Are you curious about your tendency? In this The Four Tendencies book review, we will dive into what your tendency is and how you can best interact with other tendencies.
Personally, I always love self-help books, especially looks like the Four Hour Work Week and Rich Dad Poor Dad. These books always teach you so much. The full title of the book is The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too). Wow, that’s a mouthful.
The Four Tendencies is focused on how you react to outer and inner expectations. There are four categories into which people are divided, you can do The Four Tendencies Quiz to see which tendency you have:
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The Four Tendencies Specified
Let’s dive into the specific tendencies.
People react to inner and outer expectations in four ways:
- Upholders – Meets outer and inner expectations. Will follow through at all times, sticks to the rules at all times, will keep to their schedule even if inconvenient for others.
- Questioners – Meets inner expectations and resists outer expectations. Will get things done once they know why or they see the value in it. Stick to their own plans because they know the reason/value. Mostly need an explanation (why?), especially with arbitrary rules.
- Obligers – Meets outer expectations but has a problem meeting inner expectations. Do not have a problem with external deadlines and will never keep a commitment they make with themselves like a New Year’s resolution without external support.
- Rebels – Resists inner and outer expectations. They want their freedom of choice, no one can force them to do anything – even they cannot.
Or, in short:
- Upholders: “Discipline is my freedom”
- Questioners: “I’ll comply if you convince me why”
- Obligers: “You can count on me, and I’m counting on you to count on me”
- Rebels: “You can’t make me, and neither can I”
To know what your tendency is, go to Gretchen Rubin’s website and do the Four Tendencies Quiz. The general public is 40% obligers, 24% Questioners, 19% Upholders, and 17% rebels.
What I like about the model is that it’s easy to understand and actionable. When you understand your tendency and the tendencies of the people around you, this can really help your relationship and make being in agreement much easier.
The model helps you to:
- Understand yourself better – motivating in a way that suits you. For example, I’m a Questioner and I will do things that align with my values or make sense to me. It’s annoying at times, but I will force myself to do anything.
- Understand others better – motivating others in a way that suits them. For example, my partner is an obliger, he will do things because of external expectations. He will not stick to things because he wants to, but he will express them to me and I will keep him to it. When I expect it of him, it is easier for him to do it.
- Understand the motivation behind the action – instead of taking action on it, it is important to understand why other people do things. For example, you can understand the three other types better and avoid conflict when possible.
Let’s dive into the different tendencies shortly, after I’ll discuss what I learned from it and how I apply it in my life currently!
Upholders meet inner and outer expectations. They will follow through with schedules, love routine, and are highly disciplined. It is very hard for them to break rules and they will stick with them whenever they can.
The upside of being an Upholder is that they love schedules and planning, meaning they are highly productive. Besides that, they are good at guarding their boundaries. They want to meet their inner expectations (go to bed at 11 pm) just as bad as the outer expectations (meet the deadline). This means they take enough time for themselves.
In addition to that, they are great at forming habits and will follow through with discipline. They can motivate themselves easily to do things.
Upholders are extremely good entrepreneurs or freelancers because they can motivate themselves and follow through without needing that outer accountability to keep going.
The downside of being an Upholder is that they can be experienced as rigid by other tendencies. They will stick to their plans, also when this may be to inconvenience to others.
An example that Gretchen Rubins (who is an Upholder) tells in the ChooseFI podcast, is that whenever she is flying on the West Coast she stays on East Coast time. She sleeps with her sister and she eats at 4:30 pm and goes to bed at 8 pm – just to stick to her schedule.
When You Are An Upholder
Upholders are generally very satisfied with themselves because they stick to whatever they set their mind to and always follow through. They explain their ways and systems of doing things and may get frustrated when that doesn’t stick with the other tendencies.
If you’re an Upholder and you find yourself frustrated with obligers or rebels for not following through with what they say, try to be understanding by learning how the other tendencies work. You can create accountability for an obliger or let the rebel make their own decisions.
Other issues can be that you’re working too much since your to-do list is neverending and you find it hard to stop. Make smaller to-do lists that you’re keeping. What is an often mentioned method, is making 3 important to-dos and keeping to that.
When You Are Dealing With An Upholder
Upholders will meet deadlines, you can let them work independently, and they will take initiative.
