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Trigger Series: Type Three

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

We've all done it. Starting a casual conversation with someone that all of a sudden turns into an all out fight. What happened? If you TRULY don't know (and it wasn't one of the usual suspects of sex, politics, and money), then you might have stepped on a Trigger for this Type. Read on for tips on how to translate the conversation in Type Three language and better understand how to dig yourself out of this hole.

Scenario 1:

What you said: "You should have _____/I would have___" (i.e. offered "help" that smacks of criticism or judgement)

What they heard: "You are an incompetent failure/You are worthless and not enough as you are."

Why do they hear this?

Type Three's fear that deep down they are worthless at their core, which they try to cover up with relentlessly achieving, succeeding, and working. Their trophy cases of accolades helps the Three prove to themselves and others their worth, but underneath all the medals and pats on the back, Threes have, sometimes, crushing imposter syndrome that makes them exceedingly sensitive to anything that sniffs of judgement, criticism, or perceived failure. These fears live at the instinct level for the Three and will cause some big reactions if they are triggered in any way.

How can you dig yourself out of this hole:

If you are lucky enough to have a Three in your life, the best thing to remember is that they are simultaneously the MOST and LEAST confident people you know. They frequently oscillated between distorted feelings of grandeur and (equally distorted) bouts of crushing insecurity. Be careful how you approach things that did not go well for the Three as they are acutely aware of the threat of failure as is (in other words, no need to point it out). If you do need to discuss something touchy, avoiding assigning failure to them as a person and tap into their remarkable problem-solving abilities to come to a solution. Threes are incredible at finding the beauty in the ashes and using their tenacious work-ethic to make things better than new.

Scenario 2:

What you said (with your actions): "I don't really need to do that/it doesn't really matter." (i.e. shirking duties that affect the Three's ability to perform and control their image).

What they heard: "This person doesn't care enough about the performance of this team to do the duties assigned to them and everyone is going to fail or look bad as a result unless I do all the work and control the outcome"

Why do they hear this?

Threes can work most of us under the table. They are positive, driven, problem-solving machines and, for the most part, enjoy working on something that leads to a tangible goal. That being said, they absolutely HATE being subject to the inconsistencies and whims of others--especially if those inconsistencies will lead to THEM looking incompetent or unsuccessful. Why? Because their whole self-worth is tied to being successful and competent.

In these types of scenarios, it it not uncommon to see the Three go from charming, persuasive, inspiring to shockingly intense and aggressive. Though they hide it well, Threes ARE in the aggressive triad and when inspiring, persuading, and cajoling fail to influence others to do what they want, they are not above some straight up intensity to get the job done.

How can you dig yourself out of this hole:

If you find yourself in between a Three and their goal--move. Either get out of their way or start moving with the process.* If you're not in the position to get out of their way OR help, find a way to take full responsibility for the success or failure of YOUR part. Assure the Three and any other team members what is and is not the Three's part and affirm them (x3) that they are doing a great job.

Ultimately, Threes just need someone to affirm them that they are worthwhile, amazing human beings. These medal-wearing, trophy-slinging, accomplishing machines just need to know that what they are doing is enough and they are enough. Giving them the gift of affirmation will help soften their ego's defenses that rise up to protect them.

*If you are in the situation where you do not agree with the goal, talk to the Three (in non-threatening/judging verbiage, of course). They are doggedly practical individuals who, when they are healthy, can be convinced to change their goal with good enough reasons.

Other Triggers to Avoid:

  • Wasting their time

  • Questioning their competence

  • Judging language (even if it is directed at others)

  • Long stories

  • Being blamed for others' bad work

For more information on Enneagram Triads: Check out my post linked below


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