Summary of The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

BookSummaryClub Blog Summary of The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

Every day we are faced with expectations. These are the expectations that not only imposed by others but the ones we have of ourselves as well. We refer to these as outer expectations and inner expectations respectively. But are you conscious of how you react to them? The truth is that the way that everybody responds to expectations falls into one of four tendencies. 

You may think that four may be too few but it is true. Understanding these four tendencies can not only give us a better understanding of ourselves but also others. In addition, awareness of our reactions can potentially help boost our productivity and enable us to fulfil our potential. 

In this book summary readers will discover:

  • Upholders
  • Questioners
  • Obligers
  • Rebels
  • Getting your tendency to work for you

Key lesson one: Upholders

The first tendency is used to describe those people who meet both their inner and outer expectations. These are called the Upholders.

The fact that Upholders meet all expectations often means that they are a productive and reliable lot. They also seem quite balanced since they meet both inner and outer expectations which means that they make time for work and themselves. Upholders tend to achieve this by being extremely proficient with schedules and to-do lists. In addition, they know what is expected from them at all times. As is expected with those characteristics, upholders are rule followers and are satisfied living a disciplined and structured life.

As much as this tendency seems like the ideal category, it also has its cons. People who are upholders sometimes follow rules blindly without questioning them. They also are hesitant to acknowledge changes and are also those who are most likely to ‘snitch’ on their coworkers. Upholders also experience something called tightening. We all know what it’s like when we start something new, like going to the gym. You start off hard and over time you find yourself easing off. In contrast, Upholders don’t ease off – they tighten up on their routine and it becomes stronger and more reinforced. 

In order to manage someone who is a clear upholder, ensure that you provide them with instructions that are absolutely clear. They work best when they know exactly what is expected of them and you don’t need to micromanage them as a result of this. The only time that you would need to check in with them is if there has been a change in routine or if it looks like their work is piling up. Upholders often have difficulty delegating tasks to others as they feel like their work is their sole responsibility. 

Overall, upholders make great managers and bosses but can struggle with a team that does not have the same tendency as them to achieve expectations. They find it difficult to understand and even tend to get frustrated with others. Upholders also struggle with making mistakes. They take it as a personal blow as it means they have done something wrong. Therefore, handling someone who is an upholder takes a fair bit of understanding and patience.

Key lesson two: Questioners

The second tendency describes those people who meet inner expectations but question any outer expectations put to them. They are called Questioners. 

Questioners are somewhat annoying to deal with. This is mostly because they tend to question everything posed to them but don’t like to be questioned themselves! Therefore, handling a questioner takes some extra considerations. The way you phrase your questions to them should be adapted to not make them feel insulted. This may seem like a bit of work but it will help you have a better relationship with a questioner. A simple rephrasing of a question would make them feel as if they are sharing their knowledge with you. And, if you need them to do something, the best strategy is to give them the reason upfront when assigning them a task. 

If you are a questioner yourself, you have the ability to excel in many jobs but those that require quick decisions may not be a suitable fit. Jobs best suited to questioners are those that involve research or auditing as it is compatible with their inquisitive nature. However, jobs that require quick decision making often leave questioners in a state of analysis paralysis.

Key lesson three: Obligers

The third tendency describes those who meet outer expectations but have difficulty with their inner expectations. These are the Obligers.

We all know an obliger, that is if we aren’t one ourselves. An obliger tends to put everyone else ahead of themselves. This makes them those people who never say no to work and have difficulty carving out time for themselves. Obligers, therefore, struggle with things like going to the gym, learning something new or anything else that needs self-motivation. As you can imagine, obligers make up the majority of the four tendencies and because they are so good at meeting the expectations of others, they are dependable workers. 

If you have identified yourself as an obliger and wish to make some changes in order to obtain a healthier, balanced lifestyle, you can try to change your inner expectations to outer expectations. Therefore, by assigning your expectations externally, there is accountability involved. For example, you could get a trainer who will expect you to show up at the gym and you will feel guilty if you do not show up and you will be wasting the money you paid for the service. 

This may be hard to do, especially if the emotions you experience are guilt, shame and selfishness which can often make you feel even worse for making time for yourself. In addition, if obligers and faced with upholders who think of them as lazy for not going to the gym when they can easily; it lessens the obliger’s self-esteem. When situations like this become too much, obligers experience something called obliger rebellion. This happens when they reach a point where they feel they are being taken for granted or that they are being shamed by being called lazy. It leads to them snapping and possibly quitting their job or leaving a relationship. Another coping mechanism obligers employ is by inflicting small acts of defiances. However, this is a dangerous act as it may end up being self-sabotage as it can get them in trouble at work. 

Therefore, knowing that you are an obliger and about the other tendencies can be extremely beneficial. Not only will obligers be able to better understand the way they are, but they will also realise that they are not alone or that is their personal problem. Obligers are not lazy, nor are they weak or immature for requesting accountability from others. They just have to be understood especially since they make up the bulk of our workforce.

Key lesson four: Rebels

The fourth and final tendency is the Rebels. These are those people who actively rebel against both inner and outer expectations.

Rebels like to be unique and value their individuality above all other things. Expectations are just not something that they can appreciate. This tendency is the smallest of the four and people who fall into this group love to defy assumptions and prove others wrong. They may seem like a troublesome group but rebels can actually be good workers – you just have to know how to get them there. Rebels need to feel like the choice is theirs and they have chosen to do the work. Therefore, direct orders don’t work. 

Rebels have to be given all the information and the possible outcomes. Then they have to be left to decide how to approach the task on their own. Chances are, this will get the work done and produce the desired outcome. Even if you have to meet with them, ask them to schedule the meeting. This is the best way to work with rebels. 

Rebels also battle with taking care of themselves like obligers. However, unlike obligers who feel like they don’t have time for themselves, rebels don’t like to conform even if it is with themselves. Since individuality is so important to rebels, it is best for them to try to align their goals with their unique identity. Some rebels get around this by role-playing. They pretend to take on the role of what is needed to achieve the task they are faced with. To meet inner expectations, rebels can be guaranteed to meet them if they are challenged to do so. For example, if someone had to say I bet you can’t follow a healthy diet – rebels would love to prove this person wrong. 

Key lesson five: Getting your tendency to work for you

Understanding the four tendencies is the first step to understanding how you work. More importantly, it also gives you a better understanding of others. However, this does not mean that you should believe that a certain person is not right for their job because of their tendency. Any of these tendencies can be great at their jobs or be great leaders. It is all about understanding your strengths and weaknesses. 

No tendency is better or worse than the other. They just approach work differently and react to situations differently. Understanding which group you fall into can help you be successful no matter your vocation. It will also help you understand your partner better in your personal relationships. 

The key takeaway from The Four Tendencies is:

Everyone falls into one of four tendencies when it comes to dealing with expectations. Understanding Upholders, Questioners, Obligers and Rebels will greatly help you in understanding how to best handle each group. In addition, knowing which group you fall into can help you in understanding why you feel the way you do in certain situations. It’s all about strengths, weaknesses and how to reach your full potential.

How can I implement the lessons learned in The Four Tendencies:

Take the time to figure out which tendency your coworkers fall into. In doing so, you will be able to judge what would be the best way to approach them. All tendencies like to have all the information of what is expected from them, it’s just a matter of knowing how to pose the question. Knowledge is power!

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