There are four types of people in this world, well, at least according to Gretchen Rubin there is. In her highly-acclaimed book, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too), Rubin divides people into Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels based on the way these people meet internal and external expectations. This book, I say with zero humor or exaggeration, changed the way that I think about myself and others. For this reason, I will highly (highly, highly) recommend this book to you and go over the basic principles in case you are interested in learning more, but are not so inclined to pick up a copy yourself.
How do you respond to expectations?
This is the question that is at the core of all of the tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels.
- Upholders respond well to both inner and outer expectations.
- Questioners are more willing to meet inner expectations than outer expectations.
- Obligers prioritize fulfilling external commitments than ones that they make for themselves.
- Rebels are beholden to no one—not even themselves—as they are disinclined to follow through with internal or external expectations.
With this basic overview, we will now delve into who these people really are.
Upholders (19% of people [US])
Motto: Discipline is my freedom.
Upholders respond well to both outer and inner expectations. These are the people who like schedules, routines, and would never want to let themselves or others down. Common upholder traits include independence, self-accountability, and self-certainty. These people, of course, are human and may still struggle to go to the gym or stick to a diet in the long-term. These people often become uncomfortable when they see others breaking the rules and, at times, can be obedient to a fault when they choose to follow non-sensical rules.
Upholder strengths: conscientious, reliable, motivated, self-starters
Upholder weaknesses: can be uptight, cold/inflexible (they can’t change their plans to accommodate you), defensive, impatient, demanding
Questioners (Total: 24% of people [US])
Motto: I’ll comply if you convince me why
Questioners question all expectations and are more willing to meet the ones that align with their inner values rather than those imposed by others. Questioners require justification of an expectation before they are willing to commit to it. These people like to do their research, carefully consider their options, and determine why they must do something before they do it. Questioner personality traits include a deep commitment to information, logic, and efficiency, as well as a focus on justification. Although this type is more inclined to respond to their inner expectations, they will follow through on outer expectations when they have carefully considered the action and have justified it in their heads. In this way, it is hard for the Questioner to follow through on commitments that they don’t agree with.
Questioner Strengths: Efficient, logical, data-driven, inquisitive
Questioner Weaknesses: can be troublesome employees, may suffer from ‘analysis paralysis,’ they (ironically) do not like being questioned
Obligers (Total: 41% of people [US])
Motto: You can count on me…and I’m counting on you to count on me
Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but often struggle to meet inner expectations. Obligers need an outside commitment to do everything, sometimes even just to make time for themselves. A common Obliger example is: I used to run every weekend with my friend, but after she moved away, I stopped running altogether. To meet inner expectations, many Obligers have come to rely on electronic schedules, clubs/ classes and other people to help them follow through. These individuals make great leaders, teammates, friends, and get along most easily with the other three tendencies (it’s a good thing that they are the largest tendency!). Obligers are also at risk of feeling overworked, burned out, and resentful of others for their “expectations” (some of which are, paradoxically, self-imposed).
Obliger strengths: responsible, flexible, do more than what is expected of them, accommodating
Obliger weaknesses: bad at saying ‘no,’ at risk for burnout/ resentment, more likely to be exploited
Rebels (Total: 17% of people [US])
Motto: You can’t make me and neither can I
Rebels resist all expectations, whether these expectations come from themselves or from others. If a rebel is going to do something, it must be the Rebel’s choice. If you ask a Rebel to do a chore, it is probably safe to assume that the chore is not going to get done anytime soon. Rebels value their freedom and are more inclined than the other types to break the rules. These are the people who do not like to be rushed, resist commitment until necessary, and are liable to cancel at the last minute. If you want a Rebel to do a chore, then you’re better off providing them with information on why the chore is necessary and a choice rather than a simple demand. “’Do this because I say so’ will not fly with a Rebel.” Rebels can easily frustrate themselves because it is hard for them to follow through on the things that they want if they feel like they must (for example, losing weight or quitting smoking). However, if a Rebel is given a choice or when there are no expectations, they can work hard, follow through, and thrive. Rebels are complex creatures, while some thrive in work environments with little supervision (like in a creative profession, freelance, or self-employment), others enjoy the strict rigidity and purpose of serving in the military or clergy.
Rebel Strengths: authentic, self-determined, some tend to be creative
Rebel Weaknesses: can be difficult personalities, possess a tendency to self-sabotage, easily frustrate themselves
A little deeper…
So, Dear Reader, are you an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or a Rebel? Each of these four tendencies has variation within the tendency that aligns with two other tendencies. For example, an Upholder can lean towards Questioner or Obliger, because Upholders share a Questioner’s commitment to inner expectations and an Obliger’s commitment to outer expectations. These tendency variations include:
- Upholder – When conflicted between following through on expectations, the Upholder with a Questioner tip will follow through on inner expectations. The Upholder with an Obliger tip will more readily meet external commitments to internal ones.
- Questioner – Questioners can tip towards Upholders (who also value inner expectations) and Rebels (who also are disinclined to accept outer expectations). The Questioner/ Upholder is more likely to follow through on external expectations, while the Questioner/ Rebel may find it harder to follow rules set by others.
- Obliger – Obligers can tip towards Upholders (who also value outer expectations) or Rebels (who are disinclined to meet outer expectations). The Upholder/ Obliger tends to have a greater understanding of their own desires and a greater ability to say ‘no’ to outer expectations. The Obliger/ Rebel finds it hard to say no to external pressure and is more likely to feel resentful/ burned out from external demands.
- Rebel – Rebels can tip towards Questioner (who value inner expectations) and Obligers (who value outer expectations). The Rebel/ Questioner is more focused on fulfilling their own desires rather than on rebelling against the system. However, the Rebel/ Obliger is more focused on being resistant to external pressure.
Learning about your tendency is important to harness your strengths. Once you know how you respond to expectations, you are better able to work towards your goals and find your own happiness. Additionally, knowing how tendencies outside of your own respond to expectations can help you work with all people more effectively.
If you found the above to be interesting, you’re in luck, because this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are four types of people in this world, Dear Reader, and all of them are beautiful in their own way. To encourage you to read the book, I will ask you to do so in the language of the four tendencies:
- Upholders, it is highly important that you read this book.
- Questioners, this book is a valuable piece of literature that will help you understand human nature, if you’re interested in improving your relationships with others or reaching your own goals, it’s probably worth a read.
- Obligers, we invite you to read this book and join us for the discussion later. We hope that we can count on you to follow through on this!
- Rebels, this book is filled with a lot of interesting information about how people work and how to succeed. You don’t have to read this book, but if you don’t, you’ll never understand what the other three types are talking about and you will be missing out on a good conversation. You’re probably not going to like this book anyway. I’m just going to leave it on the table… don’t touch it. 😉