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Working Therapeutically with an Enneagram Three (Achiever) Personality Style

Hello. Perhaps you’ve landed on this page because you’ve done an Online Enneagram Personality Test which has given you a Three as your main personality type, and now you’re scratching your head wondering what this means in terms of your self-development or therapy journey.

Are personality types no more than just a description of different traits – like a star sign? Or can the deep understanding of our type help us to play the finite game of life a little bit more skilfully? And if so, how?

[Read more about Personality-Focused Psychotherapy]

Hopefully this page and the information below will help to get you going in terms of an initial understanding of your personality type and exactly how it functions.

I have also tried to sketch out the kind of paths that Type 3 clients might want to consider travelling with me in therapy. Each personality type, as you will see, comes with its own “super-powers” as well as Achilles’ Heel which contributes to our personal suffering as well as “life-traps”. Hopefully this will become apparent the more you read into and explore this personality type.

Armed with this knowledge you will hopefully be better equipped to play the ups-and-downs, the snakes as well as ladders of the finite game (that is your individual Life), but perhaps also the Infinite Game, as I like to call it, of Happiness.

PS: If you find when reading through the descriptions below, that they don’t resonate, or that you don’t feel really “seen” and understood in a deep and maybe even sometimes slightly uncomfortable way, then you might want to consider looking at some of the other 9 Types in which you scored relatively high on when doing your personality assessment.


  1. Snapshot Of A Three: How Many Of These Traits Do You Identify With?
  2. Why Am I Like This? The Psychological Development Of A Three
  3. Core Motivations Of A Type Three Participant: What “Drives” Us?
  4. Threes At Work & In Relationships
  5. Understanding Why Threes Think, Feel, And Behave The Way We Do?
  6. What We’re Really Good At As A Three
  7. Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Threes
  8. The Three Kinds Of Threes: How The Three Instinctual Biases Shape Our Three Type Three Sub-type Personalities
  9. How We Might Struggle In Work And In Relationships: Stress-points And Triggers
  10. Self-management Challenges That We Might Want To Work On In Therapy
  11. Life-traps That We Might Want To Work On In Therapy
  12. Where To Start When Focusing On Our Own Personal “Three-stuff”: Strengths To Leverage & Enquiry Questions That I Often Ask Type Three Clients


If most or all of the following characteristics apply to you, you may have a Type Three personality style:

  • I see the work I do through the lens of how to do the best job possible in the most efficient way. I strive to be productive, effective, fast, and efficient. I am generally driven to work hard to achieve success in whatever I do.
  • I focus like a laser beam on my goals—I always think in terms of “what is the goal and how can we get there in the most direct way?” I naturally see work, but also many aspects of my life, in terms of specific goals to be achieved and the steps and tasks that need to be accomplished to get to the goal. And if someone or something gets in the way I endeavour to work around them or it (no matter what the cost).
  • I am good at reading an audience. I tune in to what the people around me see as admirable, effective, and attractive, and automatically assess what others view as the best way to be or appear or do things. 
  • I am skilled at discerning what people in different contexts view as successful and then becoming that. I have a talent for matching any image I decide to turn myself to or into. One of the ways I strive to be successful is by looking the part. I can sometimes be a bit like a chameleon in that I can shift my image to suit my surroundings.
  • I am motivated in the work I do and in relationships by wanting to appear successful to others, according to how others measure success. I automatically sense what the people around me view as successful in all the different contexts in my life, and (often automatically) seek to match that ideal if I can.
  • I want to win and be the best. Second place is unacceptable. If I can’t succeed at what I do, I probably won’t do it.
  • I identify with my work and my cherished goals—they provide me with a sense of myself. I find value in getting things done and achieving the rewards and status that go along with having the power to get so many things done.
  • I work really hard and have a hard time slowing down. I tell myself that I enjoy my work (and mostly I really do), so when I work 24/7 there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with this. 
  • I get impatient with people who slow my progress toward my goal. I have a hard time dealing with people who I see as incompetent, indecisive, or untrustworthy when it comes to delivering on their commitments on time.
  • I am a high-achiever or an overachiever. I have a crazy long résumé of huge accomplishments, but I may still worry about someone who has done more than me looking better than I do.
  • I love checking things off my “to-do list” as done. I keep lists, and one of the reasons I move so fast is that it feels so good to complete tasks and revel in how productive I’ve been. 
  • I can sometimes be a little bit out of touch with my emotions or might even (at times) consider them a waste of time. I sometimes believe that it’s “not productive” to feel all those feelings, don’t they just slow us down, so I might try to avoid them if possible.
  • I may enjoy being in leadership positions and having a say in how work gets done. I excel at meeting goals, doing work quickly and well, and aligning with a company’s culture and vision—so I naturally gravitate toward leadership roles. I like being in charge of how the work gets done and making sure the work gets done, and since I am on the whole so good at this, people are happy for me to be in charge.


