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Anne Thomas reflects on how one word and two meanings almost ruined a great working relationship


have been studying language patterns using the Enneagram since 1999 and I am

passionate about it. In fact, some would say that I am obsessed with it. And yet, even after all of my thousands upon thousands of hours of study, just last year one of my closest colleagues and dearest friends and I learnt a hugely valuable lesson about our commu- nication styles. Here is our story. We were working together on

revamping a programme delivered in the past and thought that some of my previous work would be useful. It has been a few years since I

wrote, and published, what is honestly a useful, though very average book. I asked (well let’s call her Sandra for the purposes of this article) ‘Sandra’ if we could resurrect the book and would she help me? Of course, she replied happily. “We have a problem that needs solv-

ing so would you find out how we can get more copies as soon as possible as the printers are no longer in business?” But as soon as I said the

word ‘problem’ I noticed that she gave me a look and leant backwards as if to say, “I’m not getting involved with that!” I was confused and truly a little upset as she had offered her help so enthusiastically, then seemingly changed her mind literally moments later. She was shutting down at the thought of undertaking what to me seemed like a relatively simple task. As she continued resisting

42 | February 2017 |

taking on the project, I was getting annoyed, so I broke up the meeting and we had a cup of tea. I tactfully asked her what was going through her mind. We discovered that whereas I

naturally move excitedly towards solv- ing problems (I love a good puzzle!), Sandra moves away from problems and avoids them at all costs and naturally moves more positively towards ‘chal- lenges’. Te fact that I had even asked her what was wrong is evidence that I enjoy, even relish, solving problems. One word – two different meanings and associations – therefore two very different responses. So, two people, who supposedly

know each other well and at the deepest level want be successful together unconsciously slow down the process and in some cases block the result just because of a different meaning they unknowingly associate to just one word! We are both experienced with the

Enneagram and when we saw this pattern and realised what had happened,

We were amazed that even after working together for 14 years we could still be on different wavelengths

we were amazed that even after working together for 14 years we could still be on different wavelengths. Tank goodness for tea breaks and chats! I began thinking about all the times that this may have happened previously – not only with Sandra but other people, too. I starting wishing I could go back and explore not all, but a few, of those situations where maybe results weren’t achieved because I didn’t take a few moments to understand someone’s resistance to my requests. Well, those events are in the

past now. But lesson learnt. I know now, at crucial moments, it may be wise to ask what someone is thinking when resistance appears. Sandra and I are acutely aware of

our resistance to tasks these days. We are closer as friends and as colleagues than ever before. We now know that any resistance might not be an issue at all – it might just be one word for which we have two completely different meanings!

Anne Thomas has been training and writing about performance coaching and the Enneagram for more than 20 years. Find out more at and follow her on Twitter @natsuperheroes.


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