Conflict — Illuminated by the Enneagram

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Morsels of Change question to ponder:

What’s your default position when faced with a problem?

How does it clash with the default positions of those with whom you come into conflict?

This week I’m combining conflict, which I’m really bad at, with the Enneagram, which I love.

The Wisdom of the Enneagram book (Riso and Hudson) has this neat little table that outlines how the different Enneagram types are likely to react to a problem.

Here are the 9 different reactions (NOT in order of type), according to the book:

-“What problem? I don’t think there is a problem.”
-“You have a problem. I’m here to help you.”
-“There may be a problem, but I’m fine.”
-“There’s an efficient solution to this — we just need to get to work.”
-“I’m sure we can solve this like sensible, mature adults.”
-“There are a number of hidden issues here: let me think about this.”
-“I feel really pressured, and I’ve got to let off some steam!”
-“I feel really hurt, and I need to express myself.”
-“I’m angry about this and you’re going to hear about it!”

Which reaction sounds most like you?

Now, notice how these reactions will play out in relationships. For example, when my niece and I are facing a problem together (or engaging in conflict), our reactions go head-to-head.

“There are a number of hidden issues here: let me think about this.”

“I’m angry about this and you’re going to hear about it!”

If we both stay true to type, neither of us gets what we need. I don’t get to spend time thinking about all the different aspects of the problem if she’s going on about how angry she is. If I do get to go spend time thinking about the problem, she doesn’t have my attention to listen to her talk about how angry she is.

For the two of us to engage in conflict together, or face a problem together, we’ve both got to be accommodating to the other’s needs. (Or, more accurately, I need to accommodate her needs, as I’m the adult, but you get the idea.)

Questions for you to ponder:

What’s your default position when faced with a problem?

How does your position clash with the default positions of those with whom you come into conflict?

Self-Awareness Exercise: Beginnings, Endings, Guidance, and Creativity

The last self-awareness exercise I posted, the Four-Point Check-In, invites you to check in on yourself mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Today’s exercise uses the four cardinal directions to symbolically access what is arising, what is ending, what is guiding you, and what invites your creativity.

The exercise comes from the fantastic book How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving, by David Richo. I’ve provided the exercise below not quite word-for-word, but pretty close. I highly recommend his book — from start to finish, and with every reread, I’m learning from it.

Sketch a square that represents a room, as if you are looking down at the room from above. On each side of the room, there is a window — so one window faces each of the four cardinal directions.

Imagine yourself standing in the centre of the room, and turning one by one to face each different direction.

As you turn to face the east, reflect on what is arising in your life. What are three things that are arising? Make a note of them in the east.

As you turn to face the west, write down three things that are now ending.

As you turn to face the north, write three things in your life that stabilize and guide you, as does the North Star.

As you turn to face the south, write three things in your life that evoke your spontaneity and creativity.

Picture yourself in the centre of the room, mindfully turning to each direction: looking to the east with a willingness to take hold, to face the west with a willingness to let go, to face north by staying with your spiritual/grounding practice, and to face south with enthusiasm and creativity in the invention of your life.

You may want to notice who (or what situations/contexts) helps you open those windows. Who/what shuts them?

You may want to reflect on what your stance is as you face each of these directions — how do you face each of these areas? What’s your default approach to each?

Wishing you peace with all of your endings and beginnings.


Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who views her clients holistically, with attention to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Would you like to explore in conversation your beginnings, endings, inner guidance, and creativity? Laura is more than happy to pick up the phone and talk it over. Get in touch.


Exercises for Self-Awareness (part 2) – the “should” exercise

Last week, I talked about self-awareness tools such as the MBTI, the Enneagram, and the Via survey of signature strengths. This week, I’d like to offer you a description of another self-awareness exercise that I’ve found powerful and illuminating. And more exercises will come in future blog posts!

The Should Exercise

I learned this one in Gestalt training at the Transpersonal Therapy Centre.


We all have internalized rules and messages that we carry around inside us. In Gestalt, these messages are known as introjections — something we swallowed whole and haven’t “chewed on” enough to see if it’s truly our own desire/rule, or if we’ve just absorbed it from the outside world.

Every time you hear “I should” in your head/voice, it’s a sign that you might be dealing with an introjection — and thus it’s an invitation for you to take a closer look.

Step one: “I should”

Spend ten minutes or so writing down all the “I should”s or “I shouldn’t”s that regularly come into your mind.

Here’s what my list looked like the first time I did this exercise (November 2008 – I still have the piece of paper!):

  • I should pay off debt.
  • I should have more money.
  • I should be on time.
  • I should do something for my sister.
  • I should get more done in less time.
  • I should have fun.
  • I should have passion.
  • I should be loving and accepting and spiritual.
  • I should organize my time better.
  • I should chill out.
  • I should practice the piano more.
  • I should get a real job.
  • I should make some friends.
  • I should meditate.
  • I should stop worrying.

Step two: “You should”

One statement at a time, ask someone you trust to read your list back to you, reading it as “You should…”.

So, my partner would say, “You should pay off debt.”

