From what we’ve seen, Enneagram types exist across culture – that is, cultures throughout the world will have people who display qualities from all the Enneagram types and Instincts. Nonetheless, each country and culture has a dominant cultural overlay, which has a personality type of its own. People absorb the values taught by their culture, which impact how they display their own dominant type. In Melanie’s Canadian culture, for example, people are encouraged to be polite and collaborative – values of type Nine and the Social Instinct. In Kacie’s American culture, citizens learn the values of independence, ambition, and hard work, the “American Dream” rooted in Type Three and the Self-Preservation Instinct.
Despite knowing that we came from different countries, we were still surprised when cultural differences unrelated to our types came up when we started working together. For example, Melanie would say “Sorry” as an instinctive reaction when things didn’t go as planned. After several months, Kacie asked Melanie why. She explained that Canadians say sorry in a multitude of situations as a form of politeness, a cultural subtlety very different from the more assertive American culture.
As we prepare to travel to Canada for the Canadian Enneagram Conference this month, cultural differences are heavily on our minds. We’re busy thinking up ways to adapt our presentation to a less assertive, more community-oriented culture than the American audiences we usually work with. At times Melanie, the Canadian on our team, has found herself acting as “cultural translator” and explaining Canadian communication norms.
When you connect with people from different cultures, whether in work, travel for pleasure, or in your daily life, you can use the Enneagram not only to understand their individual differences but to gain a better sense of the culture you’re interacting with. Listen to what people around you talk about. Notice the values and beliefs they take for granted. Each Enneagram type operates from a set of assumptions projected onto the world at large. Just like we expect others to share our personality-based motivations and way of seeing things, we also expect others to share the cultural viewpoint that we’re accustomed to. These things are so ingrained that we often don’t realize there are other worldviews out there that differ drastically from our own.
When you look at cultural and personal Enneagram types side by side, you’ll find that they don’t always match closely. A Type Eight, for instance, might find their strength and assertiveness valued in one culture, while they might have a harder time in a culture that values quiet and conformity. In what way is your dominant Enneagram type and Instinct similar or different to what your country’s culture values? Understanding how your type and culture work together adds nuance to an action plan to improve your communication with other people, and supports companies in doing international business productively and successfully.
Using the Enneagram also makes it easier to identify human similarities across cultures. Our colleagues in the Enneagram field have taught it to groups of Israelis and Palestinians who worked together, as well as South African teams different races and backgrounds, and found it to build cross-cultural bridges between people of the same Enneagram type. Often, two Sixes or two Ones who start a workshop thinking they have nothing in common discover that they share a set of values and behaviors that goes beyond their culture. Even “us vs. them” dynamics sometimes transform into “Me too!”s, and a new understanding is born.
The Enneagram is a useful tool for improving our communication, relationships, and self-awareness. Developing cultural competence through an Enneagram lens help us grow and develop these skills in an even more powerful way.