Here is a kind of Origin Story (also Trauma Story) for a Three: 

“Once upon a time, there was a person named Three. She came into this world as a naturally emotional child and she was always completely true to her sweet, emotional nature. Everybody could see that she had a very pure and authentic heart.

But early in life, Three saw that she was praised for what she did, not for who she was. Everyone around her got very excited and happy when she successfully completed her homework, or did a trick in gymnastics, or won a game. But when she expressed her true emotions, when she felt sad or disappointed or hurt, no one paid any attention to her at all. She felt lonely and scared when no one recognized her or cared about what she expressed from her heart. People seemed to like her when she accomplished things; but they acted as if she didn’t exist when she was just being herself.

Three found a way to make sure that she wouldn’t feel alone or fearful anymore. She discovered that she had the ability to sense what people valued and then magically turn herself into exactly that. She was a shape-shifter. When she was around different groups of people, she could become the perfect example of whatever they viewed as admirable or successful. Like a chameleon, she could change her outward appearance depending on whom she was with and the situation she was in. This ability helped her to get attention, which felt good. And it also helped her to avoid being overlooked, which felt bad.

As she grew, Three came to see that others admired those who were successful—who achieved whatever goal they set for themselves. When she earned a lot of money, or won at sports, or looked more attractive than everyone else, people paid attention to her. So Three found that her ability to shape-shift could bring her many rewards in life. By succeeding at being successful, she could attract positive attention, especially because she was willing to do whatever it took to create a really convincing image of whatever others valued.

In fact, Three was so good at being successful that she couldn’t stop working and couldn’t stop shifting her appearance to promote her success. And she feared that, if she stopped, she wouldn’t get the attention and praise she needed. As time went on, she totally lost sight of who she really was beneath all the different images of success she invented, until, eventually, she could no longer feel her real emotions or recognize her real self. She just had to keep moving and working hard to maintain the image of success that made her feel valued. It was a lot of work. But, fortunately, Three was really good at doing a lot of work.

Three’s survival strategies worked so well that she never even had time to wonder about who she really was. Every once in a while, she felt a momentary wish to be more authentic—to have real contact with the people around her— but this wasn’t possible. She had to keep working to make sure that everyone admired her. She couldn’t imagine what would happen if she stopped. Unfortunately for Three, her survival strategies brought her too many rewards—money, titles, applause, and attention—for her to give them up.

One morning, Three couldn’t get out of bed. She was so weighed down by stress and depression that she remained in bed for two weeks. And that was when she realized, much to her surprise, that she was totally exhausted by all the hard work she did to maintain her image. She finally acknowledged that, deep inside, she was actually very sad and lonely. When Three recovered, however, she forgot all about her sadness and her loneliness, and thought about all the things she had to do at work and all the people she needed to impress. So, with a feeling of relief that she was back in the game—but not many other feelings—she returned to her busy schedule.”

Early on in life, we Threes often receive the message that we are appreciated or loved for what we do, not for who we are. Perhaps well-intentioned parents who praise us for our accomplishments teach us that “doing” and performing gets rewarded. Or, we may have an absent or ineffectual parent and so must learn to be a “doer” to survive. In a Capitalist culture we Threes may also get reinforced for our habit of seeking to prove our value through doing because “achieving” and “looking good” are behaviours that are encouraged by the norms and values of our Productivity cultural mindset.

Motivated by a need to be seen as successful, appealing, and competent, we Threes cn come to believe that we can accomplish whatever goal we set and win whatever contest we enter. We are good getting things done and achieving “success” as defined by our culture: owning a house, having resources, and being attractive to others. And since performance, status, and looking good seem to assure both material security and recognition from others, we develop the ability to work hard to achieve any goal we set our sights on. Without even thinking about it, we identify with (and become) the image of a person who will impress most people most of the time. This just comes naturally to us.

Since we have come to understand and believe that being the best is the way to gain acceptance, positive regard, and respect from others, failure is perceived as something to be avoided at all costs—to the point where we might even say that if we think we might not succeed at something, we just won’t do it. Failure means you didn’t win and don’t look good, so we might quickly move away from any whiff of defeat by either reframing it as a success or switching our focus to something we do well. It’s as if our essential value as a person rides on our ability to achieve, so we feel compelled to prove we are worthwhile by excelling and performing flawlessly in whatever we do. 


The strategy of presenting ourselves and the things we do in a way that assures others perceive us as successful leads us Threes to focus our attention on reading people. Like Twos, we pay a great deal of attention to other people; however, when we read other people, we often index success rather than likability, conforming to what others find attractive in terms of achievements, presentation, and social or professional status. 

We might look for clues about what others see as proof of “success,“ and are highly skilled at calibrating our presentation to match that image. We might turn ourselves into whatever we intuit the people in our specific social context view as successful as a way of being recognised in a positive light by others. We are especially skilled at determining what kind of look to have in specific settings, how to behave, and what to do and not do to fit in and look good in whatever environment we find ourselves in. 

