Can You Meet the Expectation? – Review of “The Four Tendencies”

Someone expects you to do something. How do you respond?

It might depend on your personality.


“With wisdom, experience, and self-knowledge from the Four Tendencies, we can use our time more productively, make better decisions, suffer less stress, get healthier, and engage more effectively with other people.”
– Gretchen Rubin

Is it easier for you to do something if someone else asks you to do it? Or does that make you want to run the other way?

Do you prefer setting your own schedule or having it set for you?

Do you ask multiple questions before making a decision or do you make the decision first and ask questions later?

It depends on your personality.

Another Personality System?

Some people enjoy personality typing systems, like Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, Five Love Languages, etc. (Count me in this group. A great resource for us is Anne Bogel’s book Reading People; it explains many different systems. Read more about it here, “What’s Your Type?“)

But some people dislike personality tests. Why box yourself in? Who can explain another human being? Etc.

Granted, some personality schemes seem wacky. And many are quite complex. They take work to figure out where you fit in. And sometimes the answers they provide are informational only, not easily applicable to everyday life.

But sometimes, personality profiles are simple, logical, AND helpful.

The Four Tendencies fits in that category. It’s new. Gretchen Rubin (author of Better than Before and The Happiness Project) has been working diligently on figuring this one out. And she’s hit the mark.

You can read about it in her new book, The Four TendenciesThe Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too).

The four Tendencies are: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel.

Take the free quiz here.

“Many personality frameworks cram too many elements into their categories. By contrast, the Four Tendencies describes only one narrow aspect of a person’s character.”

How Do You Handle Expectations?

The Four Tendencies begins with a simple question:

How do you respond to expectations?

Gretchen explains we are all faced with two kinds of expectations over and over:

  • Outer expectations—expectations others place on us, like meeting a work deadline, and
  • Inner expectations—expectations we place on ourselves, like keeping a New Year’s resolution.

How you respond to outer and inner expectations determines which Tendency you are.

  1. Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations.
  2. Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, thus responding only to inner expectations.
  3. Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.
  4. Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

Once you know your Tendency, you can approach life more efficiently and effectively.

“The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t act.”

And if you know the Tendency of people you live or work with, you can improve your relationships through better understanding of how these people work.

One quick way to begin exploring your own Tendency is to answer this:

How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions? Do you tend to make and keep them, argue about them, hate them, only do them with someone else?

In general, Gretchen explains,

  1. Upholders enjoy New Year’s resolutions and will also make resolutions at other times of the year.
  2. Questioners will make them when the time seems right, objecting that January 1 is just an arbitrary date.
  3. Obligers often stopped making New Year’s resolutions because they’ve failed so often in the past. Or if they do make them, they often don’t keep them.
  4. Rebels dislike resolutions. They don’t want to bind themselves with resolutions (even though they may occasionally make them for a challenge).

Can we change our Tendency if we don’t like it? No.

But we can often change our situation to better suit our Tendency. For example, if you’re an Obliger, you might ask for an accountability partner to help you reach a goal.

Is one Tendency better than the others? No.

But those who understand and work with their Tendency are often happier, healthier, and more productive. Why? Because . . .

“They’re the people who have figured out how to harness the strengths of their Tendency, counteract the weaknesses, and build the lives that work for them.”

From Gretchen’s research, the Tendencies are distributed among people like this:

  • 41% of people are Obligers
  • 24% are Questioners
  • 19% are Upholders
  • 17% are Rebels

Of course no one is completely one Tendency. We are all a mix, and different situations may highlight a different Tendency trait in us. But overall, we typically lean more heavily in one area than any others.

Tendency Specifics

About Upholders:

I’m an Upholder (so is Gretchen). I always want to be on time; I want to keep commitments I make to others but also ones I’ve made to myself; I make schedules and typically keep them if not interrupted.

