The 4 Tendencies...At Work

Photo by  Markus Spiske  on  Unsplash

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I’m a big fan of the work of Gretchen Rubin in general, and of her “4 Tendencies” personality framework, in specific. While I don’t believe that personality types are the silver bullet to understanding yourself, I do think that taking a look at yourself through the lenses of such frameworks is useful as a way to know yourself better, and therefore make better decisions. (Also, I really love taking online quizzes, and I bet you do too.)

I also know that one of the keys to productivity it to make things as easy for yourself as possible. To do more, and stress less, we need to get out of our own way, clear obstacles and shoot for the path of least resistance. This is why it’s helpful to have as many insights about yourself as possible. Sure, it’s possible for people to change. But it’s going to be easier to do what you want, if you work with who you are by nature instead of trying to change who you are.

The 4 Tendencies is a personality framework that looks at how we handle and react to expectations, both internal and external. It’s a framework that helps to explain why we do, or don’t do, what we do. And it’s a framework I find super useful when working with my coaching clients. A simple breakdown of the 4 Tendencies is this:

Obliger: An obliger is someone who finds it easy to meet external expectations, but hard to meet internal ones. It’s the person who is able to keep to an exercise plan if they have a trainer, or are meeting a friend at the gym, but is likely to throw in the towel (pun intended) if left to their own devices. This is the person who gives of themselves often and easily, but who finds it difficult to take care of themselves. This is also the most common tendency.

Upholder: And upholder is someone who find it easy to meet both internal and external expectations. If they say yes, to themselves or otherwise, they’ll do it. This person doesn’t have any problems sticking to their exercise plan. It’s not a super common tendency and you can bet we either admire, or envy, these people.

Questioner: A questioner is someone who can meet either internal or external expectations, but they have to agree with the rationale. There has to be a good reason for them to do what they are doing, regardless of where the expectation originates. If they feel out of shape and overweight, or are trying to improve their health due to a medical condition, they’ll find it easy to stick to an exercise plan. But if they are in good health already, they might not. (A little about me: I’m a questioner.)

Rebel: A rebel is someone who eschews expectations altogether. It doesn’t matter where the expectation comes from, it feels like a constraint on their life. This person is going to head to the gym when they feel like it, but not when they don’t.

While I think the 4 Tendencies are useful in all parts of life and you can read up about that in the work of Gretchen Rubin herself, what I want to talk about here is how the 4 Tendencies apply to work, and how to use your tendency to be more successful at work. And more specifically, I’m going to give you some tips how to use your tendency to your advantage whether you work for yourself (entrepreneur, consultant, contractor), or for someone else (employee).


When you work for someone else:

  • Make sure you know to whom you are accountable at work. This may seem obvious (i.e. your boss) but sometimes it’s not. If you are not sure who is ultimately responsible for one of your projects, ask. It’ll make it easier to remember that someone else has asked you to do what you are doing, and therefore you’ll be more likely get it done

  • If you are having trouble getting all your work done, find a friendly coworker who can act as your accountability partner. Set a schedule to meet with each other (Daily for 10 minutes? Once a week?) and help each other stay on track.

  • Set boundaries and don’t over-extend yourself. You have the tendency to say yes to others, to want to help others. Before you say yes, first look at what’s on your plate and decide if it’s feasible.

When you work for yourself:

  • Join (or create!) a group of like-minded professionals, contractors, consultants, etc. and meet regularly. Set goals for yourselves during each meeting and hold each other accountable.

  • Ask your partner, or a good friend, to be your accountability partner. Send them a list of what you want to do each day or each week, and then follow up with them about what you actually did.

  • Don’t say yes to every job or every request. Choose carefully to ensure that you’ll be working on projects that you’ll find interesting or meaningful, rather than committed to finishing something you didn’t really want to be doing in the first place.

  • Ensure that your contracts outline a clear scope of work so that scope creep doesn’t ensue and wreck havoc on your timeline (and sanity).


When you work for someone else:

  • Someone sets expectations and you’re going to meet them. Lucky is the boss that has you for an employee!

  • Like an obliger, you can sometimes easily over-extend yourself. Set boundaries and, before you say yes, look at what’s on your plate and decide if it’s feasible.

When you work for yourself:

  • Set clear goals for yourself and choose to focus on projects or tasks that are in service of those goals. Once complete, set new goals, rinse and repeat. Setting goals and aligning your tasks with them will ensure that you aren’t overwhelmed with ALL the stuff you want to get done.

  • Remember, if it’s not a “hell, yes!” it’s a no. Be choosy when agreeing to projects.


When you work for someone else:

  • Learn how to ask “Why?” in a non-threatening way. You’re a questioner; you need answers in order to move forward. But sometimes managers are threatened by questioning. Learn how to get the info you need without making the other people feel questioned. Instead of simply asking “Why?”, ask instead “I want to be thorough and make sure we are considering all of the options. Can you help me understand why we are doing X instead of Y?”.

  • Aim to understand how your role fits into the larger picture. How do your goals roll up into the company goals?

  • Play “devil’s advocate” and help others to see the rationale (and convince yourself it’s worth doing at the same time).

When you work for yourself:

  • Make sure you have a solid rationale for why you are doing the things you are doing. Take the time to think through it and make sure your goals and projects are aligned.

  • Don’t take projects that aren’t interesting or take on clients whose missions you don’t believe in.

  • Make pro/con lists your best friend. If you’d not sure how to proceed, draw up a list and make a decision.


When you work for someone else:

  • Remember that you chose this. This is your job, and you made the choice. Nothing was foisted upon you. You’re free to make a different choice.

  • Remember that this pays the bills. You may not like the constraints, but you’ve got to get the job done in order to have the resources to do everything else you want to do. Your job might be a means to an end, and that’s OK. The better you do at it, the likelier it is that your resources, and freedom, will increase over time.

  • Remember that the antidote to micro-management is being accountable. Do what you say you will, when you say you will, and do it well. Pretty soon the constraints will start to lift.

When you work for yourself:

  • Congratulate yourself for choosing a work-life that fits well with your tendency.

  • Batch your meetings into just a couple of days a week so that you have more freedom on the other days.

  • Pick just a couple of “absolutely must-dos” each day and then have a wide selection of other “top tier” tasks or projects to choose from each day.

  • Reevaluate your goals frequently to make sure you’re not getting stuck.

  • Reprioritize throughout the day; allow for pivots.

Now that you know all about the 4 Tendencies and how they relate to your life at work, go take the quiz!

Interested in learning more about how to boost your own productivity? Book a free consultation with me!

Owl in a Lark's World

Don't Reinvent the Wheel; Templatize!