After we are able to detect what people value, we often seek to meet that value that through a laser-like focus on tasks, goals, and doing, working relentlessly to realize the achievements that will fulfill the image of success we want to create. This powerful and overarching focus on doing allows us to successfully accomplish whatever goal we set for ourselves, even if this means avoiding the emotions and deeper personal needs and desires that might get in the way of all the doing we have to do to look the way we want to look in the eyes of others, and by extension, ourselves.


Generally, us individuals with a Type Three style view the world in terms of tasks to be done, goals to be achieved, and the appearances of things. We automatically align ourselves with external markers of success, including the material possessions and signs of status that signify prosperity. We often excel at shifting our presentation to look appropriate and “together” and competent at all times and in all cultural realities. Like chameleons, we are able to adapt our outer skin to blend in (in a positive way) in all social settings and work environments.

Us Threes also often see life through the lens of our “to do” lists. we  love (!) the feeling we  get when we  can check a task off as finished, so our everyday experience is shaped by what needs to be done and our perception is structured by tasks to be accomplished (in order of priority) and what we  need to do to operate at maximum productivity. We’re sometimes more like “human doings” instead of “human beings,” because we can get so caught up in “doing” (at times) that we  hardly leave room for just “being” (or feeling/reflecting). 

Believing the world loves a winner (and this is certainly backed up by our Culture), we work to ensure we  are perceived as people who can achieve any goal, always coming out on top, and always looking good whatever we  do. While some Threes are extremely competitive and driven to win, many of us prefer to measure ourselves against our own past levels of productivity. In either case, our perspective is fundamentally shaped by a keen understanding of what needs to be done—and how we  need to look—to create an image of being the best we can be at whatever we  do in whichever arena we  are in. We might seek to attain whatever degree, title, clothes, car, vacation home, or achievement we  require to let the world know we  embody the definition of success in whatever milieu we  live or work in. We are extremely driven individuals.



Unsurprisingly, our thinking focuses mostly on doing and working. We think about our lists of “things to do” and how to be productive and efficient in getting things done. We usually enjoy our work and find a sense of identity in what we do, and often much of our mind space is filled with thoughts of work and how to get work done in the quickest way possible. We may also think about the people around us, especially in terms of how to appeal to or support those people, or how others can support us in doing our work or getting the best out of ourselves. However, we tend to may at times also tend to prioritize work over people, which can get us into trouble when we fail to listen and take others’ feelings into account on the way to getting things done. 


Since We don’t like to slow down or stop, we don’t usually dwell a great deal on our emotions. We use our emotional intelligence, as heart types, to read people and create relationships based on identifying with and becoming what others feel good about or admire (this is our great skill), but tend to avoid feeling our deeper emotions, especially pain or sadness (although this is not uncommon in our culture for everyone to some extent). The most frequent emotions we do experience are impatience and frustration, often as a result of getting slowed down by others on our way to getting things done. Underneath, however, we do occasionally feel sadness, if we let ourselves, especially when we think we have to be someone other than who we really are to ensure people value or admire us. 


As you may have gathered by now, we do a lot. we work very hard and usually like our work—or can suspend our need to like it enough to get the job done anyway. Motivated by the desire to earn others’ (and our own internal) admiration, we accumulate accomplishments and climb the social ladder to be recognized as a super-competent, can-do people. We like to move fast, and can get bored or impatient if we can’t move on to the next thing. We try to avoid failure as much as possible, can smell it a mile away and will change course if necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen. In organizations, we Threes often rise to high levels (Jeff Bezos is an archetypal Three) and frequently occupy top leadership roles because our ability to set goals and get results fits well in a corporate environment that prizes productivity, hard work, and the drive to accomplish.


  • Setting and meeting goals. We excel at making things happen and producing results.
  • Working hard to get the job done/Execution. We generally like to work long hours, and put work at the centre of our life.
  • Marketing orientation. We know how to sell—we understand what it means to tune in to an audience and shape our message to suit the interests and preferences of our “target market,” which could mean our friends, family, and colleagues. We excel at marketing, both ourselves, and our products or projects.
  • Projecting an image of success and competence/Looking good in every context. We are experts at looking like we know what we are doing, and put a considerable amount of attention and energy into fitting the part and presenting an image that people will admire. This may often require us to adopt a persona—or social mask—to look appropriate in the social world. 
  • Competing to win/Striving to be the best. We tend to want to be the best at whatever we do, and we work so hard that we tend to become the best at whatever we seek to become really good at. 
  • Inspiring others to drive for results. Both through modeling an ethic of hard work and encouraging people to do what it takes to execute on a plan, we usually make inspiring and effective leaders.


Like all people of all types, when we overuse our biggest strengths (and don’t consciously develop a wider range of specialties), these strengths can also turn out to be our Achilles’ heel. 