But Upholders can also be annoying (just ask my family, especially the non-Upholder ones). I don’t like it when other people make me late. I am uncomfortable with abrupt change or frequent distractions to my carefully-crafted schedules. Once I decide to do something, I feel compelled to keep the streak going, even if it no longer makes sense (I rarely give up on a book once I start it, but I’m getting better at laying down the boring ones).

People often think Upholders are uptight, but to us, discipline brings freedom. It makes us happy.

If you’re married to an Upholder or have a child who is an Upholder, understand these things about them. Learn to give more advance notice about upcoming changes, help your Upholders accept their own mistakes more graciously, and don’t try to micromanage an Upholder (they micromanage themselves).

About Questioners:

Understand that Questioners make decisions carefully (and often slowly). They want clarity. Give them reasons. But don’t overquestion them; they don’t like having their own decisions questioned.

About Obligers:

Obligers feel most burdened. They hate letting anyone down. They’ll do everything they can to meet your expectations of them, but struggle to meet their own expectations. They are the most likely to burn out. Remind them to respect their own needs, too, not just the needs of others.

About Rebels:

Don’t tell a Rebel what to do, if possible. They’re likely to do the exact opposite. Just lay out some legitimate options and then allow them the freedom to make their own decisions and do it their own way.

What Each Tendency Needs

A quick synopsis for working with other Tendencies is this.

  • Upholders want to know what should be done.
  • Questioners want justifications.
  • Obligers need accountability.
  • Rebels want freedom to do something their own way.

And one question matters most for each:

  • Upholders ask: “Should I do this?”
  • Questioners ask: “Does this make sense?”
  • Obligers ask: “Does this matter to anyone else?”
  • Rebels ask: “Is this the person I want to be?”

Understanding each Tendency and the way they interact with the world is not just interesting table conversation; it’s beneficial information that can be life-changing.

“When we recognize our Tendency, we can tweak situations to boost our chances of success. It’s practically impossible to change our own nature, but it’s fairly easy to change our circumstances in a way that suits our Tendency—whether by striving for more clarity, justification, accountability, or freedom. Insight about our Tendency allows us to create the situations in which we’ll thrive.”

* * *

Learn more about the Four Tendencies here.

Which Tendency are you? What are your partner’s Tendency? (I think Jeff is a Questioner; he questioned the whole validity of this system.) Please share in the comments.

My thanks to Blogging for Books
for the review copy of this book.

32 thoughts on “Can You Meet the Expectation? – Review of “The Four Tendencies”

  1. Anita Ojeda

    OHH! I’m bookmarking this one and taking the free test when I have time! This sounds like something our staff could all use in order to learn to get along better! (Not that we don’t get along most of the time, but I can see how our different tendencies could really inhibit what we try to accomplish!).

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad this sounds like it could be useful to you, too, Anita. It’s so easy to grasp yet so profound in understanding how people relate to life and to each other. Even at my age, I sometimes still expect everybody to think like *me* and wonder why they don’t. I should know better by now! ha. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

  2. Trudy

    I find personality tests interesting, Lisa. Often they are spot-on. Like this one. I’m an obliger, but I guessed that before I even took the test. I think some personality tests help us to understand ourselves and others better. And they help me to improve in certain areas. Maybe this is an entirely different subject, but I think while we may be born with a certain personality type, life events can effect it. That whole nature vs nurture thing. I think both play a great part. Thanks for letting me ramble. 🙂 Thanksgiving blessings and hugs to you!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, with this system, many of us already know which category we fit into, before we take the quiz. ha. I knew, too. And I agree with you: our life situations definitely can sway us one way or another, even if our basic tendency is already set. Depending on the circumstances, I can lean more towards another category. Interesting things to look at! Hope you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I agree, Nicole. I was talking last night about it all with my husband, and understanding that he might be a Questioner, it helps me understand his perspective more. Not just on this, but on a lot of things! 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ha. You sound like my mama, Barbie. She was likely an Obliger. Which worked to our advantage as her children, but maybe not so much for her own well-being! So yes, keep working on taking care of yourself too. You count!

