Deeper Into Personal Transformation: The Harmonic Groups of the Personality


My mother recounts the story of how, as a young child, she heard of the death of an elderly family friend. “Well,” she said, “at least he’s not in pain anymore.” That is how a Type Seven reframes what is difficult. The great fear of death is subsumed immediately by a positive benefit.

We’ve looked at several ways in which the nine human personalities can be segmented into threes: the Centers, Object Relations and Hornevian groups. Let’s take a look now at the other major grouping of threes: the Harmonic groups.

These groups were discovered by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson and are described in their groundbreaking book, “The Wisdom of the Enneagram.” The Harmonic groups help us understand how people react when they don’t get what they want. Each of these three strategies provides insight into how our personality deals with not getting its underlying, driving “need” met. I put the word need in quotation marks because, remember, this need is based on a fundamental lie about what is required to be happy and safe.

Riso and Hudson refer to these strategies as the “way that our personality defends against loss.” We react either with a positive outlook, competency or intensity.

Positive outlook: Types Two, Seven and Nine

These Types respond to adversity—not getting what they want—by looking on the bright side. They put a positive spin on disappointment and have a hard time actually looking at “the dark side of life and of themselves.” These Types find it hard to balance “their own needs with those of others.” So, Twos focus on others, Sevens on themselves, and Nines on both (and since you can’t focus completely on two things at once, this ends up being a muddled response).

Competency: Types One, Three and Five

These Types shove their personal feeling under the mental rug so they can focus on problem-solving. They work hard to be competent and emotionally objective (which is essentially impossible if you are identified with your personality). Though they want to be competent, these Types have issues with working inside a system or structure. Ones work within the rules, Threes work the rules to their advantage, and Fives tend to work outside the rules.

Intensity: Types Four, Six and Eight

These Types react with intense emotion when they don’t get what they think they need. They are watching for an emotional response from those they’re interacting with that matches their concerns. They also share the traits of ambiguity regarding how much to trust others AND are concerned with authority roles. This causes Fours to want someone to parent them, Eights to be the parent of everyone and Sixes to switch from one role to the other depending on what the situation warrants.

So, that’s a quick tour of the Harmonic group. It’s yet another way to help you understand and identify yourself and those whom you interact with – it’s another piece of the puzzle that is human behavior. Next time, I’ll put together these various sets of three so that you can see a more complete composite of each Type. For instance, a Two is not only a positive outlook type but a Feeling/Rejection/Dutiful/Positive Outlook type. All these factors together will help you to differentiate one Type from another and also to identify yourself if you are still trying to figure that out.


  1. […] Last week we looked at the Harmonic groups discovered by Riso & Hudson, one of the many ways to slice and dice the Enneagram Types. This is interesting and useful, but looking at the different triadic groups (Hornevian, Object Relation, Centers and Harmonics) separately tends to leave us with just a piece of the puzzle. So, what I am going to do in this series is to put the puzzle together—at least a bit more—by bringing all these elements together to create a more full-bodied picture for each Type. […]

  2. […] Harmonic Group: Emotional realness […]

  3. […] Harmonic: Positive Outlook […]

  4. […] Harmonic: Emotional realness […]

  5. […] Harmonic: Emotional realness […]

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