  • Setting and meeting goals. We can sometimes become a tad aggressive and run over people on the way to a goal if we become overly focused on reaching our destination no matter what the cost. 
  • Working hard to get the job done/Execution. We may also get so work-focused and so driven to be executing all the time that we overwork to the point of physical or psychological breakdown. 
  • Our marketing orientation. Because we are so focused on skilfully reading our audience and packaging the product (including ourselves!) to make the sale or be the person that others want us to be, we may sometimes stretch the truth, cut corners, or craft a false presentation in the process. 
  • Projecting an image of success and competence/Looking good in every context. Our talent for adjusting our image in every circumstance can sometimes lead us to prioritise style over substance (or getting in touch with our core consciousness or Being).
  • Competing to win/Striving to be the best. We may get so focused on winning that we could be drawn into engaging in unethical or aggressive practices, or exhaust ourselves, to prevail in the competition. We may get so focused on being the best that we will do anything to avoid failure, even when accepting and learning from failure can actually help us grow. 
  • Inspiring others to drive for results. We also may get so caught up in the pursuit of the goal that we may not be able to take in valuable input from others about potential problems, and may damage relationships by pushing others too hard in some way. 

Fortunately, our sincere interest in collaborating with others (when possible and desirable) to accomplish tasks motivates us to evaluate how we are doing. When we can slow down and check in with our colleagues and loved ones about our plans and goals, we are often able to combine our effectiveness with a more reasoned and broad-minded assessment of how things are really going. By learning to moderate our desire for success with an openness to the lessons of failure (or at least some healthy self-doubt or self-examination), we can often put our natural focus on getting the job done, or things “sorted” in that full-on Three way to work in support of achieving a worthwhile personal or organisational vision. 

When stressed to the point of going to our “low side,” we might become a little bit pushy, impatient, and perhaps even (vocally) intolerant of (what we view as) incompetence. We may withdraw and believe we need to work alone because no one can do the job as well or as quickly as we can. When we operate from the low or stressed side of our personality style, our addiction to work can get even more intense and hard to manage. We may not allow ourselves time to rest or relax or recharge, which can lead to an inability to manage stress, and ultimately some kind of physical or emotional crisis. Many of us Threes have stories of working ourselves to the point of becoming sick or injured—which is sometimes the only way we can be forced to stop working.

Visiting the low side of our personality style in this way, we may feel increasingly emotional, as sadness, pain, or other feelings we habitually tend to push away begin to surface as our normally strong “just work harder” coping mechanism begins to weaken. The discomfort of feeling our emotions may drive us at times to work even harder, which can make us insensitive to both our own feelings and the emotions of others. We may double-down and strive even more aggressively toward our goals, or to put on an “appropriate” or happy professional face to hide our stress and not look bad, which adds to our stress and anxiety. When living on the low/stressy side of our personality style, we are prone to developing a kind of tunnel vision, focusing so intently on our goals that we might find it hard to listen to anyone or accept support from others. 

On the “high side,” when we are more self-aware and conscious of our habitual patterns, we make time to slow down, reflect on how we are feeling, and engage more deeply with the people around us. Consciously balancing our work efforts with intentional self-inquiry (the kind of stuff we do in therapy) can take the edge off of our single-minded focus on “doing”, allowing us to not have have to work so hard to avoid our feelings. We might in so doing become more empathetic with others, more compassionate with ourselves, and (ironically) much more effective in our work.

When we are working our Emotional Intelligence, which we have a great deal of, we are able to feel good about themselves for who we really are instead of who we think we need to be to impress others. We can work productively by focusing on tasks and deepen our insight into the work we do by consulting our feelings. This also allows us to collaborate skillfully with others because we know when to lead people forward in meeting goals and when to focus more deeply on communicating with our team (or family, or partner) and listening to someone else’s input.


According to the Enneagram model, we all have three main instinctual drives that help us survive, but in each of us, one of the three tends to dominate our behaviour. The Type Three style gets expressed differently depending on whether a person has a dominant bias toward self-preservation, social relationships and positioning within groups, or One-to-One bonding. 

 The Self-Preservation (or Self-Focused) Three

Us Self-Preservation Threes want to be both productive and quality-oriented; we care about being both effective and deeply good at what we do. This makes us the hardest workers of the notoriously hard-working Type Threes, because we feel driven to do the job and do it well in the service of security. Self-Preservation subtypes are generally concerned with getting the resources that support survival, so an anxiety about material security turbocharges our personality-focused workaholic tendency. Us Self-Preservation Threes also believe we need to be a good model of doing things well in a moral sense—in addition to the already high Three standard of getting a lot done—and that this must happen to ensure our survival. 

Wanting to be good in addition to looking good means that as Self-Preservation Threes we are generally more modest than the other Threes, especially the Social Threes. We have “vanity for having no vanity”—that is, we want to be seen positively by others, but we don’t want to appear to want to be seen positively by others. We want to be recognized for our accomplishments, but we don’t want to be caught bragging or engaging in blatant self-promotion. 

