sfwork logo

Curdled in the process

The Enneagram And NLP: A Journey of Evolution
by Anné Linden and Murray Spalding
Metamorphous Press, Portland, OR, USA (1994)

Review by Mark McKergow

Have you ever eaten a meal made up from the most prime, juicy ingredients, only to find that the particular way they've been cooked together just doesn't seem to be right? This is the closest metaphor I can find to describe my reaction to this book. The ingredients are the Enneagram (a nine-way typology of human personalities with roots going back centuries)and NLP. I can imagine that these two might make a tasty treat. However, this recipe seems not to do justice to either.

Both Anné Linden and Murray Spalding are therapists. It's clear from the opening pages that they've had a great time in putting their minds and thoughts, and this book, together. "As the ideas and words flowed between us, it seemed natural and inevitable to put them down on paper" (AL). "Our collaboration has been fun, creative and an intimately valued dance of the minds" (MS). The book has obviously been a wonderful and fascinating journey of creation for both authors. But what about the readers?

The book consists of brief introductions to both the Enneagram and to NLP, and then moves swiftly into a series of chapters about each of the nine different personality types. These (for the record) are imaginatively entitled One (Judge-Perfectionist), Two (Pleaser-Caretaker), Three (Doer-Achiever), Four (Romantic-Dreamer), Five (Loner-Thinker), Six (Sceptic-Perfectionist), Seven (Renaissance-Player), Eight(Fighter-Boss) and Nine (Floater-Harmonizer).

This all takes one hundred pages. In addition there are eight pages on recognising the types, which I found hard to use, and ninety six pages of NLP Processes and NLP Glossary. So, where is the balance of the book? The chapters on the enneagram types are chock-full of NLP jargon, which you can then look up in the back. As an NLP user, I didn't find out enough about the Enneagram to be useful to me. So is this book aimed at Enneagram users who want to use some NLP, or NLP people who could use the Enneagram? I don't think either will find it much help.

Let's examine the links between the Enneagram and NLP a little further. Each chapter starts by describing the type concerned in a rather vague way, and gives their associated types (Twos have a wing of either One or Three, move to Eight in stress and Four in security). We then discover their main filter or focus or attention, childhood theme/concern, personality traits. Then NLP patterns for use with these people, typical beliefs and compelling questions, boundary issues and attention shifts for personal evolution. This latter part smacks of what they "should" become (for example,"Sixes need to stay with projects and complete them, they need to challenge and develop choice regarding their internal self-doubting voice."). Then vignettes, mini case studies of individuals. Finally therapeutic approaches for that type are given, linking to the NLP technique appendix.

I'm sure it is possible in practice to use the Enneagram and NLP together. In fact, I expect that Linden and Spalding's actual therapy work is very good. I have used a different typing system (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) in the past, and have found some excellent synergy with NLP ideas. However, this book has a single and crucial flaw. It consistently refers to Enneagram types as if they were actual people rather than metaphors, and in seeking commonalities finds simple absolutes rather than the complexities which make real people so fascinating. An example from page 80:

"Sevens are dissociated, especially from any painful emotions and/or memories; they move toward pleasure, sort by self, are in time and passive regarding their own problems and evolution."

Let's examine this. ALL "Sevens" do this, right? ALL the time? What about a "seven" who occasionally goes through time, or away from pain? Does she forego her right to "seven-ness"? Or is she just a normal human like the rest of us?

The authors do say that the Enneagram allows for individual differences. I'm sure it does. But nowhere in this book is the notion that a "Seven" is a real thing challenged. It's a label - a label for a collection of sensory experience, behaviours and language. Linden and Spalding have learnt the words "The map is not the territory" - maybe it's time they learned to apply them as well.

I conclude that this book is fundamentally misguided - not because either the Enneagram or NLP are wrong, and not that it isn't possible to use them together. The types are no doubt informative and thought-provoking, but it is totally missing the point of NLP to fail to draw the distinction between the name and the thing named and act as if Threes, Eights and so on are real. If someone were to follow this book to the letter, they would pigeon-hole their client and then "do" techniques picked from the long list of recipes. Nowhere in the book is there any reference to the particular individual (as opposed to the "Four"), their own desires or outcomes, or their existing resources. Any book that gives so much space to recipes for NLP techniques without some kind of guidance about using them could be classed as irresponsible.

This book reminds the authors of a glorious time of discovery. If you are not one of the authors, buy separate books on the Enneagram and on NLP, and go on your own journey of discovery. This book could have been a wonderful concoction of superb ingredients, but I fear it curdled in the process.

"Curdled in the process", NLP World, 1, No 3, pp 69 - 71 (1994) (Bookreview)