MBTI: strengths :: enneagram: motivations

MBTI: strengths :: enneagram: motivations

I haven’t posted about personality in a good long while.

Despite my radio silence on personality (only on the blog: I find myself chatting MBTI and enneagram over coffee all the time) I still get frequent emails on the topic. A common question is this: If I only have the headspace to learn about one personality paradigm, which one should it be: MBTI or the enneagram?

My answer: it depends.

(For better or worse, my personality type is very comfortable with ambiguity.)

A few thoughts to help you decide:

Self-awareness makes everything better: on Myers-Briggs, the enneagram, and why personality tests are so important.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator hooked me on personality geekery when I took my first test in high school. (I did it wrong—answering the questions aspirationally instead of realistically—and the results confused me for years, but I was nevertheless hooked on the idea.)

You probably recognize the MBTI types, even if you don’t know what they mean: ENFP, ISTJ, INFP, etc. It’s not so hard to get the hang of it, even though it sounds like a foreign language to the uninitiated. In a way, it is a language: I love Myers-Briggs because it gives me a system in which to think personality, a language in which to talk about it.

Learning my MBTI type (I’m an INFP) has helped me understand all sorts of things about myself: I’m idealistic, open-minded, and a bit scatterbrained. I’m easily persuadable and hugely empathetic. Knowing this about myself—and what it means for my life, my work, and my relationships—has made a huge difference in my life.

MBTI is often described as the system that brings your strengths into clear focus: when I read about my MBTI type, I feel like a very special snowflake, uniquely and wondrously made. (Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating … but only a little.)

As an INFP, my strengths are numerous:

• idealistic
• seek value and harmony
• open-minded and flexible
• very creative
• passionate and energetic
• dedicated and hard-working

Of course, my type has weaknesses:

too idealistic
too altruistic
• impractical
• dislike dealing with data
• take things personally
• difficult to get to know

Those strengths ring true for me, as do the weaknesses, as they should for anyone who’s correctly identified their type. But here’s the thing about MBTI: those weaknesses don’t sound so bad.

(Read about all the types and take a free MBTI test here.)



Many people say that if the MBTI highlights your strengths, the enneagram unmasks your weaknesses. This isn’t exactly true: when I quizzed my friend (and enneagram whiz) Leigh Kramer about this analogy, she corrected me: your enneagram type identifies your motivations: the reasons that drive everything you do. (Although once you dive into the enneagram, “motivations” and ‘weaknesses” can sure feel like the same thing.)

For example, as a type 9, my driving motivation is to avoid conflict. Like my MBTI, this rings true, and it doesn’t sound so bad. Yet. But when I keep reading about what that means and how it plays out in my life, I don’t feel like a special snowflake: I feel emotionally incompetent. (Incidentally, if you read a description of your enneagram type and you feel completely exposed, that’s a sign you typed yourself correctly. When the yucky stuff resonates, you nailed it.)

enneagram type 9 levels

In the enneagram, each person does have a core personality type that doesn’t change. However, within each type, a person can either be emotionally healthy, average, or unhealthy. (If you’ve correctly identified your type, you’ll feel an uncomfortable connection to the description of the unhealthy version of your type.)

Case in point: I suspected I was a 9 the first time I read through the enneagram profiles, but I wasn’t certain… until I had to make a decision that, by its very nature, involved disappointing a lot of people. I had the self-awareness to realize that my reaction was pretty extreme, and absolutely typical for a 9. (That didn’t make me feel lovable and unique, it made me feel like a basket case.)  It was my glaring weakness—and not any of my strengths—that let me finally confirm my type.

(Read about all the types and take a free enneagram test here.)

Which to choose?

I’m no expert. But my layperson’s advice is to take the tests, read through the descriptions of the various personality types under both systems, and choose whichever one resonates the most. (Unless you’re in your mid-twenties or younger, in which case go with MBTI for now. It’s recommended that you wait to dive into the enneagram until ideally age 30, or at least your late twenties.)

Are you familiar with these systems? Which do you prefer? If you’re learning, which do you intend to start with?

P.S. Concrete changes I’ve made because of enneagram/MBTI insights, and 5 reasons it’s helpful to know your personality type.

P.P.S. I wrote a book about personality coming out September 19, 2017: Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything. Click here to pre-order.

