Habits Productivity Studying

How to Use the Four Tendencies to Improve Your Productivity

By Jon Rumens on 07 May 2018

Why Your Response to Expectations Can Help or Harm Your Productivity

Have you ever wondered why you respond to a request in the way you do? Do you ever question why someone won’t fulfill your request? Have you been told you ask too many questions, or wonder how others can convince someone to do something but you can’t?

Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework is a breakthrough in understanding human behavior because it helps to answer questions just like these. Understanding how people respond to expectations has a lot to do with how quickly a task is accomplished – if at all.

If you’re on a quest to improve the way you work, understanding how you tend to respond to your own expectations and to the expectations of those around you is a critical first step.

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The Four Tendencies: A Brief Overview

Gretchen Rubin is the creator and researcher behind the Four Tendencies framework. Having relinquished her career practicing law to become a full-time author and human behavior explorer, Rubin discovered the Four Tendencies through asking a simple question: “How do people respond to expectations?”

After studying the material collected for her book Better Than Before, Rubin recognized a “balanced, consistent, encompassing, and predictive” system that categorizes people based on others’ expectations of them.

“It took me months of rumination to make sense of everything I’d observed, and to fit it into a system that accounted for everything,“ recalls Rubin. I’ll never forget the thrill I felt when everything at last fell into place.”

Knowing the answer isn’t the end result, though. On her website, Rubin explains that recognizing the answer to this question can be helpful in gaining cooperation from others, being persuasive, and – as you may have guessed – enabling yourself and your team to become more effective.

Rubin refers to her framework as a “Sorting Hat for Muggles,” referring to a similar, fictitious categorization from the Harry Potter book series. Though each individual may share characteristics of more than one Tendency, there will always be a dominant mannerism each person defaults to.

And it’s the differences, however minor they seem, that are the most important to recognize when discovering your unique Tendency and how to use it to your advantage.

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The Basic Framework of the Four Tendencies

Rubin’s months-long research and rumination led her to discover that every person fit into one of four Tendencies: the Obliger, the Rebel, the Questioner, and the Upholder. The Tendencies are referred to as such because they describe the way people tend to respond to expectations placed on them by others – or by themselves.

“If we don’t know our Tendency — or someone else’s Tendency — we may pursue strategies that are ineffective, or worse, counterproductive,” says Rubin.

The Tendencies aren’t meant to describe the way a person always responds, but rather their most common go-to mode. Thus, Rubin reiterates that those who discover their Tendency should not pigeonhole themselves into their specific profile, but learn how to use it to their advantage.

To reveal a person’s core Tendency, Rubin developed a quiz that hones in on how a person behaves when presented with an expectation. The types of expectations she explores are lumped into two categories: outer expectations and inner expectations.

Outer expectations include deadlines, work-related demands, or a spouse asking you to complete a chore. Inner expectations are those we place on ourselves, such as goal-setting, maintaining a New Year’s resolution, keeping up with your blog, or graduating.

“…Part of what made the quiz tricky was that I had to figure out questions that would really pinpoint the key differences among the Tendencies,” explains Rubin.

Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.”

Let’s learn a little more about the four Tendencies Rubin discovered:

The Obliger

When examining the response to inner and outer expectations, the Obliger excels at meeting outer expectations but will resist inner expectations.

In simpler terms, this Tendency is more of a “people pleaser” that wants to meet others’ expectations and is willing to sacrifice their own ambitions.

If you’ve ever wondered why other people are able to rely on you but you aren’t able to meet your own goals, you might be an Obliger.

In an interview, Rubin revealed that Obligers are the most challenging of the four Tendencies – and it’s also the largest. Over 65% of Obligers reported frustration because they couldn’t prioritize their own wants and needs. When pushed to their limits, Obligers will often walk out on jobs or marriages, end friendships, or start becoming less reliable (e.g. showing up late).

The Questioner

The Questioner Tendency is the exact opposite of the Obliger. Questioners do well achieving their own expectations but often fail to live up to those of others.

A Questioner is more likely to adhere to a New Year’s resolution or complete personal projects. They’re less likely to meet strict deadlines or settle on matters when their questions remain unanswered. They need to feel satisfied with whatever outcome occurs.

The Rebel

Concerning inner and outer expectations, the Rebel resists them both.

If you ask a Rebel to do something, regardless of the situation, they will most likely resist (or perhaps will only oblige in order to remain employed). They don’t usually do favors. They also don’t always have a valid reason for refusing your request. It’s simply their nature.

Rebels prefer self-determination and authenticity. They like the sense of control and power over others, and they receive that gratification when they’re able to refuse a request. They don’t usually regard the reasoning behind the rules, but prefer to create their own – even when the outcome is less than desirable. It’s a “My way or the highway” mentality.

The Upholder

The fourth Tendency is the one Rubin herself identifies with – the Upholder. Upholders embrace both outer and inner expectations. They don’t want to fail others, but they don’t believe in failing themselves, either.

Because Upholders feel the need to satisfy everyone (including themselves), they tend to be better at forming good habits that will help them achieve others’ expectations while still finding the time and strength to meet their own goals.

