Communication and the Enneagram

When we communicate, we want to be understood by others. However, even the best communicators get misinterpreted at times, and we can all learn how to communicate more effectively and understand others better by using the Enneagram style-based communication cues as our guide.

This section contains the following information:

Sender-Receiver Model

Three kinds of distortions may be present when we send a communication to someone else: speaking style, body language, and blind spots. Speaking style refers to the overall pattern by which we talk as well as to what we actually talk about. Some of us speak slowly, while others get right to the point; some of us sound like honey and others like machine guns. Some tell stories, while others talk about tasks. Some people talk about feelings, and others talk about ideas or events. Some people hardly talk at all.

Our posture, facial expressions, hand gestures, body movements, energy levels, and hundreds of other nonverbal messages form the integrated impression known as body language. The combination of our speaking style and our body language accounts for approximately 80 percent or more of the meaning others hear in what we communicate; only 20 percent or less of a perceived message comes from the actual content of what we say.

As important as body language is to communication, most of us are unaware of our own body language because it is largely unconscious. Our body language is as automatic as breathing. We rarely pay attention to taking a breath, yet we do it all day long.

Blind spots contain information about ourselves that are not apparent to us, but are highly visible to other people. We unknowingly convey this information through an amalgam of our speaking style, body language and other inferential data. Have you ever been told -- and been surprised to hear -- that you cleared your throat regularly, pulled at your hair, crossed your feet while standing, or said "um" ten times during a speech? This is the type of information contained in our blind spots. Each Enneagram style has specific blind spots through which unconscious and unintentional messages are sent to others.

The receivers of the messages we send also distort what they hear through their distorting filters. These are unconscious concerns or assumptions, often based on Enneagram style, that alter how we hear what others say. For example, if you focus on whether or not your listener likes you (as Twos often do), or if you pay attention to whether other people are demanding your time and energy (as Fives typically do), you will not be clearheaded enough to accurately hear what others are really saying to you. Most communication courses teach a technique called active listening. This technique involves listening to another person very closely and then paraphrasing what you have just heard the other person say to you. Even in this situation, one in which we are trying our best to listen accurately, most of us either miss some information or misinterpret what we have just heard. That is because all of us unconsciously engage in selective listening to at least some degree, simply because we are human.

The best way to avoid having others misperceive what we say is to alter the way in which we say things. We can only do this by becoming aware of our speaking distortions and then working to change our behavior. Similarly, the way to ensure that we hear others more accurately is to minimize our distorting filters. Again, this comes from first understanding the distorting filters of our own Enneagram style, and then working to minimize or remove them -- one filter at a time.

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Speaking Style and Body Language by Enneagram Style

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Please click a number to see the information for the corresponding style.

    Speaking Style
    • Precise, direct, exacting, concise, and detailed
    • Share task-related thoughts more than feelings
    • Use judging words such as should, ought, must, correct, excellent,
       good, wrong, and right
    • React quickly to ideas, particularly when they agree of disagree
    • Defensive if criticized
    Body Language
    • Erect posture
    • Taut muscles, particularly facial muscles
    • Eyes focused
    • Body language may reveal negative reaction through a furrowed brow
       or a step backward
    • Clothing usually well-coordinated and pressed
    Speaking Style
    • Ask questions
    • Give compliments
    • Focus on content of other person with fewer references to self
    • Soft voice unless angry or agitated
    • Angry or complaining when they dislike what others say about
       something that matters to them
    Body Language
    • Smile frequently and appear comfortable
    • Relaxed facial expressions
    • Open, graceful body movement
    • When agitated, furrowed brow and facial tension
    Speaking Style
    • Clear, efficient, logical, and well conceived use of words
    • Think and respond quickly and with confidence
    • Avoid topics in which they have limited information or that may
       reflect negatively on them
    • Use concrete examples
    • Impatient with lengthy conversations
    Body Language
    • Appear confident and well-dressed for the occasion
    • Breathe deeply into their chest area
    • Keep shoulders high
    • Actions may appear staged for effect
    • Look around regularly to check the reactions of others
    • Let others know when they are no longer interested in talking
    Speaking Style
    • Use words like I, me, my, and mine frequently
    • Talk about self and discuss feelings
    • Share personal and/or painful stories
    • Ask personal questions of others
    • Word choice may sound deliberate
    Body Language
    • Intense
    • Urgent
    • Appear to be focused inward, as if analyzing the words they say
    • Communicate that they want undivided attention from others
    • Eyes may appear moist or sad
    Speaking Style
    • Speak tersely or in lengthy discourse
    • Highly selective in word choice
    • Limited sharing of personal information
    • Share thoughts rather than feelings
    Body Language
    • Appear self-contained
    • Exhibit a high degree of self-control
    • Use little animation in their body language
    • Prefer ample space between themselves and others
    Speaking Style
    • Start with analytical comments
    • Alternate syncopated, hesitant speech with bold, confident speech
    • Can use emotionally laden speech
    • Discuss worries, concerns, and "what ifs"
    Body Language
    • May appear warm, engaging, and empathic
    • Eyes may be bold and direct
    • Alternatively, eyes may dart back and forth horizontally,
       as if scanning for danger
    • Face often shows worry, but may also appear confident and/or fierce
    • Have quick nonverbal reaction to perceived threats
    Speaking Style
    • Quick and spontaneous, with words released in a flurry
    • Tell engaging stories
    • Shift from topic to topic
    • Upbeat and charming
    • Avoid negative topics about themselves
    • Reframe negative information
    Body Language
    • Smiling and bright-eyed
    • Sharp tone of voice when angry
    • Highly animated face and use numerous hand and/or arm gestures
    • May walk around and/or pace while speaking
    • Easily distracted
    Speaking Style
    • Bold and authoritative
    • Big picture and strategic
    • Statements designed to structure or control situations
    • Impatient with detail
    • Display anger directly
    • May use profanity or body-based humor
    • May say very little or be talkative
    • Blame others if they feel blamed
    Body Language
    • Have a strong physical presence, even when they are silent
    • Modulate voice tone for maximum impact, raising its intensity
       until they get a response from others
    • Give intense nonverbal cues
    • Appear extremely grounded as if they can't be moved
    Speaking Style
    • Give highly detailed information in a sequential style
    • Make the effort to be fair and present all sides
    • May say yes but mean no
    • Use agreeing words, such as yes and uh-huh
    Body Language
    • Easygoing and relaxed
    • Smile frequently
    • Few displays of strong emotions, particularly negative feelings
    • Face rather than body is animated
    • Nod their heads often as if affirming what the other is saying

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Ways for Individuals of All Styles to Enhance Communication

Change one behavior at a time
It is most effective to work on changing one behavior at a time. It is recommended that you work on changes to your communication style in the following sequence, which moves from most conscious to least conscious behaviors:
    • Speaking style
    • Body language
    • Blind spots
    • Distorting filters
Increase your awareness
Increase your knowledge of the ways in which you distort both the messages you send and those you receive. Refer regularly to the list inside and ask yourself:
Which of these behaviors did I just exhibit?

Solicit feedback
Ask others, including coworkers, for feedback on your Enneagram communication style; select people who know you well and whom you respect.

Audiotape or videotape yourself
Audiotape or videotape yourself during a meeting or when giving a speech, and review the tape multiple times to observe your Enneagram style behavior.

Listen actively
Use active listening to decrease your receiving distortions; paraphrase both the content and feelings you hear from the other person so he or she can give you a reality check on the accuracy of your listening skills.

Work with a coach
Select a coach who will give you real-time feedback on your ability to communicate effectively and will provide you with suggestions for new behavior.

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