If you want an Upholder to do something, it is very simple: just ask. They will be very upfront whether or not this fits in their schedule. If it’s a yes, consider it done. If it’s a no, you can ask again later.
They may become angry or disappointed in themselves when they have made a mistake. Let them know they have done the best they could.
Know Upholders may have trouble letting delegating and managing others since they think if they want it to be done right they should do it themselves.
Questioners meet inner expectations and resist outer expectations. When an outer expectation is put on them, they will make it an inner expectation when it makes sense to them and it complies with their values. Questioners will resist anything that is ineffective, arbitrary, or ill-reasoned.
“Questioners have the self-direction of Upholders, the reliability of Obligers, and the authenticity of Rebels.” — Gretchen Rubin
Fun facts about Questioners: they are data-driven, which makes them love spreadsheets and eliminate irrational processes. Besides that, they hate arbitrary things like waiting in line and starting resolutions on January first.
The upside of being a Questioner is that you are logical and data-driven, making Questioners perfectly capable of doing research. They love weighing options and making the best decision based on the available data.
The constant questioning makes them always wanting to improve processes and eliminate inefficiencies. They are rejecting explanations like “this is how we’ve always done it”.
Questioners have no problem going against authority when they are not providing any justification. They go with their own values and information they currently have and is willing to play devil’s advocate.
Whenever a Questioner internalizes external expectations, consider it done. They are very reliable that they will follow through with what makes sense to them.
The downside of being a Questioner is that they’re always asking questions, often annoying the other tendencies.
A Questioner wants to know everything before making a decision, which can lead to analysis-paralysis. Questioners find it hard to make decisions based on imperfect information and have the urge to know more about any given situation.
When Questioners have made a conclusion, they trust in their opinion over anyone else’s. This means that they don’t always comply with social rules or expectations that they see as unreasonable or suboptimal, like traffic regulations. Optionally they alter the expectations in a way that makes the most sense to them. For example, they will follow prescriptions at specified times only when explained why that is necessary.
When You Are A Questioner
Questioners are pretty happy with themselves, as they are collecting data and making their decisions based on logic. They can get frustrated with people that are making (seemingly) illogical decisions.
If you’re a Questioner, you’re logical and data-driven, making it frustrating when other people are acting irrationally. It is up to you to accept that only 24% of the people are like you, learn about the other tendencies to understand them better and prevent future frustration.
Another issue can be analysis-paralysis, where you feel like you need to have ALL the information before you can make a decision. You can do one of two things: you can either find two or three websites that you trust and get your information there, or you can give yourself a couple of hours to collect information and give yourself a hard deadline.
Questioners make people frustrated with all their questions, so you may want to watch the formulation of your questions so no one is feeling like they have to explain themselves. Plus, the entire team can benefit from your questions if you keep them down to a reasonable about (for them, not for you).
When You Are Dealing With A Questioner
Questioners will meet any expectation that is justified and in line with their values. If they accept an assignment or task, consider it done. They may even improve the process for you if they see any inefficiencies or illogical steps along the way.
If you want a Questioner to do something, make sure to tell them why. Sometimes they are seeing the importance of the task, sometimes they have already read your email and disregarded it as irrelevant.
They make sure that people are not accepting any expectations that are unreasonable or inefficient. This can help any Obligers or Upholders in the process.
Questioners do ask a lot of questions. It’s this way with everyone, don’t take it personally. Answer them or direct them to a source that can answer it.
One ironic thing to remember: a lot of Questioners don’t want to be questioned. They know they have done the research and they have made their decision on all available information. If your question is important, ask the Questioner to share their train of thought on how they arrived at their conclusion – they will happily tell you everything.
At times a Questioner can ignore (medical) advice because they did research themselves and trust themselves more. One famous Questioner is Steve Jobs, who rejected the chemotherapy and surgery proposed by his doctors when diagnosed with cancer. He tried acupuncture and herbs as a cure when that didn’t work he agreed to chemo and surgery. Prevent this by proposing trying things as an experiment and drawing their own conclusions based on that.
Obligers meet outer accountability and struggle to meet inner expectations. If they learn about the way to create outer accountability to meet inner expectations, this will serve them greatly. This is the largest tendency, with 41% of the population.
The upside of Obligers is that they are easy to get along with the other tendencies. They are keeping peace in the group and are preferring harmony in any situation.
