Maybe Your Co-Workers Aren’t Trying to Drive You Crazy (Part 1)

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Ah, co-workers. They’re the people we spend more time with than our immediately family members. We don’t just work with them. We laugh with them, eat with them, complain with them… and we complain about some of them too. How can we help ourselves? Some of them drive us crazy. Complaining about them is normal. Maybe it’s even necessary to keep ourselves from following in their (crazy) footsteps.

But you may be surprised to discover that some of your co-workers probably aren’t trying to drive you crazy after all. Instead, they’re simply expressing personality preferences that are markedly different than yours. Of course, this doesn’t excuse behavior that falls outside the bounds of basic, everyday manners.

Being rude, mean, or inconsiderate is not a “personality preference.” But there are certain habits or orientations that are rooted in each individual’s personality, and function as the lens through which they view the world – and essentially, how they view themselves as well. It’s an opportunity for you to consider that there might be a method to the madness – and that understanding this method could help you positively respond, rather than negatively react (read: stay sane instead of go crazy).

To head in that happy direction, we’ll rely on some insights generated by The Enneagram Institute, which is widely considered among the world’s foremost authorities on all things Enneagram: a system that claims there are fundamentally 9 distinct personality types, and that individuals spend their lives traveling along a spectrum of functional (on the high end) and dysfunctional (on the low end).

Naturally, the Enneagram (as with all other personality type systems, such as MBTI®) is not limited to work. That is, the system is used to help people understand themselves and others in all areas of life: intimate relationships, social relationships, and more. However, since the goal here is to help you appreciate that maybe your co-workers aren’t trying to drive you crazy, we’ll keep this discussion in the context of work.

In part 1, we present an outline of the nine personality types, along with how each type expresses their personality at work when they’re at their best… and when they aren’t.

Part 2 will explore some tips on how you can more effectively and peacefully work with each type!

Type One: Reformer

At their best, Reformers are excellent teachers and patient coaches who are constantly working to improve themselves, others, systems, processes… you name it. They’re also very hard-working, and are often the first to arrive and the last to leave. When not at their best, Reformers can be overly critical, fault-finding, and sarcastic. They can also lose sight of anything positive and focus almost entirely (and sometimes even obsessively) on the negative – both in themselves, but especially in others.

Type Two: Helper

At their best, Helpers are interpersonal rock stars, and exceptionally gifted at helping others. They are very sensitive to the needs of those around them, and driven to play a positive, meaningful role in whatever they do. When not at their best, Helpers can view relationships as “assets” and people as means to an end, and can therefore come across as manipulative and selfish. They can also find themselves exhausted from over-extending their commitments and trying to help too many people.

Type Three: Achiever

At their best, Achievers are very efficient, competent, and focused on excellence, both in terms of process and results. They also put in a lot of time and effort to improve how the team and organization is viewed internally and externally, and in this way can be inspiring role models. When not at their best, Achievers can be classic workaholics who become consumed with being efficient and maintaining their successful image. Their fear of failure or looking bad can sometimes compel them to cut corners, exaggerate accomplishments, or use people to get ahead.

Type Four: Individualist

At their best, Individualists are very artistically and aesthetically sophisticated, and gifted at finding personal nuances and meanings to everything from graphic design to architecture to music, and the list goes on. They are naturally creative and gifted at brainstorming and “thinking outside the box.” When not at their best, Individualists can be stubbornly impractical, and sometimes aggressively single-minded in their pursuit of what they deem to be artistic integrity or uniqueness. Their dissatisfaction at falling short of these ideals can make them moody and temperamental.

Type Five: Investigator

At their best, Investigators are intellectual, analytical, competent, and constantly looking to increase their knowledge, whether through formal learning, self-study, or experimenting. They’re gifted researchers, and their ability to concentrate on problems that would exhaust or frustrate many others can lead to breakthroughs that range from the impressive to the profound. When not at their best, Investigators can be unaware or uninterested in meeting the emotional needs or expectations of others (or just think that emotions are stupid or shallow). They can also behave arrogantly, be unresponsive for long periods of time, and overthink problems and situations.

Type Six: Loyalist

At their best, Loyalists are loyal, responsible, and highly dedicated team members. They put the needs and goals of the team above their personal ambitions, and can make great coaches. They’re also outstanding during an emergency or a crisis, often emerging as role models during these kinds of events. When not at their best, Loyalists can be overly worried as they wait anxiously for something to go wrong, or for someone to make a mistake or break a rule. They can also have problems making decisions that aren’t “approved” by someone in authority, which can make problems worse and harder to solve down the road.

Type Seven: Enthusiast

When at their best, Enthusiasts are energized optimists who inspire others to think positively and embrace new opportunities. They’re upbeat, fun to be around, innovative, and great at brainstorming everything from new products to where to have the annual company Christmas party. They’re also gifted multitaskers, and tend to have a lot of projects on the go. When not at their best, Enthusiasts can have trouble with focus and can therefore get quite scattered, which leading to a lot of tasks being started but few being finished. Their risk-seeking behavior can devolve into recklessness, and they can act irresponsibly.

Type Eight: Challenger

When at their best, Challengers are natural leaders with tremendous willpower who inspire others with courage and confidence, especially when facing big challenges and looming obstacles. At the same time, they’re accessible, have a deep sense of honor, and have strong interpersonal skills that they use to develop others into leaders. When not at their best, Challengers can be excessively confrontational and try to pick fights. They can also perceive any critical feedback or healthy disagreement as a threat to their leadership, and overreact, sometimes through bullying and intimidation.

Type Nine: Peacemaker

At their best, Peacemakers are gifted harmonizers who can see different points of view, and often find small but vital areas of agreement that serve as the building blocks for consensus. They are also supportive, inclusive, and authentically caring, but usually in a behind-the-scenes way. This helps bring out the best in both themselves and the people around them. When not at their best, Peacemakers can become too accommodating, and their dislike of conflict can make them adopt an unhelpful “peace at any price” mindset. They can also focus so much on the needs of those around them that they neglect their own development and growth.

Tomorrow in part 2, we’ll explore some tips on how you can more effectively work with each type. Stay tuned!

PS: If you’re curious about your Enneagram personality type, The Enneagram Institute has a free test, though you will have to make an account to take it.

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