Want to learn about personality types, but not sure where to start? This post will help you decide between the major typing systems. (With links to free tests and further resources.)

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  1. Amy says:

    Wow, I’d never done the Enneagram before and I see what you mean – my “rare bird” INFJ status made me feel like a special snowflake… but if I’m an Enneagram 4, I guess that feeling is just part of me being a horrible self-absorbed monster? Yikes! Honestly seems pretty accurate, though, and would explain why my in-progress career change has been so emotionally devastating. Any thoughts on how to NOT be the worst version of your Enneagram?!

    (Side note – I thought my type was rare, but it’s a dang INFJ party in these comments! That makes me doubt my self-typing. Or perhaps INFJs just really connect with your writing? Not too far from INFP I guess.)

  2. Melissa says:

    Have you ever tried the Color Code personality test? There is a free version online: https://www.colorcode.com, but the full version is in Taylor Hartman’s book: http://www.amazon.com/COLOR-CODE-RELATIONSHIPS-Published-Hardcover/dp/B00HQ1XQ70/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1431037885&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Color+Code.

    A friend and I rented this book from the library when we were in high school, and geekily made all of our friends take the test and we analysed everything they did based on their results. You introduced me to MBTI and Enneagram, which I also love! All three of my types (Blue, ENFJ, Type 2) all fit together and really round out my personality.

  3. Aimee says:

    I, too, am a huge personality type nerd! In high school I also took the test idealistically rather than practically and was confused for years. It wasn’t until college that I got to retake it and I felt absolutely pinned! INFJ. It’s like they opened up my soul and read without permission. Haha

    Anyway, another personality assessment I have come to love and find extremely helpful in understanding why I do what I do was the strengths finders test. It assesses you in a quick timed test and gives you your top 5 (out of 30) strengths in order. Knowing mine and my husband’s strengths has helped me so much in understanding some of our silly misunderstandings and how we see the world differently. It’s also fun to see how his strengths complement mine. Have you taken it? If you have, did you find it helpful? I’m: 1. Responsibility 2. Believer 3. Harmony 4. Developer 5. Input. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!

  4. Sarah K says:

    So, here’s the weird thing. I’ve taken the MBTI several times before, and always scored somewhere along the lines of INTJ. Then I met someone (at an Enneagram training of all places) who was really into Myers Briggs and she has known be for all of 24 hours and was like… no way are you INTJ. Then she FB messaged me a few days later and asked if the description for ENFP resonated with me. And yeah, it pretty much does. So apparently I’m the complete opposite of the type I’ve always thought I was! (In fairness, I’m pretty close to the borderline of E and I.)
    And I’m just starting to get into Enneagram but I’m almost sure I’m a 9. I’m currently in the middle of trying to figure out my husband. The relationship conflict section of the Enneagram Institute is reeeeeally interesting.

  5. Hey — I’m a 9 too! So is my husband, which presents unique challenges. Foremost among them is that neither one of us finds it easy to say where we want to go for dinner (what if I say Italian and the other person really wants Mexican? Conflict!!!)

    I actually find the “weakness” thing helpful when thinking about the Enneagram. My husband (who introduced me to the whole concept) describes it as the one area of your life that you find it hardest to give over to God. That description really works for me.

  6. sherah says:

    It’s interesting because I’m also an INFP, but a 4. When you write about being INFP I identify with so much of what you say but then there are the parts that aren’t so heavy with me like “peace at any cost”. I have that and I see it in myself but I don’t find it as something that drives my relationships and behavior as much. Since I’m a 4, it’s more the idealism and the individualism that stands out in my INFP. It’s so interesting how even both being INFP, there are still a lot of differences that mold and shape who we are. And I love that you can see that interplay with the enneagram.

  7. Katie says:

    I too am an INFP and a 9 on the enneagram. INFPs are already conflict avoiders, so being a 9 seems like a natural place to find oneself. And I think it’s so interesting that you mentioned waiting until your late 20’s or 30’s to place yourself on the enneagram. That’s so true as I think as we get older we understand ourselves and our weaknesses (or motivations) better. In my mid-twenties I may have wanted to place myself as a 2. Even now I do see myself there. Just not as strongly as a 9.

