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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Tadross

How You Can Improve Your Life by Reading Between Its Lines

When you understand someone, you can’t be afraid of them.

People laugh at personality tests, but I’ve used them to unite people over feminism in my organization the Bipartisan Feminist Project, to determine new members’ capacity for self-growth in my business fraternity, and in my own life to improve my social skills.

I'm fascinated by questions that can help us to obtain increasingly specific and sufficient solutions to problems. When you let down your wall to personality tests, you can learn how to use them to the very core of the human mind. I'm passionate about understanding personalities, and I use this understanding to [1] describe my own insecurities and determine when and how they can be turned into strengths, and [2] replace fear or dislike for peers with empathy and understanding that can help us work as a team.

Putting Understanding Before Fear

Have you ever met someone who you just couldn’t figure out? Maybe they made you feel confused, annoyed, or even scared. Taking these negative emotions and turning them into understanding can enable you to both develop a relationship with this “difficult” person, and regain control of your life.

I’ve primarily used the Enneagram personality test to change how I see the world. As opposed to categorizing people based on their traits, the Enneagram defines 9 personality types (numbered 1 through 9) and 3 subtypes based on individuals' core motivations.

The "Enneagram Star" is used to describe how people's personalities cause them to act under stress and in times of growth.

In his book Awareness to Action, personality business consulting leader Mario Sikora explains that in life each of us adopt a primary strategy for survival. This becomes our motivation. For instance, a 3 on the Enneagram, "The Performer," strives to be outstanding. Although this strategy may cause problems for them, they adopt the strategy because they are often rewarded for it. An Enneagram type 3 working in sales might work 100 hours per week to top her department in sales, and succeed at it. But, she may also lie to customers about delivery times to achieve this goal, possibly to a point where it inadvertently hinders her success. 3s can differ in their traits from person to person, but are all likewise motivated by the drive to be outstanding.

Identifying someone's motivation is key to having empathy for them, gaining self-awareness, and predicting how other people might behave in the future. We often go about our lives without considering these motivations. For example, an Enneagram 3, "The Performer," strives to be outstanding while an Enneagram 8, "The Protector," strives to be powerful. However, an 8 and a 3 could look very similar. They may both excel as civil rights lawyers, train for a marathon together, and read self-improvement books. However, the 8 does these things to feel strong while the 3 does so to appear outstanding. When you pick up on the subtle cues that indicate these differing motivations, you can understand how the two people might be different in deeper ways - including what kind of behavior they admire in other people, how they behave on a team, and where their work might fall short.

Awareness to Action explains the 9 Enneagram Types in depth, including paths to self-growth.

Consider again the example of an Enneagram 8 and an Enneagram 3. The 8 is motivated by anger while the 3 is motivated by maintaining a positive image. You may pick up that the 3 is a 3 because he cares more about how other people perceive him, while the 8's honesty and bluntness in conversation indicates that she is an 8.

Knowing this distinction, you can understand, for instance that a type 3 manager or leader might only push a project insofar as it makes him look good.

When observing this, it is important to remember that not all people of one Enneagram type have the same traits. As Sikora explains, the Enneagram is an explanatory model and not a predictive one, so it may be more accurate to use personality-based observations to look out for behavior rather than to assume it.

3s may be valuable in sales, fundraising, or design-related projects, places where success hinges on appearance. On the contrary, 8s value helping the underdog rather than people who are more powerful than them, and they do not want to feel controlled at work. You may want to give an Enneagram 8 more independence on projects, or turn to them as a mentor for new team members.

Learning more about Enneagram types, you will learn more about each type's specific traits and gain a deeper understanding of the world, but, you will also gain important knowledge about each type's fundamental motivation. For example, an Enneagram 1 strives to be perfect. Reading Awareness to Action, I learned that one of the most fundamental traits of an Enneagram 1, "The Perfectionist," is believing there is only one correct way to do things. Knowing this, you can determine when you want this kind of person on your team, and when their tendency toward correct processes could become a liability.

When you understand someone, you will not only not fear them, but can learn to enjoy their company more deeply, know yourself better, and run a better organization.

While I’m not an expert, In the following posts I will share some of my primary insights about personality systems and human analysis. This is not meant to be an educational course on the Enneagram, but a series of insights into yours and others’ behavior that can help you to see the world in a new light.

I hope that this perspective can help you to more effectively build habits, contribute to gender equality, and live the life that you desire.

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