    I have so solutions for this, but wonder if there might be some value in finding a gentler way of discussing our Ennea-type with others, asking about others’ Ennea-type from a spirit of inquiry rather than accusation, and, acknowledging that our view of another is only partial, ultimately accepting a person’s perspective on themselves.

  2. Hi Peter, great piece. I am an Enneagram teacher and a user observer for 16 or more years. I found the typing process difficult until I realised that I was not the typer but rather they ( the clients) were. A combination of false perceptions I had of how types should look, combined with knowing that people often don’t know themselves all that well, made me realise my role is a guide, to help them see. I made mistakes in the social arena early on, not just mistyping friends but not realising they did NOT want to be typed at all… Before I became a teacher I was therefore pretty terrified of getting it wrong with clients. It was a good lesson, especially feeing a big social Eight. I use cross checks from three differing sources of questionnaire for people to type themselves with some time to absorb the materials, and to check with friends and family. I will follow if necessary with one to one sessions where I ask questions via EANT style, combined with visual clues, storytelling and such. The enneagram is wonderful and very deep, so I believe it’s not unreasonable that finding the type is complex. I try not to type others but sometimes when someone has ” found” their type only via some online questionnaire I may ask the question… 🙂

  3. Pamela says:

    If we tell others their type we deny them the chance to determine for themselves.

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