Kenna Ehman says people open up about their life experiences when she touches their hair. To her, being a hairstylist means she acts as a counselor, too. Oh, and Ehman’s an Eight.
Ehman co-owns a Charlotte salon called Kenna Kunijo. She said her co-owner, Lauren Spence, is also an Eight.
When her client is a Four wing Five, she’ll complement her about clothing style and individuality. If an employee is a Six, she will know to give her guidance and reassurance while she is working.
So what are all these numbers for?
They’re part of a personality typing system called the enneagram. Ehman uses it to help her learn to empathize with her coworkers and clients.
The enneagram helps people understand themselves and others. It is composed of nine basic personality types, each defined by a different driving motivation. For example, a type “Three” wants to be affirmed, and a type “Six” desires a sense of security. You’ve definitely seen the memes on Instagram.
“It helps us understand how people are wired,” Ehman said.
The enneagram focuses on a basic personality type and then incorporates other nuances, called wings and subtypes. The system explains intricacies in personalities and how each person will likely act when he or she is feeling empowered or stressed.
People use books, workshops and tests to learn about the enneagram and identify their types. Knowing about other types is equally as important, experts say. That knowledge helps people use the enneagram for empathy.
And while figuring out your type can be a bit complex, Ehman said there is structure and logic around it. She said before she learned about the enneagram, she used to dismiss some people’s emotions. Now, she said, “I’ve learned to embrace them.”
The tool is a “map to carry nine equally valid perspectives of reality,” enneagram teacher Anne Geary said.
Geary became familiar with the enneagram about 20 years ago, and she created Enneagram Charlotte in 2010. She leads workshops and events centered on the enneagram in its service to the healthcare, education and recovery communities.
To learn the enneagram system, Geary suggested that people start with a workshop or a book. She holds weekend workshops in the Charlotte area. She also recommend books The Enneagram Made Easy and the Essential Enneagram.
Books and workshops help people learn about the system as a whole and gauge which number they relate to most. There are also enneagram tests, which can be a draw to a casual user of the system — who doesn’t want to do a personality test? Yet, Geary cautions against starting this way. Tests may help people identify their numbers, but they won’t teach them about the enneagram as a whole, she said.
What’s the point?
“It’s so much more than a tool for (personality) typing. The goal of the enneagram is to teach ourselves that we are one,” Geary said.
Geary said the tool can be used to understand people from different areas and in different cultures. “It is a tremendous tool for diversity and inclusion. It transcends stereotypes,” she said.
Her goal in teaching the enneagram is to help people understand how it can be used as a starting point for relationships and personal growth.
“My interest is using the enneagram as the entry point. Then, growth teaches individuals how to see themselves as whole human beings,” she said.
Geary has developed “The Enneagram Approach” to combine the theory of the enneagram with practical applications. She teaches the approach at workshops in Charlotte, other cities and online.
The enneagram at work
At Kenna Kunijo Salon, Ehman said she starts using the enneagram during the employee application process. On the application form, she asks candidates to identify and then share their numbers.
From there, Ehman uses applicants’ numbers as a baseline to guide the interview. She asks candidates about challenges that people of their numbers may encounter. She would ask an “Eight” (or challenger) about his or her past experience working under a boss, or ask a “Nine” (or peacemaker) about previous confrontation in the workplace.
Ehman said the enneagram helps her to know “how to lead, how to drive and how to encourage.”
When there is a problem among employees, she again uses enneagram types to figure out how to handle it. “It’s helpful for me to understand why people are feeling certain ways,” she said.
The enneagram has even seeped into her interactions with clients. “One of the customers said, ‘I feel like I had to take the enneagram to come here,’” Ehman said. Ehman said she laughed and said it wasn’t necessary.
Overall, the enneagram contributes to an empathetic atmosphere at the salon, she said. But the enneagram does have some opponents.
“Some people don’t want to be put in a box,” Ehman said.
She says she understands people aren’t confined to one personality trait. “A healthy human would move around the enneagram,” she said.
Geary said the typing system is taking root in many other workplaces, too, including local churches.
Geary said that once people start using the enneagram, they are able to relate more easily. “People immediately start having empathy and compassion for one another,” she said.
So, what’s your number?
Information from the Enneagram Institute shows:
One — The Reformer: Has a focus on being ethical, self-controlled and perfectionistic. Fearful of being evil. Desires to be good and have integrity.
Two — The Helper: Is empathetic, generous and warm-hearted. Fearful of being unwanted. Desires to feel loved.
Three — The Achiever: Success-oriented, driven and image-conscience. Fearful of being worthless. Wants to feel valuable.
Four — The Individualist: Sensitive, introspective, dramatic, unique. Fearful of having no identity. Desires to find his or her significance.
Five — The Investigator: Curious, insightful, isolated and cerebral. Fearful of being incapable. Desires to be competent.
Six — The Loyalist: Engaging, anxious, committed, suspicious. Fearful of being without guidance. Wants to have security.
Seven — The Enthusiast: Optimistic, spontaneous, versatile and scattered. Fearful of pain. Desires to be satisfied.
Eight — The Challenger: Powerful, decisive, assertive, self-confident. Fearful of being controlled. Desires to protect themselves and be in control.
Nine — The Peacemaker: Easygoing, accepting, complacent. Fearful of separation and loss. Desires inner stability.
What’s your number? Let us know in the comments.