Besides that, they are very reliable and have a feeling of responsibility. Because they experience external pressure, they will meet deadlines and are good team players.
The downside of Obligers is that they get frustrated when they don’t meet their resolutions or goals. They do things for others and struggle to do things for themselves, making it hard to care for themselves.
Another issue is that they find it hard to say no, even when it’s needed in the situation to prevent them from getting overwhelmed. This means they are sensitive to burnout and overwork.
Reminder: the Obliger has NO issues of motivation, people-please, or anything like that. It is ONLY an issue of external accountability. Once they create the external accountability they will reach their goals.
What is Obliger-Rebellion?
Obligers are very aware of their patterns of meeting outer expectations. This makes them feel taken for granted, gives them a feeling that things are unfair, and expectations are unrealistic. Over time this leads to a feeling that people are taking advantage of them.
All of a sudden they can fall into Obliger-Rebellion, where they refuse to meet external expectations and will take dramatic decisions without warning. It is a form of self-protection when the Obliger is in a situation that is not suiting them and they don’t know how to get out.
Obliger-Rebellion is a mechanism to protect themselves and will usually go back to their regular Obliger tendency over time. BUT those dramatic decisions they took stay that way.
Preventing Obliger-Rebellion is simple, not easy. Obligers have to stand up for themselves and counter these unrealistic expectations, no one will do it for them.
When You Are An Obliger
If you’re an Obliger, don’t expect from yourself that you will stick to your internal goal. Make it easy for yourself and create outer accountability. For example, you want to work out three times per week. Meet a friend to work out, tell your partner you will work out and to keep you to it, or have a coach that is checking in on you. Other tools that may work are late fees, deadlines, and monitoring. Every Obliger differs in what makes them feel accountable, so see what works for you.
It is difficult for Obligers to do something for themselves, so instead of insisting you do it for yourself think about the benefit to other people if you’re doing it. For example, if I take care of myself I am a better partner and friend.
Obligers make great bosses and team players. They help people when needed, follow through with appointments, and they can adapt to new situations quickly.
If you’re having trouble saying no as an Obliger, think about why you’re saying no that that request and what you’re saying yes to if you’re turning down the request. For example, I’m sorry but I can’t take on that extra project, the extra hours will make it unable for me to finish my most important tasks.
It is important that Obligers are speaking up for themselves, because no one else will do it. If you have the feeling someone is taking advantage of you, say it immediately and don’t fall into Obliger-Rebellion.
When You Are Dealing With An Obliger
Obligers are great to have in teams or relationships, they are always meeting deadlines and will bring people together in a team.
It is easy to work with an Obliger, ask them when you want something done and they’ll do it. Be aware: DON’T take advantage of them and treat them like everyone else, this may trigger Obliger-Rebellion.
Help the Obliger by making sure you are treating them fairly, as well as the rest of the team is treating them fairly. This is for the benefit of everyone. For example, show them that they need to finish the important things first by telling them how to prioritize. Or take work away from people that you see are working too hard, to prevent burnout.
When you see an Obliger not thinking about themselves and saying yes too many times, help them to create outer accountability that will benefit them in the long term. Try to help them see that when they’re helping themselves they are also helping others.
Rebels resist outer and inner expectations. They want to do what they want when they want it. They cannot give themselves deadlines or want to give others deadlines.
The upside of Rebels is that they don’t experience pressure as much as the other tendencies do. This results in them saying what they think and following their own path, no matter what others think.
These are the people that want to prove others wrong, where “you can’t do it” is seen as a challenge.
Rebels often use their Rebel tendency to support values and a purpose that they believe in. They want to live their lives according to their values and they love a challenge when they have the freedom to decide how to do it.
Besides that, they are extremely good in thinking outside the box and doing whatever they want. They don’t care what others think.
The downside of Rebels is that they don’t want to comply with outer expectations, the more you pressure them the less likely they are to do it. This may be experienced as impolite or rude by others, but most likely they don’t care about their reputation.
They have trouble doing things that need to be done every single time, in the same way.
The Rebel tendency is not freedom, they can do things they don’t want to just because others want them to.
When You Are A Rebel
If you’re a Rebel, it’s important to understand what your values are. Rebels often decide to (not) do something based on their values. For example, you value health, being healthy, and feeling fit. You will go to the gym 3x per week because you want to stay healthy and you know it makes you feel good.
