To Type Or Not To Type?

Some authors and teachers of the Enneagram types frown upon typing other people, feeling it not only misses the point of using the Enneagram (i.e., to understand oneself better in order to grow psychologically or spiritually, both personally and in relation to others) but can also be misused by forcing unsolicited opinions and interpretations upon others (i.e., assuming you know others better than they know themselves by telling them what their type is instead of letting them come to their own determination). While there is reason to be concerned when typing others (e.g., beware of anyone who says they're absolutely sure of your type especially when it contradicts your own determination), typing other people and their work offers not only a way to gain some insight into them personally but also offers examples of type as it plays out in real life (which brings a much deeper and more nuanced understanding than can be found in books or reading alone).

There is one very important thing to remember when typing other people: You will not, in any way, ever be correct 100% of the time. Let me say that another way. Sometimes you'll get it right and sometimes you won't. Don't ever close your mind to the idea that you may be wrong in your typing of another person. The more certain you are, the more foolish you'll look or feel when you're wrong (not if you're wrong but when you're wrong because you will be wrong sometimes even if you don't admit it to yourself). While your own arrogance may restrict your ability to gain a deeper understanding of type, the damage it does to you pales when compared to what it can do to others. At best, you'll simply waste the other person's time by having them explore a type that isn't the best fit for them. At worst, you'll alienate the person from wanting anything to do with the Enneagram types or even you (actually it can even get worse if the person internalizes a sense of self based on the mistype and this creates problems in their life).

So, you are going to type other people as you learn and use the Enneagram types. It's only natural to do so. Here are some things to remember when typing that will hopefully help you keep an open mind to learning more about the system and prevent alienating others from the system or misguiding them.

  • Nobody is actually a type. We are in fact a mixture of all nine types. Some types are more dominant and accessible than other types. When you type someone, you're simply identifying the type that seems most dominant in the person or work that you're typing.
  • You cannot know everything about a person. Give yourself and the person room by holding onto type loosely. Think of it as you're best guess at the time with the information you have. As you learn more about the person, you may find that a different type is more dominant than the one you originally thought.
  • Your understanding of the Enneagram types will continue to evolve as you experience them playing out in your life and the lives of others. You will never know everything there is to know about the types. The so-called "experts" don't know everything so why would you think you do?
  • The system itself is incomplete and still evolving. There are gaps in it. That's why there are so many add-on concepts that try to compensate for its deficiencies (i.e., wings, instincts, levels of health, tritype, etc.).
  • Don't ever tell a person what their type is - suggest it if they're open to it. Give your reasons if they'd like to hear them but leave the final determination to them. It's their business not yours - respect that. If you can't let it go at that then it indicates you need to do some work on your own ego (which is what the Enneagram types were orginally about anyway).
  • Don't take typing too seriously. Each individual studying or teaching the Enneagram has their own interpretation of the types. There will always be disagreements about people's type (especially when it comes to famous people). On the surface it may appear to be an argument about the person's Enneagram type. If you explore what's underneath the typing however, you'll often see that there's a difference of interpretation about what defines a given type.

For me, knowing someone's type allows me to learn the subtleties and shadings of the type that can only come through experiencing it play out in yourself and others. The problem with learning about the types this way however, comes when you think you're seeing one type in action but the person has been mistyped. In this case, you think your understanding of the types is improving when in fact it's doing the opposite. Typing is part of the learning process, but be careful of being too certain and be respectful of others.