After each statement my partner reads to me, I take a moment to:

  • notice any internal feelings or emotions that come up in me as I hear the statement.
  • notice whether it feels like my own voice, something I truly want to do, or whether it’s someone else’s voice (e.g. often someone has a “should” statement that really belongs to a parent, and as soon as they hear someone else say “You should…” they recognize that this statement is their parent’s voice, not their own inner guide).

Step three: Decide and Take Ownership

After each statement my partner reads to me, I decide if “I will” or “I won’t”, and then I report the new statement back to them.


My partner: “You should pay off debt.”

Me: “I will pay off debt.”

(Or, “I won’t pay off debt.”)

(Or, “I will pay off debt within five years.”)

(Or, “I will not focus on paying off debt until I finish school.”)

Whatever you choose — whether you will, or won’t, or under which conditions — is fine. The key part is that instead of carrying around an unexamined “I should”, a statement weighing you down with judgment, you are now carrying around a decision that you have made and owned yourself.

It can be incredibly liberating to move from, “I should practice the piano more,” to “You know what? I don’t want to. I won’t.”

It can be empowering to move from, “I should organize my time better,” to “I will be highly organized from 8am-12pm everyday, and after that will work in an unstructured way.”

Whether you’re already smitten with this exercise or not, I invite you to give it a try and see what you discover.


Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who works with clients all over the world. She and the love of her life do a kick-ass job keeping “shoulds” out of the house.

If you’d like to talk more about self-awareness exercises designed just for you, Laura is more than happy to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Get in touch.


Three Exercises for Self-Awareness (part 1)

People who choose to work with a coach are yearning for more self-awareness. One of my favourite things about working with these clients is being able to design individual, customized exercises for self-awareness for each client.

Although the exercises/quizzes below aren’t individualized, here are some of my favourite self-awareness exercises or quizzes around the internet.

The Enneagram

The Enneagram is a psychological-spiritual personality system. What I like most about it is that it doesn’t just describe your personality, but also gives you clues about where your type often gets tripped up, what your areas of growth are, and tips for growing in that direction. I’ll often ask my clients to complete the Enneagram test and then we’ll use the description of their type to help understand how they are reacting to what’s going on in their life, and how they can choose a direction of growth.

Here’s a link where you can complete a few sampler Enneagram quizzes, and learn so much more about your Enneagram type.

Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

I use the MBTI less often — my sense is that it provides a helpful description of one’s personality preferences, but provides less in the way of understanding how to grow. Still, it’s a neat introduction to thinking about how you might show up in the world, and what that might mean for how you interact with others.

A quick MBTI google will turn up a number of free versions of the MBTI assessment, although – as always – those freebies come with the caveat that the most accurate results will come from taking the official MBTI assessment and reviewing the results with a certified MBTI practitioner.

(And if you’d like to go the official route, I know a most talented woman, Sandy McMullen, who literally “painted the book” on the MBTI, and who offers MBTI assessments and coaching).

The Via Survey of Signature Strengths

Particularly when I’m working with a client who struggles to see his or her own strengths, and who is blinded by, perhaps, an overly acute awareness of his/her weaknesses, I like to invite the client to complete the Via Survey of signature strengths. The survey helps you identify your strongest character strengths, building an appreciation for what you bring, rather than a focus on what you may believe you lack.

In a future post, I’ll describe a few other self-awareness exercises that I believe are particularly helpful. Enjoy exploring what you discover!


Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who works with clients all over the world. She’s an Enneagram Type 5 (with a 4 wing), has trouble deciding if she’s an INTJ or an INFJ, and her top five signature strengths are judgment/critical thinking/open-mindedness, caution/prudence/discretion, honesty/authenticity/genuineness, leadership, and modesty/humility.

If you’d like to talk more about self-awareness exercises designed just for you, Laura is more than happy to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Get in touch.


Self-Consciousness or Self-Awareness: Which Do You Choose?

Picasso's Girl Before a Mirror

I’ve been asked to run a workshop this week on “Self-Awareness” to kick off the four-day-training for the 2010-2011 group of Engineers Without Borders chapter presidents. As I prepare for the session, I’m getting curious about what self-awareness is and what’s good about it. Don’t we spend a lot of time getting over our acute self-consciousness in our teens and twenties? Is it going backward to reintroduce self-awareness?

The difference, I believe, is that self-consciousness limits your choices, limits your actions, and leads to self-constraint. Self-awareness, on the other hand, increases the number of choices available to you in any given moment, increases the number of perspectives from which you can take action, and leads to self-expansion.

For example, if I am self-conscious that I am a poor conversationalist, then I constrain myself. I avoid situations where I have to have conversations. When I am in conversation, I’m self-censoring the whole time, and berating myself afterward. I look for evidence that supports my belief that I’m a poor conversationalist.

If, however, I am self-aware, I realize that I have a belief that I am a poor conversationalist. I realize that my belief may or may not be true. I recognize how I act when I carry around that belief, and I experiment with how holding different beliefs could change my actions. I look for both confirming and contradictory evidence. I am aware of many things in my life that I have changed, and accept that I can change how I am in conversation too. I see possibilities, and I see myself as dynamic. My choices expand.

Which do you choose? Where are you choosing self-consciousness? And where are you choosing self-awareness?

Post-script: if you attended the workshop and are looking for the link to more resources, try here.