In addition, SP Threes can often be much more self-sufficient than the other Threes—we sometimes might even have a hard time depending on others and may work more independently to provide a sense of security for ourselves and the people who depend on us. We may often tend to look very put together while feeling anxious underneath, as we put so much pressure on ourselves to do so much by ourselves to take care of ourselves and others. 

As leaders, SP Threes will set an example by working harder than anyone else and being humble when it comes to taking credit for things. We will likely be the first person at the office in the morning and the last one to leave. We tend to be solid, self-assured, good people that others seek out for advice. However, we may also work so hard and feel so much pressure to do a good job, that we may deprive ourselves of the support that relationships can provide when we “go it alone.” In this way, we might avoid the vulnerability could feel if we asked for help and overfocus on what needs to get done all by ourselves. When we learn to slow down, go easier on ourselves, and receive more support from others, we can be particularly powerful leaders and partners, who seek to do a good job, or have a great relationship in the best way possible without having a big ego or needing to be the centre of attention.

The Social (or Group-Focused) Three

In contrast to the Self-Preservation Three, us Social Three enjoys being on stage and receiving recognition and applause for the work we do. We care a great deal about “winning” and are the most aggressively competitive of the Threes, although often we don’t compete with others as much as we do with our own past performance. Us Social Threes are also more comfortable displaying signs of status and success like wearing high-end clothes and driving an expensive car. (Compare this to a SP Three who might feel embarrassed about being seen in some swanky car and might even trade it in for something a little less flashy.)

Social Threes shine in all kinds of public situations and we know how to ascend the corporate ladder if that’s where our focus lies. We have a keen sense for how to get the job done and often look flawless doing it, even if we occasionally cut a corner here or there. We make excellent salespeople and communicators, and enjoy having power and influence. We like to be recognized for our achievements, and know how to frame the things we say for maximum benefit.

Social Threes are commonly found in the highest leadership positions. Consider: Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Condoleeza Rice, both Social Threes. This is because we are natural leaders in the sense that we relish having a prestigious title, directing work processes, and wielding power. We often have a corporate mentality in that it’s easy for us to represent the interests of the company in getting things done in the most effective and efficient way to compete to be the best and maximise profit—both for ourselves and the organisation. We intuitively align with what’s best for the company or the team and feel strongly motivated to move things forward decisively and successfully so that everyone ends up looking good and getting rewarded—both with acknowledgements for their work and wealth. We Social Three may have a hard time showing vulnerability though, because it’s so important to look good and not show any faults, but at our best we are strong leaders who will want to find a way to master any job and create results.

The One-to-One/Sexual (or Relationship-Focused) Three

Us One-to-One Threes can be strong leaders and productive workers like the other two Threes, but we often also prioritise relationships with others more. We One-to-One/Sexual Threes want to look good to others more in terms of personal appeal than morality like the Self-Preservation Three, or by winning like the Social Three. As One-to-One Threes, we also strives to achieve more in service to other people, and often focus on attracting others and then energetically supporting their success too (instead of just our own). We feel like we’ve won when the people we support win. Consider the following One-to-One Threes: Oprah, Tony Robbins, and Bill Wilson (the founder of AA). We can often feel frustrated when the people we support fail, as we might even feel those failures as our own.

One-to-One Threes are generally somewhat competitive and hard-working, but we are shyer about being the centre of attention and getting recognized for the work we do. We would rather promote the people we like and work with and feel close to. We have a team mentality and can be enthusiastic cheerleaders for the people we work to support, whether at work or at home. One-to-One Threes want to look good and are very aware of our image, but for us it’s more about being attractive to our significant other or being appealing and charismatic so we can easily establish bonds of support with people we seek to please. We can bring a large amount of energy and work very hard for the causes or people we support. As One-to-One Threes, we can also be more emotional than the other Threes, although like the other Threes, we often tend to turn down the volume on our emotions generally.

At work and at home, One-to-One Threes tend to be attractive, likeable, and helpful. We try to put the focus on others rather than have the spotlight on ourselves, and tend to express a great deal of concern about the welfare of the people we work with and are in contact with. One-to-One Threes tirelessly promote and support people on our team, or in our family, or in our organization who we believe deserve credit. With a softer presence than the other two Threes,  a One-to-One Three style will move things forward more through the force of our personal relationships and bonds with teammates and loved ones. Content to take a backseat when prizes are handed out for a job well done (like Self-Pres Threes) you could say that we enjoy working hard to make others look good—and seeing the people we like and support succeed can sometimes be the biggest reward of all.


