Many practitioners of the MBTI and Enneagram become expert and often evangelical of their chosen system. However, there are a few of us out there who actively use and are fluent in both systems. It would be easy to get snared in the either/or discussion, but I think the really meaty and valuable conversations are about how the two personality systems complement each other.
In terms of when I use one system or the other, I would say that I use the Enneagram with people who are ready to make some changes in their life; who want to understand the underlying motivations that seem to drive their life script. It is brilliant for understanding self, other, and seeing one’s defenses/coping strategies and true self. When we drop our defenses, the core gifts and strengths of each type shine through. I also use the Enneagram with teams that may have experienced the MBTI or other systems and are ready to take their team development to the next level.
Learning the Enneagram is also like embarking on a journey of self-exploration and self-discovery because the system is very dynamic–there is movement and there are influences you will experience from the other types. The MBTI is a bit more static. You can flex your preferences, but you won’t necessarily use it for shifting your habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and acting.
I think the MBTI is easier to use with teams initially because of its reputation and statistical validity. Being able to easily point to distinctions between introversion/extroversion, intuiting/sensing, thinking/feeling, judging/perceiving and have people grab it, is far easier with the MBTI. For instance, E/I and J/P preferences are really valuable in helping a team understand some of its dynamics and how to manage them.
I often prefer to use the Keirsey Temperament Sorter to help people and teams quickly identify their strengths and play to those strengths. It is far easier to get your arms around, especially living in our world of sound bites.
However, when it comes to looking at the profile of, for instance an ISTJ, people have a harder time remembering not only their own type, but the types of others. I don’t know if it has to do with the 4-letter code, or that the profile doesn’t hang together in a simple way, or whether it just takes too much time to learn.
In contrast to the MBTI, the Enneagram is far more accessible for grasping composite picture of each type and their driving motivations. The type descriptions are coherent and hang together well. Each type has a name and one number and it is far easier to grasp the essence of each type (there are 9 rather than 16). While you can continue to go deeper and deeper into the exploration of your (and other’s) Enneagram types, even in a three-hour session I am able to effectively communicate and have people remember the nine types.
The most simplistic way to describe how the systems complement each other, is that the MBTI describes preferences for how we do things (get our energy, make decisions, gather information, etc.) and the Enneagram describes the “why” we behave a as we do and both systems describe our strengths and areas for growth.
I often get asked about the difference between the MBTI and the Enneagram or whether MBTI type preferences neatly fit into the Enneagram Types. There are people who have endeavored to put those pegs into some seemingly obvious holes. I ask, “to what end?”
The most interesting discussions I have had are exploring what each system offers that gives a larger and deeper picture of the person. What does the composite picture look like, for instance if you have an INTP/5 and an INFP/5 and how does that distinction affect/not affect the life script of a Type 5? I am a type 7/ENFP and I have several friends and colleagues who are ENTP/7. Some of our differences are obvious to me, but what accounts for the differences? Can knowing help us to help ourselves and our clients be more self-aware and make better choices? A colleague and I hope to do some research to find out.