Editor’s Note: Tendency talk


When I first heard about “The Four Tendencies,” I’m sure I gave an eye roll. Do I really need to take another quiz to give me insight into my behavior and personality?

I’ve taken the DISC, Gallup StrengthsFinder, Enneagram and many other assessments. I find them all very interesting. I’ve learned something from each of them, which left me wondering if I really needed another.

Still, I kept seeing and hearing references to Gretchen Rubin’s “The Four Tendencies” mentioned among friends and colleagues and on social media. I’ve enjoyed her other books, so I thought I’d give it a read. I’m glad I did.

What makes “The Four Tendencies” unique is it distinguishes how people tend to respond to expectations—both outer and inner.

Identifying how you respond to expectations may sound like a strange approach, but Rubin demonstrates how it can be a powerful tool for your personal and professional life. The four tendencies are:

Upholders. This group responds readily to outer and inner expectations.

Questioners. These folks question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense. Essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations.

Obligers. Obligers meet outer expectations but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves.

Rebels. People within this quadrant resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

In case you couldn’t tell by my skepticism about whether or not I really needed to take another behavior assessment, I’m a questioner through and through. I feel the need justify all decisions—from major life choices to the tiniest purchases—to myself through exhaustive research and hand wringing. Outer expectations don’t necessarily matter to me, unless I can justify them internally.

Knowing this about myself, I can try to implement systems such as deadlines and limited choices to help me overcome the pitfalls of my tendency, such as analysis paralysis.

Digging deeper, the concept becomes more powerful when I know the categories of those with whom I live and work.

“Knowing other people’s tendencies also makes it much easier to persuade them, to encourage them and to avoid conflict,” Rubin says. “The fact is, if we want to communicate, we must speak the right language—not the message that would work most effectively with us, but the message that will persuade the listener.”

With that in mind, the author offers these communication tips.

  • Upholders want to know what should be done. They value self-command and performance.
  • Questioners want justifications. They value purpose.
  • Obligers need accountability. They value teamwork and duty.
  • Rebels want freedom to do things their own way. They value self-identity.

I encourage you to read the book or tap into its concepts, and imagine how you could work better with your business partner, please your best client or coach your team.

Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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