Conflict and the Enneagram

Conflict between individuals and groups is natural in organizations, and how it is dealt with dramatically affects organizational productivity and effectiveness. Too much unresolved conflict erodes working relationships and teamwork and creates a culture of distrust. Too little conflict usually indicates that people are not voicing their ideas and concerns and that the organization intentionally or unintentionally communicates that it is not acceptable to have differences emerge. Conflict, when effectively addressed, contributes to creativity and innovation and shapes a workforce and leadership who take responsibility for their own behavior rather than blaming others or circumstances.

The Enneagram is an excellent way for employees and teams to utilize their reactions to conflict for their own self-development, as well as to know how best to approach others with whom they have concerns. This section shows you how to do this and includes the following:
Pinch-Crunch Conflict Model


Certain work situations are likely to agitate anyone -- for example, situations involving lying, cheating, and stealing -- although how people react at these times will be different based on their Enneagram styles. There are also specific anger triggers for each Enneagram style -- that is, certain situations that will invariably ignite anger in a person of one style, yet may not affect someone of a different style. The nine case studies in this chapter were specifically selected because they describe and explain conflict situations unique to each style. This helps answer the question that people often ask when observing another person who is angry: This wouldn't have bothered me, so why is he or she so upset? The behavior patterns that individuals exhibit when they are angry will be similar to those of other people with the same Enneagram style, regardless of whether the stimulus for the anger is a universally agitating event or a situation that contains a specific Enneagram style anger trigger.

When people work together, minor disruptions inevitably arise. One person may do something that violates another person's expectations. Because these expectations are not usually discussed in advance, the transgressor has no forewarning that his or her behavior will, in fact, be offensive. When these transgressions occur, the offended party feels an anger trigger, or "pinch." Pinches, which are typically knots in the stomach, can also be small jolts in the head or pangs in the chest. Along with the pinching sensation comes a thought -- an internal voice that says, This person should not have done that! -- and a feeling of anger, hurt, or fear.

When we feel a pinch, most of us do not say anything to the other person directly. We either hope the other person's behavior is a one-time offense, or we speculate that the sharing of our displeasure will only make the situation worse -- that is, it may create a conflict, hurt the other person's feelings, or both.

As pinches begin to accumulate, however, they morph into a conflict reaction, or "crunch" -- the time most people label as conflict. During the crunch, our feelings become more heated, our sensitivities become heightened, and the risk of discussing the brewing conflict rises exponentially. This is the time when one of two things usually happens: an argument takes place, or the individuals avoid each other. Sometimes both occur. While it usually takes three pinches to make a crunch, sometimes it only takes one or two, as you will see in this chapter. Pinches and crunches provide excellent opportunities for our own growth; in fact, our pinches and crunches often say as much or more about us than they actually say about the situation or the other person.

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Enneagram Style Conflict Pinches

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


  • Mistakes, errors, and incorrectness
  • Another's lack of follow-through
  • Feeling criticized
  • Another's noncollaborative changes to plans
  • Feeling deceived
  • Feeling taken advantage of or taken for granted
  • Not feeling appreciated or valued
  • Not feeling heard or feeling discounted
  • Perceiving others as being abusive
  • Being accused of having negative intentions
  • Being in a position of potential failure
  • Not looking good professionally
  • Being blamed for the poor work of others
  • Not receiving credit for work they have done
  • Having to discuss emotional issues at length
  • Feeling ignored or slighted
  • Feeling misunderstood
  • Feeling cut off when expressing themselves
  • Being asked to do something contrary to personal values
  • Feeling not good enough
  • Another breaking a confidence
  • Being surprised
  • Dishonesty
  • Unpredictable or overwhelming situations
  • Experiencing someone as being invasive
  • Pressure
  • Lack of genuineness and warmth
  • Being told they're imagining something
  • Lack of commitment and loyalty
  • Abusive use of authority
  • Boring, mundane tasks and lack of stimulation
  • Feeling dismissed or not taken seriously
  • Unjust criticism
  • Not being listened to
  • Focusing on negative issues or problem areas
  • Indirectness and deception
  • Injustice
  • Others not taking responsibility for their behavior
  • Being blindsided
  • Not feeling in control
  • Disharmonious situations
  • Chronic complaining
  • Being not seen (or heard)
  • Anger – either experienced by them or directed at them
  • Feeling directed to do something




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How to Deal with Pinches Effectively


  1. Share your pinches with others at the beginning of your working relationship.

    Early on in a working relationship, engage the other person or persons in a conversation about your newly formed working relationship, including both your and their working styles. During the working styles discussion, both of you can highlight the types of behaviors in others that tend to pinch you.


  2. Say something as soon as you are aware of feeling pinched.

    Sharing a pinch as soon as it is felt creates the opportunity for a reasoned conversation with less emotional intensity than occurs after pinches begin to accumulate. The Feedback Formula (see feedback application) provides a structure for giving feedback about what caused the pinch, the impact of the pinch, and the preferred behavior. Additional information from the same chapter -- how to manage your own style when giving feedback to others, and how to adjust your delivery to the Enneagram style of the recipient -- is also extremely helpful.


  3. When you start behaving in ways that indicate you are feeling pinched, do something physical if you can, such as working out or taking a walk.

    When we begin to feel angry, we typically become physically tense, and our muscles tighten automatically. Simultaneously, our mental processing and emotional reactivity become heightened. Engaging in a physical activity interrupts this cycle, and we often perceive what has occurred in a new and constructive manner.


  4. When you feel a pinch, answer this question: What does my reaction to this situation or to the other person's behavior say about me in terms of my Enneagram style and about the areas in which I can develop? How can working on my pinches and crunches help me to bring out the best in myself??

    This is undoubtedly the most constructive and useful way to understand and work with your pinches and crunches. All it takes is a frame of mind that has you say the following to yourself: I just had a strong negative reaction to this event. What can this teach me about myself? How can I use this experience to experiment with a very different reaction, including my mental interpretation of events, my particular emotional responses, and the way in which I am now behaving?


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