Even if they want to do something, when someone asks it of them they will rather not do it. BUT, as a Rebel, remember: I am free to do something, regardless if someone else wants me to do it yes/no. If you’re not doing something because someone asks you to, the freedom is still not there.
As a Rebel, you can struggle with a to-do list or doing something that is expected. Make it a choice, by reframing it as your own decision to do that specific task. You would do it either way.
When You Are Dealing With A Rebel
Rebels respond the best if it’s information, consequence, choice.
Give Rebels the information to make a decision, the consequence of their possible decision, and allow them to make the decision themselves. Don’t check on their decision and let it really be their choice, otherwise, it won’t work in the future.
It is important that you let Rebels suffer the consequences so that they can make a decision aligned with their values the next time. This is how they learn and perfect their decision-making process.
If a Rebel is crossing your boundaries, tell them something that is in line with their values. For example, when a Rebel keeps missing deadlines but (s)he wants to be seen as a healthy eater. Tell them: “Why do you keep eating fried food for lunch? You’re getting unhealthy lately”.
Another way to motivate a Rebel is to challenge them. Things like “I don’t think you can run 10K” or “It’s hard to keep to the deadlines for most people, I can imagine you’re having a hard time too”. This may give them a kick in the behind and show themselves that they can do this.
What I’ve Learned From The Four Tendencies
I like to know the tendencies of the people around me, so I know how to most efficiently deal with people and get a good collaboration going.
I understand my Upholder friends, with whom I have many discussions about rules and regulations. They won’t cross the streets when we’re walking and there is not one single car to be found, because the light hadn’t switch to walk. I always had a hard time understanding this, now I understand why.
I have one Upholder friend with whom I would always bike to school when we were younger. She was so upset when I was late, I never had any idea why. Now I understand that for her this was an appointment we had and had to be kept. She is also very tight about rules, loves lists, and plans everything out in advance.
My family is mostly an Obliger, and a couple of my good friends as well. They are fun to hang out with, easy to talk to, and they always think about how some message they deliver will make me feel.
I was always frustrated when my Obliger friends talk about a goal they want to achieve or a business they want to start, but they have never done it. Now I understand it is because of their lack of external accountability, not because they don’t want to.
I myself am a Questioner. I want to hear why for everything and I love to give very thorough explanations.
As I work in financial consulting, I have a lot of Questioner colleagues. When we are going to the bottom of things, I often have to stop them (and myself) when we have sufficient information. You can go on and collect more information, but as long as it doesn’t add to the project; who cares?
Besides that, I also have Rebel friends. They are spontaneous, like to do things last-minute, and don’t like to commit. I have friends who will have plans for their weekend, cancel them all, and text if I want to do something tonight.
If I want to make an arrangement with a Rebel, I give them the decision power. I tell them: “Do you want to meet somewhere this week?” and they choose the time of the week that suits them best. Plus I let them propose what to do.
All In All
This book was an interesting read, I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about their personality and how they respond to inner and outer expectations.
Personally I was thinking “I don’t fit in any of these categories, how can you put all people into four categories?” and then I read “If you think you don’t fit into a category, you are probably a Questioner”. Lol, okay you got me there.
So yeah, I am a Questioner and I’m okay with that. I do think that at times I act like a Rebel or Obliger, but that’s just my cup to tea.
It is a simple categorization of your colleagues, friends, family, and yourself.
There are many insights that are convenient to know, and it contributes to getting to know you and your surroundings more.
How did you like the Four Tendencies book review? What is your tendency?
Founder of Spark Nomad, Radical FIRE, Journalist
Expertise: Personal finance and travel content
Education: Bachelor of Economics at Radboud University, Master in Finance at Radboud University, Minor in Economics at Chapman University.
Over 200 articles, essays, and short stories published across the web.
Experience: Marjolein Dilven is a journalist and founder of Spark Nomad, a travel platform, and Radical FIRE, a personal finance platform. Marjolein has a finance and economics background with a master’s in Finance. She has quit her job to travel the world, documenting her travels on Spark Nomad to help people plan their travels. Marjolein Dilven has written for publications like MSN, Associated Press, CNBC, Town News syndicate, and more.