Which Tendency Do You Identify With?

At first glance, it may seem obvious which Tendency you most identify with. Rubin herself admits that these four Tendencies are largely self-explanatory. They overlap each other in many ways, especially when considering these are just “tendencies” and not a strict label that each person adheres to 100% of the time.

The only way to know for sure is to take the quiz for yourself. You can do so free here.

A few things to know prior to taking the quiz:

The questions asked during the quiz require you to imagine yourself in various scenarios and select how you would most likely respond.

Understand that whatever the result, it does not mean that it’s your only way of being. The Tendencies do overlap, and you likely share characteristics of more than one Tendency.

The questions were specifically designed to break through that overlap to determine your true Tendency.

At the end of the quiz, you’ll get more in-depth information into your specific Tendency. The best thing you can do with this new information is to start putting it to work in your favor.

Click here to discover which of the four tendencies best reflects your preferences.

How Your Tendency Affects Your Ability to Work

Once you know if you’re an Obliger, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Upholder, it’s time to learn how it affects your work ethic, and how you can start forming the right habits to improve it:

The Obliger

As someone who always puts others’ expectations in front of their own, the Obliger is often the first person co-workers or bosses turn to when they need a favor. Managers may have higher expectations of Obligers because they know Obligers will do whatever it takes to achieve them. Obligers may often be the leader of the group in school projects or work teams because others can depend on their reliability.

Being an Obliger can have both positive and negative effects on your productivity.

On the plus side, it means you’re unwilling to miss deadlines, which encourages you to maintain a productive schedule. You feel that not meeting the expectations placed on you is a symbol of failure, and you would do anything to avoid that designation.

On the downside, being an Obliger means you’re prioritizing other people’s expectations ahead of your own. You may not be allowing yourself enough time to create your own projects, pursue your own passions, or develop new interests. You may find it hard to turn down extra assignments from your boss, or say no to co-workers who ask for help. As a Mother Hen, you feel it is your duty to satisfy others first, and nourish yourself with whatever is left over. So if you’re trying to write a novel, maintain a blog, create a piece of art for your home, or fix that leaky faucet once and for all, there’s a reason why you just can’t seem to get it done: other people’s expectations are more important to you than your own.

The Questioner

If you identify as a Questioner, you probably have no trouble keeping pace with your own goals. But you might not be a favorite employee at work. Missing deadlines or turning down opportunities that don’t interest you are fairly common in your life.

But it’s not that you don’t understand the importance of these things. It’s that you need to know what’s in it for you, and why things are the way they are in order for you to get on board.

You have a natural tendency to question the validity of deadlines, rules, and general information. You don’t like to wait in line because you don’t understand why you have to wait. Rather, you think that something could be done to avoid wasting time in line. Rubin once said to a Questioner: “Maybe you aren’t meeting your deadlines because you aren’t convinced they are really true.”

Questioners become so wrapped up in trying to see logic and reason in a project or task that they spend more time mulling it over than actually working on it. They need to see purpose. They want to know how they will benefit in the end. They want to view the problem from every possible angle.

Granted, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be thorough. But being as thorough as a Questioner could cost more time than the problem is worth.

The Rebel

Rubin mentions that Rebels are the smallest group of the four tendencies.

Rebels tend to resist inner and outer expectations. They like to find their own way to do things. They want to do things on their own schedule.

This rebellion can cause problems when trying to improve productivity.

Rebels will spend more time thinking about how they can change a system instead of abiding by the rules. They’re more concerned with doing things their own way instead of taking the easy way. If someone asks them to do something, they will decline or delay any action, even if they had been planning to do it before they were asked.

The Upholder

Upholders love to embrace the expectations of everyone, including themselves. They’re the type of person to say Yes to just about any new opportunity. If something seems too difficult for them, they’re eager to learn what’s necessary in order to achieve it.

Upholders don’t want to let anyone down, including themselves. They will stay up late, skip lunches, or come in early in order to complete any requirements.

But even Upholders need a break every now and then. Because Upholders tend to take on as much as possible when expectations require it, they may end up with more than they can feasibly handle – without realizing it. They may struggle to prioritize, to say no when they have too much on their plate, or to give adequate attention to each of their many projects.

What to Do Next?

Rubin has mentioned in several interviews and published pieces that knowing your own Tendency and the Tendencies of others can be helpful in a variety of situations. She has heard personal success stories from people who have lost weight, from parents who prevented their child from dropping out of school, from doctors persuading patients to take their medication as prescribed, and from employees who want to work better as a team.

You can use your Tendency to help develop habits that work well for you. For example, if your goal is to visit the gym more often, an Obliger might want to rope in a workout buddy – because they wouldn’t want to let someone down by canceling a workout.

It can be helpful to understand someone else’s Tendency and know how it affects you. If you want them to do something, such as helping on a project at work or meeting a specific deadline, you’ll know the best way to get them to respond.

Take the first step by discovering your own unique tendency. Once you know what makes you tick, you’re better positioned to influence yourself and others around you.

Then, download our free guide on how to use your Tendency to boost your productivity.

Download here

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