  8. I LOVE personality assessments! I’m an ENFJ and I’ve done a Johari Window on a management course, I had a personality profile done – can’t remember which one but it used 4 colours to describe each personality style, everyone is a mix of all 4 but one tends to lead, in that I was yellow, closely followed by red (the other colours are blue and green) and they stand for different things. It was a freakishly accurate profile! I did another test last year on a team building course that had 4 categories too – People Pleaser, Do It Now, Do It Right and there was a fourth. I was freakishly all four at once, which should mean I’m in turmoil with myself! I’ve just done this one, and my results were inconclusive. Apparently, I’m 3, 2, 1 and 6…

  9. Bekki says:

    I’ve always preferred the “Big Five” personality test, and this article finally gave me the aha! Moment. The Big Five isn’t necessarily better than any other test, but I take that test better and get a result that resonates. Of course, I also like that you don’t get typed for life…it simply points out strengths and areas where growth is needed.

  10. Lindsey says:

    I love geeking out about personality types. 🙂

    I have been having one glitch with your new web site design. (Or, at the very least, it may not be a glitch, but it’s interfering with my reading.) As I’m reading your posts, the drop-down menu keeps popping up. I’m noticing that it doesn’t really matter where my cursor is resting. Often enough, the menu covers up the lines that I’m currently reading, and I can’t figure out how to make it go away…I just wait a minute. I’m using Safari as my browser. Anyway, I hope that’s helpful feedback! Overall, I LOVE the look and feel of the new design. 🙂

  11. Heather Anna says:

    Thanks for pointing out that you shouldn’t take the enneagram until you’re 30! Now I understand why it never really made sense to me and I’d always get conflicting answers. At 28 nothing is quite clicking for me, and it seems like my MBTI type (assuming it’s correct, of course), isn’t lining up with what I get with enneagram. Try again in a couple of years, I guess! 🙂 I still find it very intriguing, though, and actually I’ve been thinking a lot about how motivation drive people, based on some people/conflicts in my life.

    I’m a little bit of an MBTI geek, but I’m really reluctant to discuss it because I find that so many people answer it aspirationally, or make false assumptions about some of the terms (Fs use their brains too, folks! And they can be highly intelligent!). When that happens the test is almost worthless except for finding out how someone likes to think of himself. I get it – I used to do it too. I just take it with a grain of salt whenever someone self-identifies a certain way. And I run the other way every time I see a group sitting around (or at their keyboards) talking about how awesome their particular type is! If that’s not a red flag for mis-typing, I don’t know what is!

  12. Sarah says:

    i prefer the enneagram. I’m a 9 (married to a 1– go ahead and laugh at me!) and it has really helped me to understand my motivations so that I’m actually able to act as a fly on the wall more when, say, a disagreement arises in my family, or when I have that “all is well with the world” feeling; I’m able to ask myself why that is and give myself an answer that cuts through the muddling effects that emotions often have on facts and circumstances.

  13. Lois DiCicco says:

    I would say that knowing my personality type (ENFJ) and that of my husband (opposite – ISTP) has been one of the most beneficial things I’ve ever studied regarding our relationship and how we each see the world. My kids each know their type, and they “type-watch” as well. Not only knowing one’s strengths and weakness is helpful but understanding the secondary strengths that can help offset a particular weakness. When my Dominate Feeling is beginning to lead me astray, my Introverted iNtuition needs to take over and help me figure out what’s really going on.

    I’ve scored differently on various enneagram tests, but I think that it seems like a cool way to understand yourself and others.

  14. Carmi says:

    I took the Myer Briggs Test last year and discovered I was an INFJ type, but close to scoring as an INFP, since I have characteristics from both. I also agree that knowing that we all have personality types helps to understand others better and the reasons why people behave the way they do.
    Excellent article!

  15. J says:

    Pinterest is currently my favorite thing right now… It brought me to your blog. Which I think is amazing.
    Enneagram was more preferable to me because I enjoy learning about my weaknesses and negative aspects of myself… However, Myers Briggs is nice when I want to feel accepted. Hah. Love this blog post. Love your blog. Keep on being amazing. 💛
    (infp, type 4 wing 5)

  16. Nikki says:

    Interesting to figure out your type: I am INTP, although sometimes I test ENTP or INFP as the I/E and T/F are close to the line in testing. As for Enneagram, I am a 7. It will be fun to explore books based on typing.

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