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Guest Columnist Brodie Theis: Using the Enneagram with My University Students

December 10, 2019   General Enneagram   

I met Brodie at the IEA Conference 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio and after hearing how he uses the Enneagram with his university students, I asked him if he’d write a guest column for IEA Nine Points and he generously agreed. 

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to (discover a career path), the confused and (directionless college student). Send these, the frustrated, tempest-tossed to me…

The New Colossus at the Statue of Liberty (edited)

I’m a professor who teaches career development courses to 18-20 year old college students who haven’t chosen a major.  That’s right.  We’re attempting to provide career counsel to young people who are unable to name even one job title that interest them.

My intention is to guide students into deeper self-awareness, help them navigate the professional world, and provide tools to help discover a meaningful and purposeful career path.  The Enneagram has proven to be incredibly helpful.

The Enneagram and My Teaching Approach

In my typical type 7 fashion, I never teach the same course twice.

Each semester the syllabus gets a serious makeover, fresh articles and videos are incorporated,  and new assignments are hatched while others are sent to their grave.

I’ve learned that I’m a better teacher when I wing it.  My students often get the best of me when I know the course material, discern their unique needs, then improvise on the fly.

Utilizing Assessments in Career Development

Over the years I obtained certification in numerous behavior assessments to help my students, but their insight and impact always stopped short.  Yes I agree that understanding one’s recurring behaviors can be valuable in resume writing and job interviews.  But my concern that the strategy of amplifying our common behaviors often simply accelerates unhealthy patterns.

Brodie Theis, Associate Professor, University of Cincinnati

The more interesting and helpful questions hover around why these behavior patterns manifest over and over again.  What does each unique student value and how does it drive their behaviors?

This is where the Enneagram has added a critical layer to my students’ self-awareness and professional development.  They’ve shared that through the Enneagram they gained a deeper understanding of their motivations, developed new found empathy for their friends and family members, and can identify how this newly found insight will help them navigate relationships and opportunities in the professional world.

What My Students Are Saying

I assigned a 2-page paper to 125 students across three sections of the course.  They were asked to discuss what they’ve learned through the Enneagram exercises and how it will be useful in their career exploration and professional development.  The majority of their of their responses were thoughtful and pragmatic.

In a personal reflection, this Type 4 student shared:

Kanye West really struck a chord with me.  He made music that was high-octane and electrifyingly maximalist, and his lyrical content dealt with themes of excess, fame, and great emotion.  His music added so much color, vibrancy, and excitement to my young life.  These two components led to an unusual development in my personality: I became obsessed with the concept of the celebrity.  My biggest fear was that I would fail to stand out to people that I met.

A Type 5 student shared observations of their Type 6 mom:

She did a great job managing our family.  We have three kids, all very busy in sports and activities.  She was our quarterback, and always made sure we had what we needed, when we needed it. My mom was (and still is) always worried about us.  She warns us to “be careful,” and tells us every scary story she hears to warn of us of potential dangers. When we started driving was an especially hard time for her.

One student gained insight on his Type 2 roommate:

I guess before taking this assessment I never really noticed how much of an agreeable person he was. He never seems to engage in an argument. I would say that to be a good thing as he has a very lax person, and always just goes with the flow and is never really a person for confrontation; the polar opposite of me apparently. Yet, I feel that he will struggle when faced with confrontation in the workplace.  I thrive in a competitive environment, but he struggles immensely.

 A Type 4 student describes how they’d converse with a potential employer:

From a surface level, being a type 4 may make me appear to be constantly fickle and indecisive about what I want for my future. But I don’t look at surface levels, I only care what’s beneath. I know what I believe in and what I value, I want to find an occupation that excites my interests and deepens my passion, I want to do meaningful work that means something, that I believe in because if I’m working on something I don’t believe in, I’m not really working. Because I am always in search, I am more open to new possibilities and taking that leap of faith. I am driven to work harder and provide answers to earn the best results.

This Type 9 Student shares how he is finding peace within himself:

When I was younger, people would come to me with their problems and ask me for advice, which I thought was nice. I felt needed, and people were going to continue to talk to me. But I never found peace within myself up until a couple years ago. The baggage people would drop on me, I would never be able to empty it. I was too young to understand how to not let their problems become my problems. But when I was finally able to separate the two, I found myself being a lot happier, and not worrying as much about what people’s idea of me would be after I gave them the advice. This has impacted my personal aspirations, because I know I want to go into the business field and being in Human Resources is a way for me to fulfill both of those dreams of mine.

A Type 2 with a Type 9 roommate:

We haven’t had a fight yet, which is unbelievable because everyone said “don’t room with your best friend!” and yet we don’t argue. After taking these tests it was easy to see why, his personality type of peacemaker and mine of helper compliment each other well. I don’t like to fight because I like to help people and he doesn’t like to fight because he is a peacemaker, who often times just wants to be the bigger man in an argument.

A Type 8 reflects upon pros and cons in the workplace:

Employers appreciate someone who is independent and self-reliant. Negatively, it will impact my professional life by being not asking enough questions and disliking being controlled. Professionally, not liking being controlled isn’t an issue for the most part until a rule is put in that I don’t agree with. Taking things head-on and achieving a goal without causing too much of a scene is my forte. Employers will hopefully see that as a positive, and recognize me as an asset to them for those reasons.