Type Threes sometime feel like working or being in relationships with others is hard because:

  • We like to move fast, and sometimes others can’t keep up. It can be very difficult for me if I have to slow down and wait for them to catch up.
  • We can get bored and stop listening (in meetings and in conversation) if people talk too long or take too long to get to the point or the discussion gets repetitive or bogged down.
  • We know it’s important to do research before we decide the best course of action, but we can sometimes get irritated if we get caught up in “analysis paralysis.” 
  • When we’re working toward a goal, we can become impatient when people ask a lot of questions, offer objections, or disagree with us. 
  • It can sometimes be hard for us if the goal we are working toward isn’t spelled out clearly.
  • It’s important for us that we look good and that the team (or our family, or relationship) looks good, and so we really dislike it when someone does something that makes me (or us) look bad.
  • We can become angry if people don’t deliver on their commitments, especially if it reflects poorly on us or they aren’t held accountable for their incompetence. 
  • We hate to fail, so if someone on the team or a person we’re in relationship with thwarts our efforts and we fail, that can be difficult for us to handle. We like being in control of achieving success—for ourselves and the team/our partnership. It’s frustrating when we don’t have enough autonomy to control things and get the win we want.

We can sometimes get triggered by:

  • Inefficiently run meetings and discussions.
  • Meetings or discussions that drag on and on and don’t get anywhere.
  • When people block our path to our goals. 
  • People who don’t deliver on what they said they’d do.
  • When people move slowly (especially if they are in my way or we need something from them before we can move forward).
  • Dead weight: people who are incompetent or not on board to help us move forward and execute on our plan.
  • When people waste ourtime.
  • When people don’t recognize our efforts and hard work.
  • When people go on and on and don’t communicate effectively – preferably in bullet points 🙂
  • When people take credit for someone else’s work.
  • People who engage in conversations about trivial, inconsequential bullshit when they should be getting on with things and working.
  • People who distract me when I am working.
  • People who miss deadlines (especially if it affects my work).
  • People who do shoddy work.
  • Having to manage people’s feelings instead of focusing on the task at hand (especially as a Self-Pres or Social Three).
  • People who we have to explain things to over and over.

But we are also often loved and admired by those around us because: 

  • We actually like working, we like to get stuck-in with stuff (including friendships and relationships) and our enthusiasm can be infectious.
  • We always feel confident they know how to reach the goal and achieve success (which makes us feel more confident).
  • We will always do more than our share of the work.
  • We move things along and speed up the pace when slowdowns occur.
  • We help keep everyone on-task and focused.
  • We communicate in a way that is concise, efficient, and succinct.
  • We don’t waste your time.
  • We know how to read an audience (or even just one person) and can help clarify what will “sell” or land well with that audience or person, and what won’t. We often have a great deal of Emotional Intelligence.
  • When we can slow down and make the time to connect, we are really good at engaging with people.
  • We will easily step in when needed and take the lead to provide direction.
  • We stay engaged with our work as a key focal point of our lives, so this means that we usually stay available and accessible if you need us.

We can be challenging at times to others because: 

  • We might (at times) seem impatient when you are talking with other people—like we would rather be doing something else (and truth be told: we probably would!).
  • We can become frustrated and dismissive in meetings if we think our time is being wasted.
  • We can struggle at times to stop working or slow down, which may lead to mistakes when we overwork and can’t take time to relax or destress.
  • We can become so competitive that the drive to win may cloud our judgement.
  • We may leave or quit a project if we think we can’t do it well or achieve enough of a success (this can also happen in relationships).
  • We may do things to protect our image that isn’t good for the team or the project or the person we’re trying to relate to. 
  • We may not be open to learning from failures because we need to move on so quickly (perahps because it’s so hard for us to experience failure?). 


    • Fast pace. Part of what drives us Threes to move so fast and do so much is (from a psychological perspective) an unconscious desire to avoid feeling inadequate or unloved. We Threes may subconsciously fear that if we stop or slow down, feelings like these will arise that we don’t want to feel. But it’s crucial for us when falling into this pattern to learn to moderate the pace so we can be more present to our lives and who we are.
    • Drive to compete. The need to win at all costs often comes with a large price tag. One part of our development may occur through learning that we don’t always have to win to have value. Balancing the desire to succeed with a conscious effort to embrace lessons in failure can help us to grow and accept all of ourselves.
    • Doing. Similarly, we Threes benefit when we can moderate our compulsion to always be doing. we become more whole and happy through balancing doing with a greater openness to feeling and just being.
    • Image management. At a deeper level, we may believe that it’s our image (what we present to others) that people love and not who we are as unique individuals. The more we do to become someone others will admire, the more we potentially become less of ourselves. 
    • Overworking/staying busy. At some point, when we can’t slow down or stop working ever—even on holiday—it may dawn on us that this is a problem. Developing the ability to moderate our workaholic tendencies is important so that an illness or some other sort of breakdown doesn’t have to do it for us. 
    • Overidentifying with our work or our image. As Threes, we may think that we are what we do—but we are also so much more than that! If we have the idea that we would be no one without our job (I often feel this way), it’s time to get to know ourselves a bit more! We are so much more than our image or the work we do, although living in an Instagram Culture doesn’t especially help with this. In many ways, we are all Threes now!


All of us can learn to be less reactive and better at collaborating with others through first observing our habitual patterns, then thinking about the things we think, feel, and do to gain more self-insight, and then making efforts to manage or moderate our automatic reactions to key triggers. 

