I started using Gretchen Rubin’s framework on the four tendencies a couple of months back, first with my team members. It has been transformative for my 1:1s, taking a lot of stress out of the interactions. Knowing what motivates them (and me) has brought clarity: clarity that I’ve channelled into more effective communication – and patience.
This is how I apply it in my day-to-day (and why I tend to ask everyone around me to take the quiz).
What motivates you to get up in the morning?
Is it the pressure to get to work on time? Is it your New Year’s Resolution to meditate before everybody else gets up? Is it the sunshine leaking through the window, making you want to get up and enjoy the day? That’s the basic principle of the four tendency framework: what makes you take action.
Motivation comes in two types: outer expectations (e.g. a deadline, the dog threatening to pee on your carpet) and inner expectations (the above mentioned New Year’s Resolution). Most people respond easier to one or the other type. Some respond to both, and some to none. Knowing which type you are, helps to hack your own life. Knowing the type of those around you helps you to support them in their goals.
Do you need accountability or do you need to understand first?
Before diving into the four tendencies, let me reiterate this: this is not about judgement. The framework helps to answer the question: how can I best frame a challenge/expectation so this specific person can follow through. The specific person could be you, or your coworker, or your spouse. Which of these resonates most with you:
Upholders: What’s on the to-do list today? They respond easily to both outer and inner expectations. Whether you tell them oa they’ve decided themselves: they’ll get it done. They thrive on fulfillment. [video introduction | podcast episode]
Questioners: What needs to get done today? They rely on their internal motivation and priorize based on what makes sense to them. They’ll do what you ask them if, and only if they accept the reasoning behind the decision. They need to turn external expectations into internal motivation. [video introduction | podcast episode]
Obligers: What do I have to do today? They readily meet outer expectations, but have trouble following through on their personal goals. They’d always sacrifice their evening run to help you out with baking that birthday cake. They thrive on external accountability. [video introduction | podcast episode]
Rebels: What do I want to do today? They want to do what they want at all times and resist if someone tells them to do something – they might actually do the opposite. The thrive on engaging how the here and now feels to them. [video introduction | podcast episode]
How to use this framework in real life
Initially, I started to first use the Four Tendencies framework only for myself (I am a Questioner). Then I realized, it could be really helpful working with my team. I suddenly understood, why some things worked with some people and completely failed with others. Until that moment, I was tempted to see the frequent questions of a team member as a challenge to my authority. Now I understood they just needed more information to get on board with the changes. I understood that accountability is crucial to some, but not required for others. As a result, I adjusted my communication – not only at work.
Keep in mind that I am a Questioner myself – so my biggest challenge is working with other Questioners. It’s a big irony that Questioners do not enjoy being questioned themselves (because hey, obviously I have solid reasons for what I do).
How to enjoy interacting with a Upholders
They are great work colleagues. Performance is not an issue. They deliver, they get the job done, and if they can improve the process while at it, they’ll do so. They can get quite upset if others don’t follow the rules though, and they get confused about why others might have a hard time to follow through.
If someone in your life is an upholder, cut them some slack for taking life so serious. You might even add some “expectations to have fun on the weekend” to break their routine a bit (though in this case, be prepared for regular perfectly organized road trips that align with their personal goal to get fitter).
How to enjoy interacting with a Questioner
I am a Questioner myself, and I go to great lengths of research before I decide on doing something. Once I have decided though, I can get a bit unnerved if you start questioning me on why this makes sense. Knowing this has made me more patient with fellow Questioners, asking them for where to get knowledge instead of questioning their decisions directly.
If you live or work with a Questioner, make sure to explain the exact reasoning behind those decisions, appealing to their own rational thought process and inner motivation. If you manage to explain the why, it’s easier for us to see the sense in your decision and decide this is actually the right thing to do. Arbitrary requests won’t work.
How to enjoy interacting with an Obliger
Obligers are by far the most common tendency. They are great to work and live with, because they will always put your requests first – even at the expense of their own health and happiness. For Obligers it’s vital to add external accountability to all their plan: be it through finding a running buddy or signing up for language classes with a teacher. Make sure you don’t only count on them when you need help, but that you honor their needs of downtime as well.
How to enjoy interacting with a Rebel
Rebels tend to frustrate others and themselves with their inability to follow the rules and honor any kind of expectations. Very often, they’ll actually go out of their way to do the very opposite of what they are supposed to do, just because. Instead of constantly fighting with your favourite Rebel, learn to make plans without them – while keeping the option open for them to join. At work, make sure to include them into projects that require thinking outside the box and to get their feedback on changes before they are introduced.
Want to know more? If this sounds like a framework that could be helpful for your team, get the book here: The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too)