  3. Mary Geisen

    Another interesting way to look at our personalities!!! Just from the info you shared, I am an obliger so it sounds like I fit into the majority category. I have completed other personality tests and I do like knowing specific characteristics about myself and do not feel boxed in.

    I’m not sure this one provides enough detail to work with but it certainly gives us all another frame of reference. Thank you for the review.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I don’t feel boxed in by it either, Mary. I’m glad to hear you say that. It’s just information that we can work with, but it doesn’t tie us down to anything. Knowledge is often power, right? 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I know what you’re saying, Jodie. Different situations are likely to highlight different traits in each of us! I relate a little to all of these Tendencies, too. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I enjoy personality inventories too, Debby. 🙂 I had been hearing so much about this one on Gretchen Rubin’s podcast, so I was excited to finally get the book in my hands. It’s an easy one to understand and put into practice.

  4. David

    Dear Lisa

    I like the foundational idea of how a person responds to expectations (internal & external) but imho the four tendencies themselves are derivative (I imagine a kind of 2D graph with x-axis = response to internal expectations; y-axis = response to external expectations). I’m a Questioner 😀

    I loved Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before a lot, and find it very useful. Is this one meaty? If so I might throw it on the to-read pile.

    I think these person typing systems can be harmful if they’re imposed or if they’re followed dogmatically, but as a tool or a game for self-exploration they can be interesting and stimulating (Rubin used this system v well in Better than Before).

    You seem to be a bit of a connoisseur (or maybe connoisseuse?) of personality type systems. Are they compatible with each other? Do they interfere with each other or do they show you different aspects fo yourself?

    Lovely post thank you


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, just at first guess I’d put you as a Questioner, David. But one thing I’ve discovered about personality systems is that it’s never wise to type another person; they need to do it themselves. 🙂

      This is a much simpler model than many systems out there, so it doesn’t attempt to be an end-all approach. But amazingly it still applies to many areas in a person’s life so I’m finding it to be useful.

      Do I find most personality systems to be compatible with each other? From what I’ve experienced just with my own type, yes. I can’t answer that across the board, but I’ve not seen contradictions from my personal perspective.

      Is this book as meaty? Hmm…perhaps, but in a different way. Her approach is similar: full of examples, clarity in structure, easy to follow. But there’s only a modicum of research, perhaps because it’s so new. The book is also relatively short, so there’s that to consider (maybe that puts it in the plus side for you, maybe in the minus?). 🙂 I view conciseness as a positive.

  5. bluecottonmemory

    I’m a huge fan of Don and Katie Fortune’s book on Discovering your Spiritual Gifts (especially the one in how spouses communicate – which really is how all the gifts communicate -it helped me better understand others’ differences and not feel threatened by them). I took the quiz – and I’m an obliger – though I seemed to answer questions in a lot of the other areas. It’s always fascinating to try and unlock who we are for better understanding. This was a fun read – thanks for the opportunity to take the quiz. Wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving!!!!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I agree, Maryleigh: it’s helpful to me also when I can better understand other people. We’re all quite complicated creatures, yes? 🙂 The Fortune’s book sounds like a great one (I don’t think I’ve ever read it!). Thanks for sharing. We did have a wonderful Thanksgiving; hope you and yours did too!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m beginning to think that when it’s difficult to figure out your type, maybe you’re a questioner! 🙂 Jeff took the quiz and he scored as an obliger, but neither one of us agree with that result. ha. (I have some questioner and rebel in me as well.)

  6. Mari-Anna Stålnacke

    Oh, Lisa. It’s quite uncanny how you always have a post that resonates with me. Always something new or exciting or challenging. Thank you for always inspiring. I need to check this out, sounds like it could be helpful to me. Have a blessed weekend, friend!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I had been hearing about this framework from Gretchen Rubin’s podcast, so I was glad to finally see her publish a book about it. Hope it’s helpful to you, too, if you get around to reading it, Mari-Anna!

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