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MBTI vs. The Enneagram

Individuals and workplaces today are beginning to value understanding the self and the other as a way of creating more harmonious relationships and teams. From this desire for more harmony, a vast array of typology systems have been created (or rediscovered) to help us get a glimpse into ourselves. But where do you start? And which of these many different systems is best suited for your goals?

In this post, I'll explore two of the many options for typology systems, MBTI and the Enneagram, and delve into how they came to be, what they measure and explain, and how they are best used. As a certified Enneagram and MBTI practitioner, I can vouch for the effectiveness of both tools when used correctly and with an understanding of their intended purposes.

Before beginning, however, I'd like to alert or remind readers that using any typology system (besides the Kolbe system) as a means of making decisions for job selection or placement is illegal. This post is not meant to help employers find the best candidate for a position but rather for individuals and employers alike to make the most of themselves, their employees, and relationships.

MBTI: Understanding Personality Preferences

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers in the 1940s based on the theories of Carl Jung. In the throes of WWII, these amazing women hoped to create a tool that allowed personal and mutual understanding that could ultimately prevent wars in the future. They used Jung's ideas of individuals having natural preferences in how we direct and receive energy (Extroversion vs. Introversion); take in information from the outside world (Sensing and Intuition); make decisions (Thinking vs. Feeling); and interact with the outside world (Judging vs. Perceiving) and created an assessment that has been used in relationships and workplaces worldwide.

While taking the assessment, individuals are forced to choose between dichotomous pairs that describe their preferences best. These preferences that individuals are sorted into show the areas that individuals function with the most efficient use of energy and ease and while everyone can use all skills from all preferences, they will do so with more effort and strain when working out of preference.

While the MBTI can shed a lot of light on how we prefer to function in directing energy, taking in information, making decisions, and interacting with the outside world, what it doesn't do is shed light on why we prefer what we prefer. In short, MBTI does a pretty good job describing what we do in certain scenarios, but not why we do it.

How Do You Discover Your Preference Type?

The MBTI assessment has been tested for statistical reliability and validity, rewritten, vetted, and rewritten again and, as a result, pretty accurately finds your preference type that you can then implement within your life. Double checking this information with a feedback session is always recommended (and probably necessary for finding your true type) as well as sitting with the information and reading up on preference types that you may have some affinity for. Overall, though, the assessment helps many people get close to their actual preference type.

When is MBTI the Best Typology System to Use?

MBTI is an amazing tool to use in a lot of scenarios. It conveniently categorizes people based on their preferences, explains how these types would interact in certain scenarios, and allows individuals to take away a lot of great information about themselves without requiring a ton of self-awareness or self-mastery. With this in mind, the MBTI can be used very effectively in the workplace and with teams, as well as for individuals who are just starting out with personality types in general. MBTI really allows individuals to start the self-discovery journey and benefit from the information they learn without intimidatingly deep questions and concepts about the self.

With that being said, for those who are looking to take a deep dive into themselves and find out why they do the things they do, MBTI may feel too shallow and too incomplete to help with this. There are so many facets to dive into with MBTI (including Step II, Conflict Assessments, etc.), which give more information on the preference pairs that can provide an even more nuanced view of the behaviors of individuals, but it still doesn't go into the why behind the behavior which can feel stifling.

Enneagram: Exploring Core Motivations

The Enneagram, a typology system rooted in ancient times, owes its modern development to George Gurdjieff and Oscar Ichazo, spiritual teachers who integrated the Enneagram symbol into systems for self-awareness, personal transformation, and distinct personality Types with Core Motivations.

The Enneagram is rooted in the belief that there are nine equally valid perspectives on seeing the world, which are associated with a distinct Type and distinct Core Motivation. These Core Motivations are the driving forces behind all behaviors and are composed of a Core Desire, Core Longing, Core Weakness, and Core Fear that are formed at birth as part of the ego structure and remain constant throughout a person's life. While a person's Instinctual Drive Stackings, personal history, culture, and level of self-mastery can influence the expression of their Type, the Core Motivations remain unchanged. In this typology system, each person's Core Motivations cause them to operate on autopilot (and sometimes in destructive ways), which can only be exchanged for healthier expressions of themselves by understanding that which drives their behaviors.

How Do You Discover Your Type?

Discovering your true Type in the Enneagram is notoriously tricky business. The system is complex and ultra-nuanced, which makes it almost untestable. Though you can take online tests for free, most times, these tests will cause more confusion than they are worth. The best ways to discover your Type are either by meeting with an Enneagram coach and/or reading a book about the Enneagram and spending a lot of time in self-reflection on the reasons why you do what you do. Books such as Ian Morgan Cron's "The Road Back to You," Riso and Hudson's "Wisdom of the Enneagram," and Beatrice Chestnut's "9 Types of Leadership" give amazing overviews of the Enneagram and the Nine Types, making them great places to start. Regardless of which route or book you take, finding your true Type will require you to discover and acknowledge your deepest fears and, ultimately, the reasons behind your behaviors.

When is the Enneagram the Best Typology System to Use?

For those who are ready for deep personal growth, there is no better system than the Enneagram. Understanding why you are doing what you are doing and gaining language around something as intangible as your Core Motivation is the shortest, best route to gaining a handle on your ego in autopilot. With that understanding of what drives you under your belt, you will be able to navigate yourself and your relationships more harmoniously because your patterns are out in the open.

That being said, The Enneagram requires a high level of self-understanding, a commitment to discovering deeply hidden fears, and persistence in staying with the uncomfortable feelings that will inevitably come up with this exploration. In other words, it's not for everyone and potentially not even appropriate in all scenarios. Teams and workplaces that want to implement the Enneagram as a means of creating better work relationships (which can be incredibly beneficial if done properly) should do so only when teams have created a safe culture where individuals can be vulnerable with each other without backlash.

For more information on MBTI or Enneagram or for questions, contact Kimberly at


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