Us Threes grow through first observing and then learning to moderate our habitual reactions to key triggers like being slowed down by others’ “incompetence,” or having to deal with others’ emotions, or having our efforts thwarted by other people’s agendas or needs.

When we can watch what we do enough to “catch ourselves in the act” of doing the things that get us in trouble, and then pause and reflect on what we are doing and why, we can gradually learn to moderate our programming and knee-jerk responses. Here are some ideas to help us be more self-aware, more emotionally intelligent, and more satisfied at work (and at home).

What blind spots us Threes often don’t see in ourselves (even though others might see these in us)

  • Our emotions and the value of emotions generally. As a part of our drive to get things done, we can often avoid or ignore or minimize our emotions (less so for One-to-One threes). Yet, as heart-based types we do also use our sometimes neglected emotional capacity to read people to determine in part how to present ourselves. It could help us to develop if we can connect more with our unacknowledged feelings, only because our emotions can often help us to know who we really are, what we really want, and what things are really worth doing. 
  • The value of slowing down (and occasionally stopping). As Threes we can sometimes risk our health, our psychological well-being, and our relationships if we don’t look at how and why we move so fast and do so much. It might help us to recognize the value of consciously slowing down and taking better care of ourselves.
  • Our core self—who we really are apart from our image. What usually gets lost for us as Threes in doing and achieving is ourselves. We can’t help (being our personality default) to focus on the image we want to create and the accomplishments that help us look good, and this can sometimes mean that we often don’t really know who we are, what we really want, and how we want to live. Discovering who we are in this deeper way can help us to live in a more integrated way.
  • The importance of relationships. Often without meaning to, we can  sacrifice our relationships—or the quality of our relationships—by putting all our energy into our work. It can be hard for us to be present with people, and it can be difficult for them to be present enough to see that we are not present. When we work to become self-aware, it is important for us to examine the state of our relationships and create enough room to consciously choose prioritizing being present with people instead of unconsciously sacrificing our personal life.
  • The need for love—what’s behind the image management and the need for recognition. Ofen, us Threes do all we do to be loved and appreciated for who we really are. So, it’s kind of ironic that we strive to be recognized and valued, but then we get so busy and so focused on living from an image that we lose touch with our home-base inside ourselves, which might allow us to receive real warmth and positive regard from others. When we are on a growth path though, we can benefit from realising that what really drives us is the need for affection and doing what it takes to open up to actually getting it. 


    • Observing our need to move quickly in getting things done. What happens when we get slowed down? Notice how we resist slowing down or stopping. What’s behind our need for speed?
    • Notice how much we love to check things off our “to do” list. Why do we get such extreme satisfaction from getting stuff done? What kinds of things do we do to prioritize checking something off our list?
    • Notice how we keep ourself busy all the time. Observe what motivates our need to stay in motion and work so hard. Notice especially what we might be avoiding.
    • Observe how we relate to our own emotions. What is going on when we do so much we don’t leave room for them? Under what conditions do we feel more and less? 
    • Observe our desire for recognition. To what extent does this motivate us to perform and succeed? What is this about for us? When we receive recognition, can we take it in? 
    • Notice how we read the people around us and the social context for clues to how to present ourselves for maximum benefit. Becoming conscious of how we shift our presentation (at work, but perhaps in other settings too) to fit our audience and what’s behind that.
    • Observe what we do to avoid failure. Why is failure such a bad thing? 
    • Notice what happens when something gets in the way of our path to our goal. What feelings arise? What is this about?
    • Notice how we tend to prioritize work above relationships. Why? What are the consequences of doing this?

Strengths to Leverage

It can help us Threes in this process to be aware of and even actively leverage:

  • Our ability to get the job done well and quickly. The world already rewards us for this, and it gives us a lot of power. Growth doesn’t mean we have to change what works, it just means being able to moderate when appropriate.
  • Our confidence and determination when working toward a goal. Other types (like Nines) suffer because they can’t take action to make things happen—so celebrate this as a big strength and find creative and interesting ways to put it to work to make the world a better place.
  • Our ability to read people/ability to relate to people. We may not be giving ourselves enough credit for how well we relate to people. Asking people for feedback about how our relationship is going—and what they value about us, and vice-versa—and noticing if we find any clues to what’s extraordinary about this real connection, as well as how to build on it.
  • Our resourcefulness and tenacity. One of the perks associated with being someone who gets shit done is that we can almost always find a way to make important things happen. The world needs this quality—so let’s own it and teach others how to do it!
  • Emotional sensitivity. we probably don’t give ourselves enough credit for how sensitive we can be to people’s emotional struggles when we want to be. We may then want to allow ourselves to be touched by people more often and see how it opens us up to the beauty and richness of our emotional capacities. Getting past our fear in this area will indubitably enhance our lives.

