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 Tendencies: The 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.
“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.
- Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations.
- Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, thus responding only to inner expectations.
- Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.
- 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,
- Upholders enjoy New Year’s resolutions and will also make resolutions at other times of the year.
- Questioners will make them when the time seems right, objecting that January 1 is just an arbitrary date.
- 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.
- 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.”
* * *
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.
- The Ordinary Day I Met an Extraordinary Story
- Is Your Brain Healthy? Reviews of “Memory Rescue” and “Stones of Remembrance”