The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (And Other People’s Lives Better, Too) (2017) by Gretchen Rubin is a self-help book that outlines a framework for understanding motivation. Rubin believes that everyone naturally falls into one of Four Tendencies, or personality types, based on how they respond to different types of expectations. The Four Tendencies are Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel. Understanding them helps people better understand themselves and others.
There are two types of expectations to which everyone is exposed: outer and inner. Outer expectations are imposed on individuals from the outside by third parties; an example would be a friend’s invitation to a party. Inner expectations are self-generated, like New Year’s resolutions. Some people respond to both types of expectations, some respond to only one type, and some don’t respond to expectations at all.
The Upholder is a by-the-book type of person who upholds rules and is highly self-motivated. Upholders respond to both outer and inner expectations. Questioners are skeptics who take nothing for granted; they respond effectively to only inner expectations because all outer expectations must be evaluated and, when approved, internalized. An Obliger is someone who responds to outer expectations but has trouble honoring inner expectations. Rebels respond neither to outer expectations nor to inner expectations; in fact, Rebels often make a conscious effort to go against expectations out of sheer contrarianism.
Some Tendencies are more common than others. According to Rubin’s research, 41 percent of all people are Obligers. Almost a quarter of the population, 24 percent, are Questioners. The other two Tendencies are less common. Nineteen percent of people are Upholders, and 17 percent are Rebels. For most people, the Tendencies are pronounced but not pure personality traits. People often “tip,” or lean in the direction of a secondary Tendency.
Each Tendency generates strengths and weaknesses. Upholders are driven and reliable, but they can also be too rigid. Questioners are logical and efficient, but sometimes their skepticism goes too far. Obligers are reliable, but sometimes they focus too much on the needs of others. Rebels provide valuable dissent, but sometimes other people find them frustrating.
The Four Tendencies shape the way people see the world as well as their behaviors. Changing Tendencies is nearly impossible because the four tendencies are innate, not chosen. However, understanding one’s own Tendency, as well as other people’s Tendencies, can be beneficial in many ways. It can help individuals alter their own habits and improve relationships. Being skilled with managing the Four Tendencies helps managers better accommodate and utilize their employees; similarly, it aids doctors in eliciting more compliance from patients.
The main key insights for this book is:
- There are two categories of expectations that motivate people: inner expectations and outer expectations.
- A person’s Tendency can be determined based on how he or she responds to expectations.
- The Upholder Tendency carefully manages other people’s expectations along with the Upholder’s own personal goals.
- The Questioner Tendency interrogates all expectations. Questioners only uphold expectations that pass muster.
- The Obliger Tendency meets expectations when he or she feels accountable to a third party.
- The Rebel Tendency resists both inner and outer expectations.
- Each of the Four Tendencies leans towards another Tendency.
- Information can be tweaked and reframed to best suit the preferences and dislikes of different Tendencies.