 Some questions I might ask a Three in therapy:

  • How and why do we resist slowing down so much? What might we be afraid will happen if we slow down or stop?
  • Why are we so driven to do tasks and realize goals? What motivates this drive and what would happen if we resisted it?
  • Why do we avoid feeling our emotions? What feels threatening about opening up to a more conscious awareness of what we are feeling?
  • In what ways do we create an image that differs from who we really are? Perhaps we can reflect on instances in which we presented ourselves in a way that misrepresented how we really feel or what we really think or who we really are. How and why does this happen? Let’s explore the differences between the image(s) we create and who we really are.
  • What gets in the way of being present with the people in our life? What feels difficult about engaging more deeply more often with the people we are in relationships with? Is there something we are missing out on when we are working so hard?

Us Threes can also grow through consciously becoming aware of the self-limiting habits and patterns associated with our personality style and learning to embody the higher aspects or more expansive and balanced capacities of the Type Three personality:

  • Learning to become conscious of the need to look good to impress others and try to present ourselves more as we are (from the inside out). Realising that often this more real version of us  is better and certainly more lovable than any image we might create could ever be.
  • Learning to be aware of why we drive ourselves so hard and do so much work and consider that we don’t have to do it all or be successful to be the valuable, lovable, competent people we already are.
  • Learning to be conscious of not being present and learning to take our attention off our to-do list and put it on what’s happening in the moment.
  • Learning to be more aware of what compels us to do, do, do, and work so hard and then trying (at times) to interrupt that compulsion by slowing down, relaxing more, and luxuriating in feeling and being.
  • Learning to observe the way we index (or overindex) success as the measure of who we are and develop the ability to index other yardsticks, like how we feel, what we desire, what has meaning, and how people react to us when we are being honest about who we are.
  • Learning to notice when we are overidentifying with our work or our image and do what it takes to get in touch with our core subjectivity—who we really are, how we really feel, and what we really want.

Overall, we Threes can fulfill our higher potential by observing and working against our habitual focus on doing and performing to create an image of being a winner and learn to focus more deeply on how we feel, what we really want, and who we really are. When we can moderate our tendency to drive forward in the fastest way possible to get to the goal and do the hard work of slowing down, we can access more support from our inner being as well as the people around us. When we can lean into our large and often untapped capacity for feeling the richness of our inner experience, we can often enhance the things we do and produce in a way we may never have imagined by putting more of the unique gifts and emotional truth of our real self into the mix. We can then combine our amazing ability to take action with the depth of who we are as individuals, becoming the powerful leaders, friends, family members, and partners we know we are capable of becoming, who do meaningful things well in a way that benefits everyone.

If you are not a Three, but have a relationship with a Three, here are some tips for getting on better with the Threes in your life:


Be competent and get shit done. We Threes like coworkers who we can trust to do a competent job and do what they say they are going to do. Meet your deadlines, do quality work in a timely fashion, and be accountable when your work is not up to par. 

Leave us alone to do what we do. We like to have the freedom to get things done quickly on their schedule. It’s best not to bother us with stuff we don’t find meaningful or relevant to the work that needs to be done.

Be mindful of our preferred pace. We often like to move fast. Your work pace may not be as rapid as ours, and sometimes there will be unavoidable slowdowns, but it will help you to help us if you understand how very much we like things to move along quickly.

Don’t waste our time. Be on time to meetings, don’t make meetings longer than they have to be, don’t engage in too much small talk, and don’t spend a lot of time explaining stuff to us that we don’t need to know to do our work.

Recognize that relationships may need be secondary to work. Relationships are important to us but we are more open to relating to others when we don’t have a lot of work to do. If you befriend us Threes as your colleague, don’t be too offended if we sometimes need to prioritize work above our relationship (or have a hard time listening to what you did last weekend).

If you want our attention, get on their calendar. We often have our whole day and week planned out and scheduled, down to our morning workout and the mid-week socials. If you want our undivided attention, make sure you’ve blocked out some time in our schedule so we can make our best effort to be present.

Don’t expect us to spend a lot of time dealing with your feelings. Although we are heart-types, we can sometimes avoid feeling and managing our own emotions, so we may not always want to deal with yours. If you feel hurt or angry or disappointed by something at work, we might expect you (to a certain extent) to suck it up, as we often do, and get on with getting things done.

Help us to avoid “the f-word.” We Threes have a very difficult time with failure. (Some of us will have a hard time even considering the possibility of it.) So, we will appreciate it if you do everything in your power to help us succeed—or be kind when things don’t go well and help us slow down long enough to learn from it.

• Recognise our efforts and achievements. Although some Threes may show it more than others, we Threes are genuinely doing all we can do to gain the respect and admiration of others. So we will feel supported and appreciated if you make a point of acknowledging key wins and all the hard work we do.


This is a great, easy-to-follow overview by Russ Hudson of the Three personality style, which also offers some experiential practices which Three (or all of us) might find helpful when struggling with “Three-Stuff” in our lives.