This student analyzes his friend’s Type 3 behaviors:

My roommate Joe took the Enneagram test out of curiosity. He is a type 3.  He needs acknowledgement for everything. He and I bicker at each other, not in a negative way, but he always wants to make sure I’m not upset with him.  If he accomplishes something, he wants to be seen doing it or told it was a good job. One negative effect of his type is that he will put a fake face on to impress people.  Personally, this is one my biggest pet peeves and I notice this trait within him which causes tension every now and then.

Type-Specific Verbs & Adjectives

Students typically struggle to effectively describe their experience on their resume or in an interview, and instead dredge up generic and unremarkable words such as “helped”, “managed”, “talked”, “led”, or “cleaned”.

I placed students into groups according to their Enneagram type and asked them to develop a list of strong verbs and adjectives that can be used to describe how their type accomplishes tasks.  Their chosen lexicon has proven incredibly helpful in resume writing, career exploration, networking, and interviewing.  Their lists are below (unedited).

Type 1 (Perfectionist)

  • Verbs: Strive, Fix, Evaluate, Establish, Maximize
  • Adjectives: Principled, Idealistic, Efficient, Methodical, Dignified

Type 2 (Giver)

  • Verbs: Sacrifice, Support, Listen, Praise, Give, Encourage, Assist, Guide, Coach, Rehabilitate, Help
  • Adjectives: Selfless, Affectionate, People-centered, Involved, Observant, Understanding, Forgiving, Generous, Compromising, Attentive, Thoughtful, Kind, Caring, Helpful, Invested

Type 3 (Achiever)

  • Verbs: Focus, Motivate, Accomplish, Improve, Raise, Adapt, Achieve, Compete, Engage, Communicate
  • Adjectives: Efficient, Energetic, Attractive, Ambitious, Driven, Competitive, Ambitious, Adventurous, Determined, Productive, Successful

Type 4 (Individualist)

  • Verbs: Empower, Analyze, Inquire, Accept, Chase, Create, Empathize, Engage, Focused, Develop, Discover, Experience, Overthink, Dominate, Absorb
  • Adjectives: Thoughtful, Adaptive, Self aware, Open-minded, Creative, Emotional, Authentic, Unique, Intense, Original, Introspective, Emotional, inspiring, Fragile, Self-aware, Withdrawn

Type 5 (Observer)

  • Verbs: Learn, Discover, Pursue, Contemplate, Examine, Conceptualize, Pioneer, Demystify, Evaluate, Systemize
  • Adjectives: Independent, Quiet, Thorough, Resourceful, Objective, Innovative, Isolated, Insightful, Curious, Impatient

Type 6 (Loyal Skeptic)

  • Verbs: Worry, Think, Analyze, Overthink, Informed
  • Adjectives: Careful, Thoughtful, Worrisome, Attentive to Details, Calm

Type 7 (Epicure)

  • Verbs: Discover, Explore, Pursue, Understanding
  • Adjectives: Optimistic, Friendly, Well-rounded, Adventurously, Diverse, Energetic, Elastic, Flexible, Driven, Passionate, Eager, Flexible, Innovative

Type 8 (Protector)

  • Verbs: Achieved, Set Goals, Invest, Originate, Calculate, Lead, Develop, Commit, Conquer, Drive
  • Adjectives: Integrous, Aggressive, Persistent, Responsible, Persistent, Independent, Assertive, Focused, Bold

Type 9 (Mediator)

  • Verbs: Listen, Accommodate, Compromise, Inspire, Create, Understand, Organize, Advise
  • Adjectives: Calm, Graceful, Composed, Diplomatic, Peaceful, Helpful, Creative, Positive, Caring, Cooperative, Supportive, Generous, Open-minded

Encouraging Outcomes

  1. Understanding the HOW and WHY of Behaviors
    The Enneagram has given my students an expanded vocabulary to communicate more precisely how they’ll contribute in the workplace. More importantly, they’re now able to move beyond the WHAT of their behaviors, and into the HOW and WHY of those behaviors.
  2. Developing Empathy & Understanding for Self and Others
    Requiring Enneagram discussion with others (friend, roommate, parent) has resulted in increased empathy and understanding toward both loved ones and coworkers.
  3. Identifying the Limiting Fears
    The Enneagram has provided insight into the fears and motivations that drive their behaviors. My students are beginning to develop the ability to identify unhealthy patterns and adopt practical strategies for personal and professional growth.  The tool has been helped them acknowledge the specific fears that may hold them back in their professional pursuits.

Future Direction

Adding the Enneagram to the suite of professional development tools has breathed new life into my work.  Students were fascinated by the accuracy of type descriptions and other resources.  They appeared genuinely interested in learning how to move toward integration and health, and toward a more meaningful and purposeful career path.

From here the teaching and learning possibilities are endless and can easily be combined with both theoretical frameworks and practical application.  And that is exactly what this type 7 needs to keep focused.

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