Why won't you just see things my way???


Conflict is inevitable. In any relationship there will be times when we disagree, when people don't act how we want them to, and when ultimately we just don't understand where someone is coming from. Why won't they just do what we would do? Why can't they see what I can see?

It's important for us to understand that what we see isn't as simple as looking one way instead of another. We can't always bring people round to our way of thinking, to win arguments by convincing them of our reasoning, because we fundamentally see things differently due to different ways of experiencing the world. As an enneagram coach, I use this understanding to help people value different perspectives. We all go through life looking through different lenses, and every lens has something special and valuable to offer.

What IS the enneagram?

In a nutshell, the enneagram is a model of personality that features nine core 'types' of people. (To briefly summarise the answers to the inevitable nature vs nurture questions about how we become our type - nobody knows for sure.) These types are nine different ways of seeing the world, and relating to the self and others. What type you are is based on your core motivations - the things you deeply desire, fear, and believe - rather than your behaviour, although certain ways of being will be more common for certain types.

We can use any psychological knowledge for entertainment, information, or transformation, and the enneagram is definitely a model that encourages the latter through exploring the full range of personality, celebrating your strengths, noticing your blind spots, and trying out things which seem uncomfortable or even bizarre to your usual way of thinking in order to broaden your perspective.

The more we understand ourselves, and how we are similar to or different from others, the better our communication with the people in our lives can be, whether communicating our needs, expressing affection - or resolving conflict.

The Three Conflict Styles

One feature of the enneagram is triads, groups of three types which share commonalities in a certain area. The Harmonic Triads, also known as conflict styles, describe how people deal with pain and disappointment - how we react when we don't get what we want.

  1. The Positive Outlook Triad - Types 2, 7 and 9

"Why can't they see everything's going to be fine?"

People in the positive outlook triad adopt an optimistic attitude as much as possible. They reframe disappointment and try to look on the bright side. They want to feel good and stay feeling good, which means helping others to feel good as well. They don't want to face anything painful or negative in themselves, and therefore avoid their own difficult feelings. The way each type goes about this is different: Type 2s over-emphasise other people's needs, minimising the impact of the problem on themselves and focusing on helping others; Type 7s over-emphasise their own needs, maintaining that if there is a problem it isn't a problem for them; and Type 9s feel overwhelmed by their own needs and other people's needs, denying the existence of a problem at all.

Positive outlook types can make others around them feel good and hopeful, and stop smaller issues spiralling unnecessarily. However, problems can grow if they aren't addressed, and this triad can become overwhelmed when giving things a positive spin is no longer a viable tactic.

  1. The Reactive Triad - Types 4, 6 and 8

"Why can't they see what a big deal this is?"

People in this triad have strong emotional reactions to disappointment, and they want you to know it. 4s tend to express their hurt, 6s the pressure they feel, and 8s their anger. They also want a strong emotional reaction from you - the absence of this implies to them that you aren't taking it seriously enough, don't care enough, or are invalidating their own reactions. Reactive types want to get problems solved as soon as possible, and they will draw others' attention to the scale of the problem and how it is affecting people - the opposite of positive outlook types who want to reduce or ignore the impact and may see reactive types as pessimistic and overreacting. In response, they might try to draw attention to any positives they can see, but reactive types can see this as minimising the problem and therefore feel that they need to be even more emotionally expressive to make themselves (and the situation) understood.

Reactive types find venting cathartic, and they feel it helps with moving towards a resolution, but they need to understand that for other triads this can be very overwhelming. It can have the opposite effect to the one they intend, leading others to withdraw from the conflict rather than engaging with it. It can also lead to catastophising, especially if those involved in a conflict situation are all in the reactive triad.

  1. Competency Triad - Types 1, 3 and 5

"Why can't they just focus on the facts?"

These types focus on trying to find an objective, logical solution and prefer to keep emotion out of it. To them, problems are things which should be faced and then solved in the best way. Of course, not everyone is going to agree on what the "best way" is. Type 1s want things to be done right, and have strong feelings about the "right" way to do pretty much everything. Type 3s want things to be done as efficiently as possible; they want to find a good enough solution so they can quickly move onto the next thing. Type 5s want to come up with a well-informed solution after weighing all the facts and looking at multiple angles, and are willing to spend time researching and thinking before acting.

Other types can get frustrated by this approach - reactive types are likely to think that competency types do not think the problem is very important due to the lack of emotional response, and may think that their view of the situation is not being taken seriously. In actual fact, Types 1, 3 and 5 believe that setting emotion aside is necessary to take a problem seriously, and they can see reactive and positive outlook types as not being willing to work towards good solutions. Both reactive and positive outlook types who want problems to be solved quickly can also see a competency approach as time-wasting.

How does this show up in relationships?

Conflict can arise as a result of disagreeing over details, but also as a result of coming at an issue from different standpoints and miscommunicating all over the place. I wonder if you have ever argued with someone close to you and thought any of the following:

They think I'm overreacting/They're just overreacting

Why won't they take this seriously?/Why are they making such a big deal out of this?

Why can't they see the positives?/Why do they keep ignoring the problem?

Why don't they want to work this out with me?/Why are they focusing so much on the details?

Why won't they listen to me?/Why won't they let me say what I think?

Conflict can become more about how you are arguing than whatever the issue was in the first place. Pain, disappointment, and not getting our needs met are unpleasant - our harmonic styles are the way that we try to cope with this. It's hard when it feels like people are trying to take away your coping style! It can be useful to remember that the other person is trying their hardest to use their coping style as well, and this is a natural strategy to protect ourselves.

What we focus on determines what we miss, and the more stressed we feel the narrower our focus becomes. We are never going to see everything and that's OK, but if we can become more aware of how we tend to see situations then we can also become more aware of what we are missing.

A challenge to put this into practice is to notice and reflect on:

  1. How you tend to respond in challenging situations

  2. How you want others to respond

  3. What you find frustrating about the way others do respond

  4. What this frustration leads to you doing

It can also be useful to 'dissect' an argument when you have enough distance from it with another person who was involved. Ask them what their experiences were, what they were feeling, what they were trying to achieve, and how they were interpreting your responses. No type or style is better than any of the others, so be curious about their perspective, and explain yours without assuming that it is "right" or naturally understood.

We don't need to change the way we or others see in order to change the way we respond to differences; if we can learn to accept and value differences, and treat them with curiosity rather than fear and contempt, then we can get to know people in new ways which make resolving conflict quicker and easier.

Tips for each triad

Positive Outlook - Remember: sometimes people just want you to acknowledge that there's a problem. You can cope with problems, you don't need to fear them.

Reactive - Remember: If other people don't respond the same way you do it doesn't mean they don't care, it just means they don't show it like you do. Make sure you give other people time to say what they think/feel about a situation, and listen.

Competency - Remember: Emotions are useful sources of information too, and listening to them can help the problem-solving process. Seeing other people's emotions this way - as information - can help you to not dismiss them as irrelevant.

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