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Crafting Successful Communication


ducks try againThe Enneagram has many applications, and communication is one of its more universal ones. Communication is all around us. We chat and plan with our colleagues, engage with our loved ones, catch up with our friends. We e-mail, text, and talk on the phone. We receive messages from our environment every day, from advertisements to street signs. Given how steeped we are in communication as a species, why is it still so difficult to communicate successfully?

The answer is that communication is complex. It involves a sender, whose message is shaped by their own experience and style, and a recipient, who brings interpretive filters that may or may not match the sender’s. Sometimes there are multiple senders, recipients, or messages. Communication norms vary from culture to culture–Richard D. Lewis’s summaries of business communication in different countries offer useful insight into these variations. Just as importantly, communication style is deeply influenced by personality.

The Enneagram describes three communication styles present in most groups. All bring distinctive strengths and challenges. By understanding your own communication style and the styles of people around you, you can engage more effectively on others’ terms and minimize misunderstanding.

Soloists (types Four, Five, and Nine) have a rich internal dialogue. They work best on their own and respond to stress by moving away from engagement into their inner sanctum. Soloists are quieter and may take longer to speak and engage than the other communication styles, but they think through their ideas carefully and bring long-term, strategic thinking to the table, along with innovative ideas. Soloists benefit from being offered time to think before responding, and being asked questions that draw out their ideas.

Initiators (types Three, Seven, and Eight) are action-oriented and driven by challenge. Interested in being in the center of things, they are quick to speak up and engage. Under stress, they default to taking up space and pushing for action. They tend to be direct and energetic in their communication, and may present ideas as a way of brainstorming–“thinking aloud.” They benefit from debate and forthrightness.

Cooperators (types One, Two, and Six) want to work for a common purpose. Natural collaborators, they are more willing than the other styles to play a supportive role and draw out others’ participation, rather than coming up with ideas or starting things. When stressed, their superego becomes vocal both internally and externally, demanding adherence to a personal set of principles and responsibilities. Cooperators benefit from acknowledgment and appreciation.

Communication styles are an especially practical part of our teaching that can easily be applied to interpersonal situations. For those who have difficulty reading others, learning communication styles offers a way to understand different people’s mindsets and tailor communication accordingly. We’ve seen Enneagram knowledge help people on the autism spectrum learn how to interact better with others–one success story here–and we’re honored to be presenting on communication styles to the autism spectrum community at the AASCEND conference. We’re also excited to offer a communication styles workshop through General Assembly San Francisco, where we’ll bring the styles to life through a business simulation.

6 thoughts on “Crafting Successful Communication

  1. The one thing I’d say is that you may want to clarify this a bit, so that people don’t mistype based on MBTI preferences. Withdrawn-style communication sounds an awful lot like introversion whereas Assertive-style communication sounds a lot like Extraversion with thinking and the dutiful style sounds like FJ. I could see, for example, an INFP two reading this and thinking she must be a withdrawn type or an ENTJ six mistyping as an assertive type and so forth.

    • In our workshops we’ve seen both introverts and extroverts identify with all three communication styles, and while we are not experts on the Myers-Briggs, we believe all of the types can be represented in all three communication styles. For example, we’ve worked with self-identified introverts who are go-getters and thinkers who are dutiful.

  2. Thank you for this post , it puts a different perspective on communication styles.

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